Government and opposition sides in Malawi have mentioned the passing of the Access to Information (ATI) Bill as a landmark of high debate standards in Parliament.
In interviews yesterday to assess the four-week Fourth Meeting of the 46th Session of Parliament that ended Friday, both Leader of the House George Chaponda and leader of the Opposition Lazarus Chakwera praised members of Parliament (MPs) for political maturity and aggressive debating over the ATI Bill and 12 other government bills.
In a telephone interview from Mbeya in Tanzania, Chaponda noted that the ATI Bill passing brought out pronounced tension because the government side wanted to refine issues and the opposition side was determined to have the Bill passed on Wednesday last week.
He said: “That was good because in a democracy you have to accept that sometimes you throw stones at one another and so on, but you later joke about it [in unity].”
Chaponda expressed happiness that the government and the opposition sides engaged in vibrant give-and-take stances which will improve the lives of ordinary people once the Bills are enacted in the Chamber.
But he pointed out that the development was due to deaths of sisters to Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Atupele Muluzi and MP for Phalombe North Anna Kachikho (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) .
Chaponda, who is Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, said government is keen on tabling the Constitutional Amendment Bill during the next sitting of the House early next year.
In his comments, Chakwera, who is also president of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), said all the legislators exhibited high debate standards and focus.
“I think we raised the bar a little. Actually, our plan is to raise the bar every time, as we point out what Malawians want in their development,” he declared.
Chakwera said he hoped that after the passing ATI Bill “the President [Peter Mutharika] will do the needful”. He was referring to the President’s awaited assent to the Bill that has taken 13 years to see the light of day.
Speaker Richard Msowoya endorsed that the quality of debate was high and was comparable to some great regional parliaments.
He refused to single out the most important Bill passed.
“All Bills in Parliament are important because they affect people’s lives in different positive ways. Bills like ATI, Drought Recovery Loan, National Planning Commission were aggressively participated,” he added.
Msowoya said his regret was that they had too many breaks. “We will work on reducing them, to maximise debate time,” he promised.
The Speaker also defended MPs for their high rate of absenteeism. He said party whips received genuine reasons for their members’ absence in the Chamber.
“Whenever there was crucial voting, the members always showed up. Do not expect the Chamber to be full at all times. Whips do a great job to ensure we conform to international standards,” he stated. n