Secretary to Treasury Ben Botolo was on Wednesday subpoenaed by the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources after he earlier failed to appear before it.
The committee had written Botolo to appear before it to, among others, discuss proposals submitted by the country’s water boards to the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, but have not been seeing the light of the day for several years.
However, the Treasury boss failed to make it before the scheduled meeting, forcing the committee to subpoena him.
Committee chairperson Joseph Chidanti Malunga confirmed the development, saying the committee met Botolo later in the evening, after the summoning.
He said: “If somebody does not appear before the committee without valid reasons, the serious offence we give is contempt of Parliament, but we did not want to get that far so we gave him the benefit of the doubt and subpoena him. So, we discussed the issues the committee wanted him for.”
Botolo confirmed being subpoenaed, but said he failed to show up during the day due to a tight schedule of other meetings.
“I had nine meetings at the same time, the parliamentary meeting was not the only meeting. They also have to understand that I belong to the Executive arm of government and on my plan of schedule of meetings take the line of the Executive arm of government. I don’t belong to the Parliamentary Service Commission,” he said.
In February this year, the Treasury boss was accused by the Parliamentary Committee on Budget and Finance of presenting a substandard report.
Botolo, alongside budget director Peterson Ponderani, appeared before the Budget and Finance Committee to provide an overview of the execution of the 2017/18 National Budget when they faced the cold reception.
The committee also accused Botolo of ignoring several summons to appear before it and alleged that attempts to communicate with him had hit a wall.
Over the past years, various committees have complained about lack of commitment by some controlling officers from the public service to appear before them and explain some sticky issues within their jurisdiction.
Commenting on the trend, governance commentator Martin Chiphwanya observed that the problem lies in that there is little or no enforcement of sanctions on officers who choose not to appear before parliamentary committees.
Chiphwanya, a former national director of Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) also noted that failure to appear before parliamentary committees raises accountability and transparency questions to the officers.
He said: “Parliamentary powers to summon should be accompanied with sanctions. Failure to appear before any committee of Parliament contravenes its authority. Where the matter has been thoroughly investigated, such officers can as well be fired.”
On his part, Happy Kayuni, an associate professor of political science and administrative studies at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, said public servants must be accountable to Parliament because it is a key institution in any democracy.
He also said it was important to reinforce the mandate of the parliamentary bodies so that officers are effectively disciplined when they disregard its powers.
“Since the public sector is under the Chief Secretary, he should also give guidance by disciplining those controlling officers who ignore the call to appear before committees,” said Kayuni.