Opposition members of Parliament (MPs)—especially those from the Malawi Congress Party (MCP)—this week did a pretty good job of pretending to care about transparency, accountability and adherence to public finance management principles.
The MPs took umbrage at how the Executive branch housed at Capital Hill in Lilongwe allocated around K4 billion to 86 constituencies without what they called parliamentary approval.
Never mind that the Minister of Finance does not need approval from Parliament to propose for the august House’s consideration allocations to any ministry, department or agency (MDA).
The only approval Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe needed was whether he could spend the money as proposed, which he had not even begun to appropriate at the time the legislators turned into drama kings and queens as they fell all over each other to show how fiscally responsible they were.
Of course, Gondwe did not help himself by failing to explain which vote the money would be channelled through, how it would be disbursed and what fiduciary management arrangements were in place to ensure prudent spending.
These financial and even operational guidelines would be especially crucial given how much abuse is at councils as seen with the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), the Local Development Fund (LDF) and the District Development Fund (DDF).
If these funds are wantonly abused despite having fairly clear operational guidelines, what would become of the K4 billion that would probably have been funnelled without clear instructions?
Just for Local Government and Rural Development Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa to say, hey buddies, ‘Good old Goodall’ suddenly has some cash to spare; so, please quickly find some projects in your constituencies and I will give you K40 million each to implement’—is one of the highest levels of fiscal irresponsibility I have ever seen and do not care to witness again.
So, yes, this lack of clarity on Gondwe’s part was uncalled for, but the MPs’ frothing that Gondwe had committed a crime by not seeking their approval to allocate resources is a waste of time, a fickle attempt at brinkmanship and an ignorant way of even claiming undeserved championship for fiscal responsibility.
What the opposition MPs needed to investigate was whether by allocating to just 86 constituencies, the Minister of Finance—whose mandate is to report to Parliament on the appropriation of the Consolidated Fund or Account Number One—was in fact pursuing a pay-to-play agenda.
Was the ruling Democratic Progress Party (DPP) administration trying—as others have suggested—to clandestinely funnel money to constituencies where parliamentarians who support their agenda are the representatives and need any boost at performance to secure a new five-year term?
Or did the administration try—using tax-payers’ money—to reward those MPs who helped defeat electoral reform bills, which was widely seen as the desired outcome for the administration?
In that case, relevant committees such as Public Account as well as Budget and Finance, should have called for hearings and invited officials from the Treasury as well as the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to testify.
Among other things, the MPs could have probed include: What criteria did they use to select the 86 constituencies? Can the officials cite which Intergovernmental Fiscal Transfer Formula was used to make these allocations?
Why is it—if that is indeed the case because I have not independently verified the claims—that it is mostly constituencies that are under the DPP ticket and those who are sympathetic to its agenda dominated the allocations?
This is particularly poignant given that senior DPP officials have in the past made it clear at rallies that those leaders not supporting the ruling party would be denied government-facilitated and/or funded development projects.
But no, the MCP legislators and other representatives from smaller opposition parties were not interested in transparency and accountability of public funds. They were not interested in protecting the taxpayer.
Instead, they wanted a share of the loot and when they got it; their tongues suddenly went into paralysis—never to wag again on this issue.
If ever there was a day MCP president Lazarus Chakwera and his cabal of opposition legislators would look back and ask where did we lose the plot? This could as well be one of them.
The opposition has proved to be double-faced, disingenuous and is more interested in its financial and political survival than the welfare of the people .