Members of Parliament (MPs) in Malawi are pushing for changes in the budget process in Parliament with the newly revised Standing Orders proposing that the budget document should first be referred to all parliamentary committees for 10 days before it comes on the floor for deliberations, Nation Online has learnt.
Speaking during the Association of Early Childhood Education (AECE) meeting with MPs on Tuesday, parliamentary committee on Education, Science and Human Resources chairperson Frank Elias Viyazyi said the changes are meant to give power to MPs over the budget.
He said: “We want to change the Standing Orders because, currently, MPs do not have power over the budget. The Legal Affairs Committee chairperson will be tabling in the House a report containing the proposed amendments to the Standing Orders.
“What we want is that once the budget is presented in the House by the Finance Minister, it must be referred to committees of the House for 10 days so that MPs can have an opportunity to scrutinise it and make necessary changes before it comes to plenary for deliberation.”
Viyazyi said the current system where MPs start deliberating on the budget immediately after the Minister of Finance has tabled the financial plan limits their chances to change figures in the budget document.
He said: “We are MPs, but the power over the budget is not in our hands. It is difficult for MPs to change figures or allocations which the Finance Minister brings in the House. If we cannot change that, we will always have problems with the budget.”
Parliament’s Social and Community Affairs Committee chairperson Herbert Bimphi said MPs have ended up resorting to using the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to finance some activities which they fail to push through into the budget document during deliberations in the House.
“Unless the budget process changes to accommodate MPs’ views, it will be difficult to cut some budget votes so that the money can go to areas where MPs feel there is great need,” said Bimphi.
Leader of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the House, George Chaponda, also said: “We are currently meeting for the budget. At this late hour, to expect that we can perform miracles by way of changing allocations in the budget, it is almost impossible.”
However, deputy budget director in the Ministry of Finance, Emma Mabvumbe, said MPs can change figures in the budget document even using the current system if they speak with one voice.
She said: “What comes in the House are just budget estimates and not law. MPs need to make sure that what they are turning into law is something they understand. Those budget figures need to talk.
“But what I have observed on the part of MPs is that you are all united only when it comes to one vote in the budget, the vote for National Assembly. As long as you are united, you can change figures in the budget.”
Among others, the National Assembly budget vote carries funds for MPs salaries, allowances and other remunerations. MPs have also been fighting to have their fuel allowances and salaries raised.
Second Deputy Speaker Juliana Mphande said MPs will deliberate on the 2013/14 budget with focus on issues of children, saying Parliament needs to ensure meaningful, efficient and effective resource allocation to achieve tangible results on the ground.
AECE chairperson Foster Kholowa said currently Parliament allocates less than five percent of government’s recurrent budget towards early childhood development.
Malawi’s Minister of Finance Ken Lipenga is expected to present the 2013/14 national budget statement in Parliament tomorrow (Friday).