Experts have expressed mixed reactions on the effectiveness of parliamentary committees to scrutinise government business, policies and legislation proposals.
In separate interviews this week, the experts said while the committees tackle important issues, they need to build capacity to improve their operational effectiveness.
The issue comes against a backdrop of accusation Solicitor General Reyneck Matemba levelled against some committees that they bully civil servants instead of playing an oversight role.
In an interview on Friday, University of Malawi political scientist Blessings Chinsinga said the committees tackle important issues but they have not performed to the expectations of Malawians.
He said: “A committee can start an issue today, but once their meetings are closed, they don’t follow up on issues to their logical conclusions. It appears they get excited with emerging issues. This is a serious challenge.”
Chinsinga added that the committees seem not to understand their roles and urged Parliament to organise a capacity building programme.
“With that lack of knowledge as to what is expected of them, chances are high parliamentary committees could be used as stages to attack political opponents or government officials that are summoned to appear before them,” he said.
But former Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda said parliamentary committees have proved effective and provided oversight role, but admitted that there is need for effective follow up on recommendations they make.
On her part, United Nations (UN) resident coordinator Maria Jose Torres said there is need to strengthen Parliament’s oversight role through review of statutory committees to match the current governance dynamics in Malawi.
In a response to a questionnaire on Friday, she proposed a review of the committee structure to identify gaps that need to be enhanced for effective and efficient oversight as well as strengthened law making.
Matemba appeared before the committee on August 26 this year alongside officials from ministries of Justice, Home Affairs and Finance, but they were sent back allegedly without being accorded a right to reply.
He admonished the Parliamentary Committee on International Relations for bullying government officials who appear before it.
He said committees are increasingly taking advantage of such meetings to attack their political opponents, insult the country’s leadership and bully government officials.
In an interview monitored on Zodiak Broadcasting Station, the Solicitor General warned the parliamentary committees to stop undue attacks on government officials.
When contacted on Thursday, he declined to comment, saying what he said was enough.
But a principal secretary (PS), who opted for anonymity, said Matemba spoke for many voiceless government officials who have suffered unjustifiable attacks before the committees.
The PS said most committees take advantage of parliamentary immunity to defame public officers or their fellow politicians.
Said the PS: “There are things that have been said against public officers or government in general that cannot even be backed with evidence. They can say nasty things knowing they cannot be held to account for their defamatory utterances.
“We applaud Mr. Matemba for speaking the truth. You can imagine Mr. Matemba and his team were sent back and the committee went to the media and said they were not prepared, when in fact, they were not allowed a right to reply.”
Another PS, who also was speaking on condition of anonymity, said parliamentary committees plot to embarrass public officers.
In a separate interview on Wednesday, former Clerk of Parliament Roosevelt Gondwe admitted what happened at the meeting between Matemba’s team and the International Relations Committee was unfortunate as there was nothing for the committee to report back to the House.
But Gondwe, who served the National Assembly for over 30 years in various capacities, said all summons for appearance before the committees are expected to contain details of the issue witnesses are being invited for.