Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya has sought legal advice on what action to take following a request from the Office of the Declarations of Assets to declare vacant seats of six members of Parliament (MPs) and a Cabinet minister.
Public Declarations of Assets and Liabilities director Chris Tukula last week wrote the Speaker and President Peter Mutharika to declare vacant seats of the MPs and Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development Grace Chiumia for contravening Section 14 (3) (a) of the Assets Declarations law which requires public officers to submit declarations annually.
The six MPs namely, Chiumia herself, George Chaponda, Christopher Mzomera Ngwira, Willard Gwengwe, Henry Shaba and Davis Kadzinja did not declare their assets for the year 2016/17.
In an interview yesterday, Assistant Clerk of Parliament (Press and Protocol) Leonard Mengezi, confirmed that the Speaker received the letter.
He said the Speaker, through the Clerk of Parliament, has since sought advice from the legal team on the way forward.
“I have been briefed by the Clerk that she has received the letter and the Speaker has also been given a copy. The Speaker will act but it is not specified what will happen. Once the legal team advises him, he will follow whatever they will say and outline the procedure to take,” said Mengezi.
According to Standing Order 207 (4), the Speaker receives a petition to declare a seat vacant after which he serves notice to the concerned MPs to respond to the allegations.
However, this procedure has only been put into action in reference to evoking Section 65 of the Constitution relating to crossing the floor.
Section 15 of the Assets Declarations law obliges public officers, their immediate family members and associates to declare their financial status and other assets including sources of funding and how the assets were acquired.
The law obliges the Assets Declarations office to report errant officers to the Office of the President and Cabinet in case of ministers and high ranking officials, and to the Speaker in case of MPs.
However, the law falls short of empowering the Assets Declarations Director to act on officers who default on declarations.
If the Speaker or President does not act on the minister and MPs, the Assets Declarations office cannot do anything.
Tukula said in an interview yesterday that failing to declare is a civil offence not criminal.
He said if Parliament or OPC does not act, the Public Appointments Committee can take up the matter.