Parliament adjourned sine die yesterday having developed a legacy of a hard working opposition side in the House but on the flipside invited criticism for its laissez-faire attitude to attendance and participation on legislative issues.
The eight week meeting ended with Parliament having passed a K1.3 trillion budget, a few bills and debated on President Peter Mutharika’s State of the Nation Address which opposition leader in the House Lazarus Chakwera described as self-contradictory and full of delusions.
The members of Parliament, (MPs) once again successfully lobbied and forced Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe’s hand to increase Constituency Development Fund (CDF) by K5 million but did not put as much effort at seeking increases to crucial sectors such as health and education.
But the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) has described the meeting as a mixed bag with an equal measure of positives and negatives.
CCJP national coordinator Martin Chiphwanya applauded the MPs for taking an interest in emerging matters of national interest by taking relevant authorities to task.
Among the notable occasions is when the MPs took to task the Minister of Education Emmanuel Fabiano over his inaction on the Chancellor College closure and teachers’ strike which paralysed learning in primary schools.
“The current sitting of Parliament has generally been a mixed bag. On a positive note, the passing of the new procurement law is cause for celebration. Indigenous Malawians stand to benefit from the new law. Our MPs have to be commended for this,” Chiphwanya said.
However, the members fell short of fulfilling public expectation that electoral reform bills would be tabled in the just-ended meeting.
The government has offered a lukewarm commitment to bring to Parliament the bills with Minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu saying this would most likely happen during the November 2017, meeting giving stakeholders little time to prepare for the changes that the legislation might bring to the elections landscape.
The bills include one seeeking to change the proposed electoral system from a simple majority to 50 + 1 and that inauguration should be held after 30 days.
Another long-awaited bill-the HIV and Aids Prevention and Management Bill (HIV Bill)-was tabled in Parliament with the contentious provisions on wilful transmission of HIV maintained.
This bill, alongside the Political Parties Bill, has been referred to the relevant committees meaning the House will have a litany of bills to consider at the next meeting which is shorter.
When asked, Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa said the bill was not tackled because there was a lot of business in the House.
According to Nankhumwa, there is a possibility that the Bill might come in the November session of Parliament.
There were also expectations that the Political Parties Registration Bill would be passed to regulate them ahead of the campaign period for the May 2019 elections.
The House was, however, in agreement with the provision on banning handouts as one way of levelling the political playing field.
On a negative side, CCJP faulted muted calls from the MPs to have their salaries increased at a time service delivery in the key sectors of education, health and agriculture was not pleasing enough.
“The increase of CDF amid reported instances of abuse by some of our honourable MPs is certainly a mockery to good governance. Perhaps there was need to consider reviewing the guidelines first before considering the increase,” he said.
Opposition MPs continued to set an example of active participation in legislation through the proposal of motions and tabling of questions of national importance.
If it had not been for Mzimba West MP Harry Mkandawire, the country would not have learnt of the passport scam in which 500 passport books were diverted in South Africa.
The Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security has since instituted investigations into the scam and with Parliament’s involvement, the conclusion to the matter might be in sight.
Nkhotakota South East Everson Makowa Mwale moved a motion to amend the Local Government Act to remove the provision that councillors should be mayor or chairpersons.
MPs also demanded government intervention on the scarcity of sugar, increasing incidents of road accidents and the continued presence on the market of dangerous cheap liquor.
Several bills passed
However, the House managed to pass several bills among them the International Development Association (Agricultural Support and Fiscal Management Development Policy Financing) loan in which the government has sourced an $80 million credit from the World Bank.
While the government touted this as budgetary support, Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe said the funds would be used to clear the domestic debt.
But confusion reigns as the contents and wording of the passed bill does not indicate that the funds would go towards repaying domestic debt which had accumulated to K155 billion in 2014.
The MPs have, however, portrayed a united front on passing the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Bill with an amendment that foreign firms should not compete for government tenders on equal level with indigenous Malawian companies.
The government would be required to give a 60-40 priority to all indigenous Malawians to bid on any tender by government.n