At exactly 2.20 pm on Wednesday, Parliament approved the K408.4 billion (about $1.6 billion) 2012/2013 budget without major amendments to proposals presented in the House by Finance Minister Ken Lipenga.
The Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) and the Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) hailed the speedy process, but bemoaned the lack of amendments and urged government to set its eyes on the IMF Extended Credit Facility (ECF), which awaited the budget.
The budget, President Joyce Bandaâ€™s first financial plan since she ascended to power in April, was passed only after three days of Committee of Supply deliberation which started on Monday.
The House went through all the 57 votes after tackling and approving the previous dayâ€™s four remaining votes: the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Law Commission and
that of the National Assembly which was deferred just after the process started on Monday.
After the Appropriation Bill was finally passed, amid some procedural drama ignited by Second Deputy Speaker Juliana Mphande, the government side burst into jubilation and the opposition, including the entire DPP benches which of late has been in a cat-and-mouse relation with the ruling PP, could not help it but join in the joy.
Leader of the House Henry Phoya could also not hide his joy. He started by congratulating the Second Deputy Speaker on her â€˜stirring performanceâ€™ as chair of the budget process, then he turned
to the government side and then the entire opposition for their â€˜magnanimityâ€™ in passing such an important process.
The 2012/2013 budget came among several challenges, including the 49 percent devaluation of the kwacha. The presentation also coincided with the instituting of a commission of inquiry into the Malawi Revenue
Authority (MRA) saga by Banda amid fears that the scandal could have derailed the budget proceedings.
Another issue on the floor was the Section 65 which came out soon after the budget was tabled on June 8.
Also said Lipenga: â€œDespite [our] political differences, the debate and the questions showed that we wish our country all the best. We have to pat ourselves on the back.
Later in the afternoon, the House passed the Taxation Bill which approves taxes in the budget, and the Value Added Tax Amendment Bill; again, without much debate.
In an interview, Mejn executive director Dalitso Kubalasa commended the Committee of Supply for its â€œimpressive cruisingâ€ role towards the passing of the budget.
Said Kubalasa: â€œHowever, it is a pity we didnâ€™t see much changes from the proposed budget. But overall, itâ€™s a very positive development and we commend the Committee of Supply for a very positive oversight.â€
MCCCI president Mathews Chikankheni said the private sector is pleased to have the budget passed before 1st July and reiterated that key is the fact that the budget is pro-private sector.
Said Chikankheni: â€œWe said earlier as Chamber that the budget is pro-poor and we are happy that we are going to implement it. What is important also is the finalisation of the IMFâ€™sÂ Extended Credit Facility which will be speeded.â€
The House is this Thursday expected to hear a report on the MRA commission of inquiry, according to sources close to the investigation. (With additional reporting by Brenda Twea, Staff Reporter)