As Parliament reconvenes for the 2016/17 Mid-Term Budget Review next Monday, major opposition parties have warned the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration to brace for tough time in responding to socio-economic woes facing the country.
But a commentator has cast doubts on whether the House will achieve much during the meeting.
But leader of opposition and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera said in a telephone interview yesterday that they want to take advantage of the sitting to seek answers to various social and economic issues affecting citizens across the country.
Enthused Chakwera: “Basically, this meeting is to look at what truly has happened in the 2016/17 financial year. We will take them to task on what truly happened financially and economically.”
He also stated that the opposition expects government to bring to Parliament all bills that did not see the light of day during the last sitting.
“There were important Bills, which were not discussed, such as the Financial Crimes Bill. We also trust that they [government] will have a report on the maize saga. So, we should expect four weeks of really tough work,” emphasised Chakwera.
People’s Party (PP) acting leader Uladi Mussa said the opposition members of Parliament (MPs) will demand the physical presence of President Peter Mutharika to provide answers to pressing issues such as corruption and selective prosecution of Cashgate cases.
“We want Mutharika to provide answers on why his government is not showing interest to prosecute the K236 billion Cashgate case,” he said.
The K236 billion Cashgate took place during the reign of former president Bingu wa Mutharika, brother to the incumbent.
“We would also want to hear from him on why government decided to hike the maize price to K12 500, thereby denying the poorest of the poor access to the maize,” Mussa said.
He further stated that the opposition will also want Mutharika to tell the nation how the economy has performed over the past six months and measures government has put in place to address electricity problems.
“The President also needs to tell us why his government has maintained low salaries for civil servants when he promised during campaign time that his administration would raise the perks,” he said.
Leader of Government Business George Chaponda said the Business Committee is yet to meet to discuss the sort of business government will take to Parliament.
“Normally, this is never said until the meeting is conducted of the Business Committee,” said Chaponda before cutting the line.
Chancellor College (Chanco) lecturer and social commentator Mustapha Hussein said he expects an in-depth debate and probe into maizegate, the questionable procurement of maize from Zambia by the government and the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) recently.
Hussein said MPs should take advantage of this sitting to probe further and to get answers related to what really happened in the maize saga.
“Specifics include what the role of Admarc, the roles of the ministries of Agriculture [Irrigation and Water Development] and Finance [Economic Planning and Development] in the maizegate, more so on Honourable [Minister of Agriculture George] Chaponda, his troubles in the context of a court order or suspension, so to speak. I expect that that issue will feature highly,” he said.
He added: “In addition, what is government actually doing, or what has it put in place to address corruption? MPs should also probe into whether there is political will from the ACB [Anti-Corruption Bureau] and such investigative institutions and what is being done about it.
“Again, in general, the issue of the economy; there are so many problems. We’re still experiencing blackouts, the cost of living is very high and there are very compressed salaries across sectors. We ought to hear more about that. What is government doing about that? And, of course, we expect them to finalise or work on outstanding bills that may be there.”
Another Chanco-based lecturer and social commentator Boniface Dulani expressed serious doubts that the next sitting will be able to achieve much.
He said he does not expect anything different from the previous sittings.
“Most likely, the opposition will bring up issues. And, as always, one expects the government to be defensive and defend its own point. Given that government has numbers, I don’t really think we should expect much from [the sitting],” he narrated.
Dulani, however, urged the MPs to play their oversight role in ensuring that government is held to account and address corruption in the public service.
Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe admitted that the economy is sailing through turbulent times.
But Gondwe, who refused to take questions on what government is doing to resuscitate the economy, was quick to attribute the challenge to the withdrawal of direct budgetary support by development partners and bad weather Malawi has experienced in recent years.
“…We have had problems in between. But I think that the figures are coming together. We’ll see what happens in the course of the year.
“The vice-president of the World Bank has said that they may resume budgetary support. That is a big thing from an outsider. Then, we have the figures from international organisations, the IMF [International Monetary Fund] indicating we are okay. So, it looks as if we are beginning to come together,” he said. n