Parliament yesterday passed some of the votes to some ministries and government agencies under protest from opposition members of Parliament (MPs) who accused the First Deputy Speaker Esther Mcheka-Chilenje of heavy-handedness and denying them their representational role to scrutinise the allocations.
Notable among the votes that earned Mcheka-Chilenje the opposition wrath was the K92.2 billion going to the Ministry of Health.
A number of MPs rose to quiz Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume to explain various issues, including the progress of Phalombe District Hospital.
Rumphi East MP Kamlepo Kalua (People’s Party-PP) asked the minister to explain how previous allocations were spent.
Kalua wondered whether government really cared for the welfare of people of Phalombe, arguing the way it has handled the previous budgets suggests that the district is not part of Malawi.
Said the MP: “Each time we ask for an explanation on how government has used the money, we are told it was used for the hospital design. How long shall the hospital design take to complete? Are you sure we should be allocating finances—year in, year out—towards the designing only?”
Dedza East parliamentarian Juliana Lunguzi (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) emphasised that passing the ministry budget for this year without scrutinising the previous ones would be a huge disservice to the nation.
Lunguzi, who is also chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Health, pressed government to explain whether the current budget caters for payments to various contractors such as those who built Nkhata Bay District Hospital.
“Government owes the contractor who constructed Nkhata Bay District Hospital billions of kwacha. I fear government will be forced to pay with interests if we delay paying them. The minister must tell this House if this budget has an allocation that will go towards settling those debts,” she said.
Furthermore, she asked government to explain how it intends to tackle the 50 percent vacancy rate in the Ministry of Health.
The House was thrown into a frenzy when Mangochi South legislator Lilian Patel, standing on a point of order, pleaded with Mcheka-Chilenje to “remember that UDF [United Democratic Front] is also existent in the House”; hence, the need to offer its MPs a chance to contribute.
UDF is in a working relationship with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Patel demanded that the proposed 2016/17 budget should clearly reflect how it will deal with debts government owes Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham) facilities, which have resulted in some facilities stopping providing free services.
Kumpalume attempted to respond to every question. However, his explanations fell short of convincing the inquisitive MPs who kept on raising follow-up questions.
Others who had not yet asked theirs were also up waiting for their turn. This prompted Mcheka-Chilenje to curtail debate on the vote, which angered the MPs.
But the First Deputy Speaker stood her ground, arguing the MPs had all the time to thoroughly scrutinise the budget during cluster meetings.
“Unless you are telling me that the cluster meetings are not effective. There is no reason we should start debating this vote at this stage,” she said.
But after the vote was passed, Rumphi West MP Josephine Kouwenhoven (Independent)stood on a point of order, accusing Mcheka-Chilenje of denying them the right to scrutinise the budget.
Kouwenhoven noted that it is only in Parliament where Cabinet ministers avail themselves to take direct questions from MPs.
“The minister was not around in cluster meetings to take questions. Therefore, you should give us a chance to ask questions,” she emphasised.
Among others, Parliament passed votes without debate to National Statistical Office (NSO), Unforeseen Expenditure, Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare and Ministry of Information, Communication Technology and Civic Education.