Since last week, we have been in Lilongwe and we will stay here until we get bored. So far, our stay has been fruitful and eventful.
We feel blessed to have witnessed our Parliament elect its first female Speaker. We enjoyed the singing when Madam Catherine Gotani Hara was elected, beating veteran first deputy speaker. No Tipp-Ex! No Tipp-Ex here!
One WhatsApp friend joked rudely to the effect that if the election in Parliament had been conducted by the Model Electoral Commission (MEC) and the vote counting of votes audited by the NEAC, Mrs Gotani Hara would have been at number two or three.
Congratulations Madam Speaker, Madam. Congratulations Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir and congratulations Madam Second Deputy Speaker Madam!
Generally, we are pleased that there is a Parliament now. The number of women in that house is not disappointing. The number of old guards, institutional memory books, is also fine. So, let the games start.
Our parliamentarians know that they have a huge task before them. The outgoing US Ambassador to Malawi, Ngwazi Virginia Palmer did not mince words in her parting letter published in the our sister paper, The Nation. She said what we all already know, that Malawi is doing badly economically and in terms of service delivery because of corruption and lack of accountability in government.
Interestingly, all politicians and political parties also acknowledge and agree with Ngwazi Virginia Palmer that there is neck deep corruption in Malawi. During the campaign for the May 21 2019 Tipp-Ex Elections, the DPP promised to spare noone and no place in its fight against corruption. So did the MCP and UTM in theirs. What we did not hear, however, was who was corrupt. Not even Ambassador Ngwazi Palmer named the people, the causes and centres of corruption.
However, we, the new Bottom Up delegation, know why corruption goes on unabetted, but like Ngwazi Palmer we will not mention exactly who is who in corruption.
We can only say that the police are not doing enough to arrest the vice. Instead, they receive the little bribes day in, day out and culprits go scot-free. The citizens themselves are not doing enough to stop the corruption. They enjoy the benefits of corruption and encourage the centres of and actors in corruption to keep stealing.
Stories are not uncommon in the public service, workshops are conducted attended by noone; yet money is paid out to hotels, fuel companies, etc and allowances paid out to ghost participants, ghost facilitators, ghost guests of honour, ghost accountants and ghost auditors. And ghost workshop reports are prepared and accepted real civil servants, without any frown or dint of shame.
Faith institutions are not exempt, either. They knowingly receive tithes and other collections from the corrupt and the leaders there steal the money the thieves stole.
All this malpractice can easily end if auditors, the president, the police, the citizens, and, of course parliamentarians and councillors do their jobs with the country in mind.
Parliament has three principal roles to play: represent us; make laws and provide oversight, also on our behalf. When parliamentarians they are representing us. When they receive salaries and allowances, they receive them on our behalf. If you did not know, at least you now know!
Our parliamentarians are good at making laws. But they are not very good at providing checks and balances against the executive and judiciary. Their oversight function is often shelved. If Parliament had really been serious with oversight, billions of kwacha would not have disappeared during the presidency of Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda. If parliamentarians had been serious with their oversight, the US$1.1 trillion (or MK800 trillion) purportedly invested in agriculture from 1994 to 2018 would have borne fruit and Malawi would have been food and nutrition secure today.
This is why we are encouraging this cohort of parliamentarians to be different from their predecessors and take their oversight role seriously. During the committee meetings do serious vetting of policies, budgets, and reject allocations that do not make sense. When you are in Parliament to ensure that people get value for their investment in you!
We know not all MPs are academically prepare scrutinise budgets, policies and other sector issues. This is why there are orientation sessions right now. Take the training seriously.