President Lazarus Chakwera will tomorrow become only the second Head of State among five in the multiparty era to appear before Parliament to answer questions as provided for in the Constitution.
Presidential press secretary Brian Banda said in a statement yesterday that the President, who promised to undertake the task in his inauguration speech, will return to Parliament Building in Lilongwe barely six days after delivering his maiden State of the Nation Address on Friday.
Reads the statement from State House Press Office: “In fulfillment of his promise to govern by the rule of law, His Excellency the President Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera will this Thursday, the 10th of September 2020, appear before Parliament to answer members’ questions.
“The President will arrive at Parliament at 13:45 hours.”
Section 89(4) of the Constitution provides that “the President shall be called to Parliament to answer questions at such times as may be prescribed by the Standing Orders of Parliament on a motion of the National Assembly or Senate”.
But despite the law providing for Question Time for the President, since the adoption of the new Constitution in 1994, only the first president in the multiparty era, Bakili Muluzi, during his first term from 1994 to 1999 answered questions in Parliament.
Muluzi’s successor, Bingu wa Mutharika (deceased) vehemently refused to appear before Parliament to fulfill the constitutional requirement.
President Joyce Banda, who was Bingu’s estranged vice-president but ascended to the presidency in line with constitutional order in April 2012 following Bingu’s death, never attempted to appear before Parliament as did her successor Peter Mutharika who ruled the country from 2014.
Meanwhile, the Business Committee of Parliament, chaired by the Speaker of Parliament and comprises leaders of political parties represented in the National Assembly, has issued guidelines on the procedure to be followed in asking the President questions.
Read the guidelines in part: “The President may be asked questions about matters of national and international importance by members of the Assembly. These may include matters for which the government is responsible, excluding matters for which a line minister is directly responsible.”
The guidelines further indicate that notice of the questions to the President under rule 70(2)(a) of the Standing Orders, shall be submitted by a member to the Speaker and a minimum of six working days shall be allowed before the President answers the question.
The Business Committee shall examine the notices of the questions before they are forwarded to the President.
“Questions on written notice to the President shall be taken on a Wednesday at least twice in each Meeting of the Assembly,” say the guidelines.
The guidelines also show that Question Time for the President shall last for one hour and 30 minutes. Extension of the Question Time for the President shall only be permitted to allow the President to answer any remaining questions from the scheduled five at the expiry of the prescribed period, according to the guidelines.
Unlike when delivering Sona where the President sits in the Speaker’s chair, during the Question Time for the President he will be seated on the government side on a seat specially reserved for that purpose by the Speaker, according to the guidelines.
Where the Vice-President wishes to be present during Question Time for the President, the guidelines provide that he shall have a seat reserved next to the President, the statement indicated.
Since becoming President, Chakwera—who alongside second-term Vice-President Saulos Chilima passionately condemned corruption during both the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections and the June 23 Fresh Presidential Election, has introduced a number of initiatives aimed at taking the presidency to the people. The President has a weekly address on wide-ranging issues on Saturday evenings while his State House Press Team has introduced weekly media briefings on Mondays.
Besides, the President has also announced plans to open up State Residences to the public for photo shoots with the First Couple.