Malawi Minister of Finance Ken Lipenga on Thursday withdrew the Mid-Term Budget Supplementary Bill in an unprecedented move that opposition parties in the House immediately described as illegal.
Lipenga told a news conference Thursday evening that the withdrawal had been necessitated by the need to rework budget estimates following the dismantling of some votes after giving civil servants a pay rise.
He said another factor is to accommodate demands by the National Assembly to allocate more resources to committee meetings.
Lipenga indicated that the Mid-Term Budget Supplementary Bill may be brought back to Parliament next week, and not June as earlier stated.
Earlier in the National Assembly, both the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said the decision by the minister was regrettable, suggesting that government will go ahead and spend extra money illegally.
Said DPP spokesperson Nicholas Dausi: “One day somebody will answer for this.”
MCP spokesperson Jolly Kalelo said government should be aware that the money it is spending belongs to taxpayers; hence, should be spent according to the laws of the land.
The Budget Bill was asking Parliament to approve K68 billion (about $188.9 million)additional spending in the current fiscal year.
The withdrawal of the supplementary budget came amid hustling and haggling over Members of Parliament (MPs) demands for new fuel allowances of 500 litres each per month approved in 2008. The MPs threatened not to pass the supplementary budget.
Announcing the withdrawal, which came after the winding up speech of the Mid-Term Budget statement he presented in the House on February 15, Lipenga did not mention anything on the fuel allowances issue.
The issue of the civil servants salaries has forced government, in this fiscal year, to source K5.7 billion (about $15.8 million) to effect a maximum increment of 61 percent for the lowest paid and five percent for the highest paid. Government said recently that this money would come from within the 2012/13 budget as per the legal requirements of the budget.
Lipenga could not say how government would spend the K68 billion extra but insisted that no operations would be affected and government will operate within the laws.
On Monday, backbenchers in the House engaged another gear to push government to implement the 500 litres a month fuel allowances by boycotting debate on the Mid-Term Budget Review statement. Only ministers and their deputies participated in the debate.
On Wednesday there was again drama in the House when the opposition shot down President Joyce Banda’s statement in the oral vote, forcing the adoption motion to go into division and later passed through a roll-call vote in which 90 MPs voted for the adoption while 39 voted against it.
Since the House opened, business has been slow with only two items on the agenda concluded so far. On Thursday, it was the same when the House started with question time which took the entire morning session before the proceedings moved to continuation of debate on the mid-term budget in the afternoon.