Nearly five months have passed since revelations that two deputy speakers at the National Assembly, Clement Chiwaya and Esther Mcheka- Chilenje, dubiously claimed housing allowances worth millions of kwacha by signing tenancy agreements for houses in their own names.
It was our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation, which revealed that the two deputy speakers were living in their own houses, but claimed rentals of K550 000 per month between May and September for rented houses instead of K250 000 for residing in their personal houses.
Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) summoned the deputy speakers to a hearing, but they refused.
After Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development confirmed that the houses indeed belonged to the duo contrary to the presentation of tenancy agreements that they belonged to a third party, the deputy speakers have remained untouchable.
Since the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) instituted investigations against the deputy speakers, no action has been taken despite confirmation that the information Weekend Nation published in July had merit to warrant further probe into the allegations.
Attorney General (AG) Kalekeni Kaphale, who opposition parties in Parliament have accused of shielding Chiwaya and Chilenje-Nkhoma, has refused to be drawn into the matter, opting to leave ACB to conclude its investigations and inform the public of its result.
What seemed like a clear cut act of fraud with confirmation from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development and documentation from Parliament Secretariat has turned out to be complicated.
An attempt to bring the matter to the floor of the House when Parliament resumed meeting for the 46th session last month did not yield fruits.
Caught between a rock and a hard place and bearing in mind a warning from the AG that the Speaker of Parliament could not act without his legal advice, Speaker Richard Msowoya ordered that there be no debate on the matter.
After protestations and acquiescence, there were the likes of Mzimba West member of Parliament (MP) Harry Mkandawire who used an opportunity to comment on President Peter Mutharika’s State Opening Address of Parliament that he felt government was shielding Chiwaya and Mcheka Chilenje from prosecution.
Ironically, Mkandawire made the allegations at a time when Chiwaya, who is Second Deputy Speaker, was presiding over the House sitting. Chiwaya did not comment on Mkadawire’s remarks.
PSC has opted to deal with the deputy speakers administratively without divulging to the public whether they will pay back the money.
When MPs and Malawians failed to seek justice through Parliament, four MPs, namely Mkandawire and Kamlepo Kalua (Rumphi East) from People’s Party (PP), Peter Chakwantha (Lilongwe South West) of Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Enock Chihana (Rumphi Central) of Alliance for Democracy turned their attention to the debacle of the appointment of the Clerk of Parliament (CoP).
Acting CoP Roosevelt Gondwe retired in July and Parliament advertised the post a month later.
A new CoP was sought with the abilities to understand research for the development of Parliament Procedures Committee system and Conditions of Service for MPs and staff.
After a series of interviews, the President appointed Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs legislative counsel Fiona Kalemba. However, it later emerged that she was not the successful candidate, but was imposed by the President.
The MPs have challenged Kalemba’s appointment as new CoP, stopping her scheduled swearing in until the court adjudicates whether State House was right to leave High Court Judge Charles Mkandawire who came first in the interviews followed by Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) executive secretary Grace Malera. Kalemba was third in the interviews.
The MPs have tendered to court evidence that Mutharika asked for two other names when judge Mkandawire’s name was submitted as the successful applicant out of the eight.
Chihana produced evidence to show that PSC met again and resolved to resubmit Mkandawire’s name to Mutharika which the President did not agree with once again.
The State, through the AG, has failed to discharge the injunction on the swearing in of Kalemba on the basis that the MPs had no locus standi (interest in the matter).
Some have argued that if the President wanted a woman for CoP, then Malera, a lawyer as well, should have been picked as she came second. The President said he settled for Kalemba owing to her legislative drafting skills, but other quarters have dismissed this, saying a CoP is effectively an administrative head of Parliament.
As the year comes to an end, the High Court in Mzuzu is yet to make a decision and Kalemba’s future remains in limbo until next year. n