Parliament yesterday started debating President Lazarus Chakwera’s maiden State of the Nation Address (Sona) delivered in the House on Friday with the opposition faulting the address and the government side naturally supporting it.
In his response, Leader of Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa said the President’s address contained ambiguous policies and accused Chakwera of “arbitrarily arresting former governing Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] supporters”.
He said: “For the last three months, we have seen policy ambiguities. We have arbitrary and politically motivated arrests. We have also seen regionalism as husbands, wives and sisters have been appointed into Cabinet.
“The transition period is a watershed moment and the President needs to exercise caution in clearing the rubble.”
On job creation, Nankhumwa faulted the nine-party Tonse Alliance administration led by Malawi Congress Party (MCP) for allegedly not sticking to the promises to employ youths and reduce passport fees.
He was apparently referring to the pledge to create one million jobs “during the first 12 months” of governing. The new administration was ushered in following its triumph in the court-ordered June 23 Fresh Presidential Election.
Nankhumwa also said Malawians were still buying farm inputs, especially fertiliser, “at higher prices than the promised K4 500 per bag”. However, for the record, Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu, in his Provisional Budget tabled in Parliament in June announced that in the new agriculture season set to start this October, fertiliser prices will be reduced.
Standing on a point of order, Leader of the House Richard Chimwendo Banda, who is also Minister of Homeland Security, faulted Nankhumwa’s sentiments and accused him of misinforming the House, especially on the claim that Chakwera was banning allowances in the civil service.
He said: “Madam Speaker! Is it in order for the Leader of Opposition to mention that civil servants are not getting their allowances when they are getting their allowances? President Chakwera has not said that and civil servants are still getting allowances.”
On his part, Alliance to Democracy (Aford) leader Yeremiah Chihana, who is Mzimba North member of Parliament (MP), condemned arrests and sacking of top civil servants from their positions.
While commending the new administration for scrapping off the quota system of selecting students to public institutions of higher learning, he faulted the President for removing Malawi Defence Force Commander General Peter Namathanga, an appointee of his predecessor Peter Mutharika.
In moving a motion for the House to debate the Sona, Dowa West MP Abele Kayembe (MCP) and Mzimba South MP Emmanuel Chambulanyina Jere (independent) described the address as a statement that inspired hope among Malawians.
Kayembe said: “When we look at the Sona, Madam Speaker, we really see that certain things can change. We see that corruption and poverty are going to end. We saw during the previous administration governance institutions being suffocated.
“We want the House to adopt the Sona because the President has increased the number of [subsidised fertiliser] beneficiaries from 900 000 to 4.5 million.”
Earlier yesterday, Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara cleared some MPs who were suspected to have crossed the floor after their political parties moved to the government side following the Tonse Alliance triumph.
The issue was raised by Mangochi South lawmaker Lilian Patel (United Democratic Front-UDF) on June 29 this year. The MP asked the Speaker to determine whether legislators who joined government benches contravened Section 65 of the Constitution.
At the time Patel raised the issue, four MPs had written the Speaker to allow them move to the government side for them to support the Tonse Alliance.
Section 65 empowers the Speaker to declare vacant a seat of an MP who ditches the political party that sponsored them to Parliament and join another outfit represented in the House.
In her ruling yesterday, the Speaker observed that that previously UDF MPs moved from the opposition side to the government side when their party was working with DPP, but there was no evidence that they had joined DPP.
She said the MPs who moved to the government side in June this year did not indicate that they had left their parties, but that they maintained their identities as UTM Party and independent MPs.