Parliament Secretariat has so far not recovered a single tambala from allowances for members of Parliament (MPs) who absent themselves from sittings without valid reasons.
Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya, who in June this year warned legislators that absentees will have their sitting allowances deducted or forfeited, confirmed in an interview yesterday that Parliament Secretariat has not deducted any allowance from an MP.
He said that was the case because his office depends on the sincerity of the MPs and their whips—legislators appointed by individual political parties to enforce discipline among their members in the House—to provide reasons for their absence.
Said the Speaker: “The custodian of the MPs is not the Speaker, but the whip of that political party. So, when they leave for whatever event they inform their whips and it is the whips who communicate to Parliament about an MP’s absence… The whips have so far not reported any MP to the Speaker who has absconded without giving any reason.”
The Speaker was reacting to The Nation’s observations of increased absenteeism of legislators which on Tuesday rose to 83 in the 193-seat National Assembly.
MPs receive K40 000 per day as subsistence allowance and K10 000 sitting allowance paid out to them in advance.
During debate on the Access to Information (ATI) Bill on Tuesday afternoon, it transpired that about 83 MPs—around 43 percent of the House—were missing when a division vote was taken on whether the committee stage debate be suspended.
The Speaker is legally empowered to deduct an MP’s allowance under Standing Order 41 (3), which states: “A member who is absent without seeking leave of absence shall forfeit all allowances during the period of absence.”
The Speaker also wields the powers to grant an MP absence, according to Standing Orders 206 (3), on the two grounds of illness or family emergency or to enable the member attend to public business locally or abroad.
When asked to explain the huge number of absentees, Msowoya referred The Nation to the individual political party whips, saying they were best placed to explain.
However, the Speaker also hinted that it was not only in Malawi where legislators miss sittings.
He said: “It is all Parliaments… In the House of Commons [United Kingdom] where there are more than 200 MPs, but at anytime they are discussing there are only about 70 something or 80 until there is voting that is when all of them come and they don’t even have seats. They stand in Parliament.
“So, parliamentarians are not supposed to be in the chambers 100 percent, but what we are looking at is discipline. They cannot just absent themselves; they must always take leave of their whips.”
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) deputy chief whip Clement Mlombwa said his party records all apologies in a register and “those that don’t send apologies are registered as absentees”.
He said: “But when we ask them to provide reasons, they do write us and at the end of the month we present that to the office of the Speaker. So far, nobody has been punished for abscondment without giving reasons.”
United Democratic Front (UDF) chief whip Lilian Patel, speaking specifically on Tuesday’s incident, said most of her party’s MPs who absconded were at the vigil for former president Bakili Muluzi’s daughter Esme Malisita in Blantyre.
Whips for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and People’s Party (PP) did not pick up their phones for comment after several attempts.
But political scientist Mustapha Hussein described MPs’ absenteeism in Parliament as a “sad development”. n