There was confusion and disorder in the debate on the Electronic Transactions Bill (or E-bill) which seeks to provide legal protection to consumers through electronic transactions as legislators opted out of contributing to the debate on the Bill.
The development left the discussions on proposed amendments to the chairperson of the Media Committee of Parliament and Minister of Information, Communication Technology and Civic Education.
The Bill was referred to the Media Committee for further scrutiny when it was tabled in November last year and the House has since adopted the report which the committee’s chairperson Sam Kawale presented yesterday.
In the report, the committee vetoed the establishment of the Department of E-Government which would be responsible for accelerating information and communications technology (ICT) development in the country and instead proposed that a Malawi Information Technology Authority be formed instead.
However, after the adoption, MPs did not rise to contribute to general debate on the Bill which prompted First Deputy Speaker Esther Mcheka Chilenje to move to the committee stage where amendments to the Bill are proposed.
“It’s now time for general debate. Any takers on the floor? I see there is no member [raising a hand], so I will ask the minister to wind up debate,” she said.
The committee stage became a stilted exchange between Kawale and Minister of Information, Communications Technology and Civic Education Patricia Kaliati who either agreed to the proposed amendment or argued against, which did not proceed beyond changes to definitions.
Members of Parliament (MPs) are supposed to debate the proposed amendments, but no one stood to contribute.
Kawale proposed the inclusion of the definition of Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) to describe .mw, among others.
“On child pornography, I propose that a definition be amended to indicate that it is visual and audio visual pornographic material that depicts, presents or represents a person below the age of 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct or an image representing a person appearing to be below the age of 18 in a sexually explicit conduct,” he proposed.
Kaliati agreed to the amendment, saying it would be in line with international standards.
Other MPs did not rise to support or oppose the proposed amendments.
But further proposed amendments confused the MPs as Mulanje South MP Bon Kalindo (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) suggested that the bill be referred back to the committee.
He said: “What we are doing is rubber-stamping and we are being unfair to Malawians. I propose the Bill be referred back to the committee.”
Ironically, Kalindo is a member of the Media Committee and his comments were met with calls of “sabwera ku ma meeting ameneyo [He doesn’t attend meetings]”.
However, Leader of the House George Chaponda quashed the proposal although it was coming from a government MP.
Instead, he proposed that the committee stage be deferred for the government to consult the committee, but Mangochi-Monkey Bay MP Ralph Jooma (People’s Party-PP) and Nkhata Bay Central MP Ralph Mhone (PP) protested that such a move would be unprocedural.
Said Jooma: “Standing Orders don’t provide for deferrement at committee stage but suspension. This is like we did not have a committee stage at all and no amendments were adopted.”
However, Mcheka Chilenje brushed off the protests and ended the process abruptly.