Commentators and parliamentarians alike have said the just ended meeting of Parliament failed to meet most of its expectations, especially for not tabling the Access to Information (ATI) bill.
The meeting was the first of the 46th Session of Parliament which was officially opened on November 6 2015 by President Peter Mutharika.
In an interview on Thursday, Timothy Mtambo, director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), said Parliament has failed Malawians, especially for not passing the ATI bill despite assurances from President Mutharika.
He observed that the bill never appeared anywhere on the order paper, although Minister of Finance and Economic Development Goodall Gondwe had said it was expected to be tabled last week.
“The only light and hope we had at the end of the tunnel was the promise by President Mutharika on the ATI bill, little did we know that he and his government were lying just like they did with MSB and NAC. It tortures the mind of any intellectual when you begin to ask yourself questions as to why and how our government is so afraid of empowering its people through giving them information,” said Mtambo.
He added that government’s failure to table and pass the law is reflective of trends on the continent where leaders believe in the culture of secrecy.
He also expressed concern that Parliament skirted around or totally ignored critical national issues.
“To be honest, we have not seen any concrete resolutions from the Parliament on how the current serious health, hunger, water and electricity challenges will be handled. To a greater extent this was a lost opportunity,” Mtambo said.
He deplored the tendency by some ministers and MP who absconded parliamentary meetings, which he said was a betrayal of trust from the people they represent.
Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Lazarus Chakwera, observed that apart from some bills passed in the House, Parliament did not make significant resolutions on national issues.
Chakwera further accused government of systematically blocking opposition MPs from introducing motions on national issues on Thursdays, which are private members’ day.
“For example, a motion on the independence of Parliament has, for the second time, failed to be tackled which is a setback,” he said.
He, however, expressed his satisfaction that the opposition managed to push through one motion on Thursday stopping government from hiking fees in secondary schools and public universities.
Ntchisi North MP (Independent) Boniface Kadzamira rued Parliament’s failure to pass a motion on industrial hemp cultivation as a setback as it would have been a relief to farmers who are trying to find alternatives to tobacco.
“I will try to bring the motion back in the next meeting of Parliament,” he said.
Meanwhile, Leader of the House Francis Kasaila expressed gratitude to the leadership of the House for manner in which business was transacted during the meeting.
“There were moments where we all agreed and moments when we disagreed but said this is the hallmark of democracy,” he said.
During the four-week sitting, the House passed a number of bills such as the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Amendment) Bill; Estate Duty (Amendment) Bill; International Development Association (Southern Africa Trade and Transport Programme Phase 2) Loan (Authorisation) Bill; Malawi Institute of Procurement and Supply Bill; European Investment Bank (Upgrading of Aviation Safety and Security Equipment at Kamuzu and Chileka International Airports Project) Loan (Authorisation), Opec Fund for International Development (Mzimba Integrated Urban Water and Sanitation Project) Loan (Authorisation); and and African Development Bank (Mzimba Integrated Urban Water and Sanitation Project) Loan (Authorisation).
The House referred Bill No. 22 of 2015 – Payment Systems to the Budget Committee and Bill No. 11 of 2015 – Electronic Transactions to the Committee on Media and Communication.
Bill No. 2 of 2014 – Meteorology and Bill No. 24 of 2015 – Communication remain outstanding. n