Parliament on Thursday passed a motion asking government to direct mobile phone operators to stop expiry of Internet data purchased by consumers in the country.
The motion was passed after disagreements in the House—at times, even among members on the same side—particularly on the remedial measure the House should propose, following a motion tabled by Thyolo Central legislator Ben Phiri.
The initial motion received overwhelming support, but government lawmakers later grew cold feet over the decision to issue a directive to the Executive branch of the Government to act against the practice, instead of issuing a recommendation.
Phiri himself sought for the House to refer the matter to Social and Community Welfare Committee and Media Committee of the House for further action, which would have empowered the two committees to summon telecommunication companies for a hearing.
But the majority of the MPs voiced support for immediate action, demanding that the motion be passed to send a message to the companies, of the public anger on the practice.
Speaker Catherine Gotani-Hara guided the House that in the spirit of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, the wording of the motion could not include a directive to government.
The Speaker also vehemently opposed any proposal to refer the matter to any other committee of Parliament other than the media committee.
After initial voice vote, the Speaker was not sure who had won the motion vote and asked for retake of the vote, but several MPs stood on Point of Order and started again discussing the proposed way forward on the matter.
Winding up debate on the matter, Phiri said the matter had received overwhelming support in the House.
“It’s clear that it will be a waste of time to push this motion to committees when the whole House can resolve. Others have complained about erratic network, which means that the data itself is depleted before its intended use. SG 9 pushes the government to ensure that access to ICT is achieved. The question is: Where does this expired data go? We need to calculate how much we lose in expired data, and we will be shocked that the companies make a lot of profits out of it. If it may please you Madam Speaker, that this House resolves that the whole House asks government to order the companies to stop data from expiry,” said Phiri.
But the statement drew murmurings as some MPs refused that the matter goes to any committee and shouted for the House to resolve the matter immediately.
Earlier, Member of Parliament for Likoma, Ishmael Songwe, said the issue of affordable data was a key social economic matter that affect many Malawians.