In an apparent bid to decongest Parliament in compliance with coronavirus precautionary measures, especially social distancing, President Peter Mutharika will tomorrow deliver a recorded State of the Nation Address (Sona) to the National Assembly.
In an interview on Wednesday, Parliament spokesperson Ian Mwenye confirmed that the Business Committee—chaired by the Speaker and comprising leaders of political parties represented in Parliament who set the agenda of proceedings—made several recommendations to restrict attendance.
“The President will deliver Sona through a recorded audio. The Sona will be debated from 8th to 11th of June 2020,” he said.
Traditionally, the Sona, which marks the State opening of a new session of Parliament, is attended by various stakeholders, including diplomats, civil society organisations, the business community and the public.
Mwenye said the House’s programme may change as they are awaiting the Electoral Reforms Bills set to define the dates of the fresh presidental election.
He said: “This programme is subject to change at any time as the House is expecting some electoral-related bills for the forthcoming fresh presidential election within the week. Once the bills are received, the Business Committee will meet at the soonest time possible to revise the programme.
“As of today, the programme is that the Sona will be delivered on Friday 5th June. This will mark the opening of the Budget Meeting.”
Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Joseph Mwanamvekha will present the 2020/21 National Budget on June 12.
Parliament will meet for seven weeks from June 5 to July 24 for the Budget Meeting, which is also expected to tackle Electoral Reforms Bills to facilitate the holding of the court-sanctioned fresh presidential election.
Initially, Parliament was scheduled to convene for the Budget Meeting from May 8 to June 26, but the meeting was called off due to a 21-day lockdown government announced to contain the spread of Covid-19. However, the lockdown was not implemented following a court order stopping it.
In line with the restrictions on public gatherings, members of Parliament (MPs) will be meeting for two hours per day with a maximum of 100 legislators in the 193-seat Parliament. The remaining legislators will be following the proceedings virtually from ministerial and members’ lounges, according to Mwenye.
During the budget cluster meetings, the guidelines bar media coverage but there is an arrangement that cluster committee chairpersons will be at liberty to brief journalists on the proceedings.
The guidelines also encourage MPs with existing medical conditions and those above 60 years to work from their lodging places for their health and safety. However, according to the guidelines, the affected members shall avail themselves at Parliament for substantive voting.
Visitors are also barred from following proceedings from the public gallery until such a time when it shall be safe to do so.
Parliament Secretariat has arranged that the public may follow proceedings through its official social media platforms such as Facebook (Parliament of Malawi which may include Facebook Live), Twitter and local radios or television stations.