Opposition members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday thwarted attempts by government to change the location of the National Cancer Centre from Lilongwe as earlier communicated to Blantyre.
Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe was forced to refer the Loan Authorisation Bill for $13.1 million (about K5.3 billion) to the Health Committee of Parliament.
Gondwe’s reasons that the ‘principles’ of the loan, Opec Fund for International Development, felt the cancer centre be constructed adjacent to a medical school did not go down well with the MPs.
Perhaps to placate the expected dissent from the House, Gondwe said government intended to construct additional cancer facilities in Lilongwe and Mzuzu in future.
But Mzimba West MP Harry Mkandawire told the House that the bill Gondwe brought to the House was not the original one as gazetted in July 2014 because the location was different.
Mangochi Monkey Bay MP Ralph Jooma said following the change in location for the cancer centre, there was need for the MPs to consult their constituents first.
Said Jooma: “The bill gazetted on 4th July  is different from the one presented today. We cannot go into debate because the bill has capitally changed.”
Leader of House Francis Kasaila’s attempts to salvage the situation by saying the site of the project was contained in a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between government and Opec Fund and could not be debated fell on deaf ears.
But while stressing the importance of the cancer centre in the country, Karonga Central MP Frank Mwenifumbo, brandishing a copy of the bill, said: “This bill is talking about Lilongwe [cancer centre location], but the one presented is talking about Blantyre.”
Other opposition MPs felt the minister should have waived the Standing Orders requiring that a bill be distributed 28 days before tabling it in the House and he had not done so.
Chairperson of the Health Committee, Juliana Lunguzi, read out Standing Order 125 (3) which requires a committee to scrutinise a bill first before tabling it in Parliament.
Kasaila’s rejoinder that traditionally a bill could be referred to a committee after general debate did not impress the opposition MPs.
The chaotic direction the matter was heading prompted Speaker Richard Msowoya to rule that Gondwe should seek the necessary permissions and table the bill again, but without a change in location.
Gondwe reluctantly read the bill again, but made no changes which resulted in disruptions from the floor.
But in the end, Gondwe said: “In view of the changes to the memorandum of understanding, I move that the bill be referred to the relevant committee.”
Tabling the bill, Gondwe told the House that government would save K480 million a year which is spent on cancer patients’ referrals outside the country.