Malawi’s Parliament is one of the weakest in southern Africa, partly because the Executive controls it and its budget is cast in stone, whereby cluster meetings and debates in the House merely rubber-stamp the government’s proposed economic blueprint.
This was the shocking confession made by chairperson of the Parliamentary Public Accounts and Budget Committee Rhino Chiphiko to Nation on Sunday in an exclusive interview on Thursday in Lilongwe.
He was speaking as he led officials in his committee in analysing reports and recommendations by various parliamentary committees which dissected the proposed K1.3 trillion 2017/18 National Budget during cluster meetings over the past 10 days.
The committee will later compile its own report that will encapsulate the cluster meetings sentiments and its own take on the nation’s macro-economic factors, value for money and service delivery.
The committee’s report will be tabled in Parliament next week, when members of Parliament (MPs) will begin debating, vote by vote, budget allocations to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
“Malawi’s Parliament remains one of the weakest in the region because the Executive still controls it.
“Parliament is inadequately funded and does not meet frequently to debate issues of national importance, enact laws and carry out its oversight role over government operations, especially when it comes to budget implementation,” lamented Chiphiko, who is also MP for Lilongwe City South West for Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
He expressed frustration that during the cluster meetings, the government continued to flex its muscles unduly by not releasing the actual figures of expenditures for the previous year.
“This is the biggest problem our budget documents have. We end up comparing the proposed estimates to the previous year’s proposed estimates and not to the actual figures of expenditures. What this means is that MPs are not able to assess the performance of the previous year’s budget,” Chiphiko stated.
He added: ”This has been the trend for the previous three years. The Executive has been hiding actual figures of expenditure and the Legislature is always suspicious as to why the Executive is fond of hiding these figures.
“What also transpired is that almost all MDAs were allocated less funding than they requested for. What happens is that the MDAs submit estimates to Treasury and, in turn, they are given ceilings as limits of their budgets. In this case, the MDAs go back to come up with budgets that do not deliver the intended services.”
Chiphiko expressed disappointment that the government tends to ignore even bright strategic counterproposals from members of opposition parties, hence the government budgeting flaws receiving endorsement, especially where the proposed blueprint is given numerical support.
“Malawi is going nowhere. As a country, we are not allocating adequate resources to areas that promote growth, like the Small and Medium Enterprises [SMEs] and the private sector. We are not allocating enough resources to the development agenda.
“But, instead, we are still allocating a lot of resources to consumption, which does not translate into economic growth. As a country, we are retrogressing, since we are marginally failing to maintain the current infrastructure,” he lamented further.
Commenting on the matter, Chancellor College economics Professor Ben Kalua said government needs to move quickly in levelling the playing field during budget time by providing the MPs with the actual expenditure details they need for their effective oversight role.
But he noted that history points to problems various Treasury secretaries have cited, that some controlling officers in some MDAs fail to submit the need expenditure figures on time, just before budget sessions begin.
On his part, Treasury Secretary Ben Botolo said the way the budget calendar is structured makes it difficult and too early for the MPs to have all the actual expenditure figures they want to be discussed and available within the Budget Session of Parliament.
“What we give out now are only provisional expenditure figures, for the full figures will be available somewhere in September.