Parliament in Lilongwe concluded four weeks of deliberations on Friday by approving a Bill to establish a think-tank to be known as National Planning Commission.
The mandate of the commission is to help hatch, appraise and promote national pro-poor development projects that will go beyond ruling regime terms.
Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe tabled the Bill, saying the commission, to be comprised of top-notch professionals, will be independent and reporting to the National Assembly and the President regularly.
He said the commission will supervise government on whether the development plan is working or not, adding that it will also effectively take over the planning and development roles under his ministry, particularly concerning projects’ compliance with budget allocations.
“I think it is extremely powerful,” Gondwe declared, challenging some members’ accusation that the commission will end up as another toothless bulldog.
“We have never had an independent unit that actually supervises the government on whether the development programme is working or not,” Gondwe said.
But the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu and him had to weather a barrage of questions and scepticism from mainly opposition members, most of whom wanted the Bill to be deferred to a relevant technical committee for refining.
Commented member of Parliament for Lilongwe City South East Bentley Namasasu (Democratic Progressive Party–DPP) in reference to the impressive think-tank idea: “Malawi has a lot of intellectuals. They come up with beautiful plans that are acknowledged world-wide.
“But we, ourselves, have problems in implementing the very same plans. This must be critically analysed and see how best we can move forward.”
Mzimba North MP Agnes Makonda Nyalonje (People’s Party–PP) said the commission needs to be independent to pursue continuity regarding national development plans.
“We do not need a commission that cannot call the Executive to account for implementation that is failing. We need a commission that should sit the Executive down and say the country needs this,” Nyalonje said.
She said the think-tank should be delinked from political leadership that electorates choose, replace or retain for limited terms.
After noting that the Bill mainly made consistent reference to only male stakeholders, Lilongwe Misozi South MP Vitus Dzoole Mwale (Malawi Congress Party–MCP) fumed: “This Bill is not gender-sensitive. It should be sent back to the drawing board.”
But the ministers won a buy-in from the opposition members by saying Parliament would have significant oversight and a say into the commission’s operations, including recruitment, equitable distribution of projects and effectiveness. They added that referring the important Bill to a technical committee would be a waste of time and money the country can ill afford.
But when Gondwe proposed that the Bill be read a second time, the members who were uncomfortable contested Speaker Richard Msowoya’s pronouncement and they asked for, and were granted, a division vote that went in favour of the ‘Yes’ side with 62 votes against ‘No’s’ 53 votes. Seventy-seven 77 MPs were absent.
The opposition had something special to cheer about earlier on Friday morning when independent MPs for Chikwawa Central, Zaheer Gaffa Issa, and Ntchisi North, Boniface Kadzamira, announced their move from near the government side to near the opposition side. n