Tempers flared on the second day of the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) Third All-inclusive Stakeholders’ Conference in Blantyre as government representatives dismissed calls from opposition parties and civil society organisations (CSOs) on when Parliament should meet.
The highly tense debate on the issue forced PAC to postpone the signing of the draft conference resolutions as the two sides failed to reach an agreement.
It all started when moderator of the meeting, business consultant Henry Kachaje, started going through issues raised by delegates in their respective group discussions.
Issues raised included a demand for Parliament to meet before its constitutional dissolution on March 20 to discuss the Capital Hill cashgate issue, sale of the presidential jet and discolouring of maize in the silos.
While all the five groups agreed on the need to convene Parliament earlier than April as suggested by government, they differed on the dates and, as Kachaje sought views from the delegates, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ephraim Mganda Chiume told the conference it was not possible as there were a number of issues government was waiting for.
Said Chiume: “Business of Parliament comes from government which is not ready at the moment. PAC [Public Accounts Committee of Parliament] has not finished its business, the forensic audit has not concluded, investigations into the K400 million [found with a junior civil servant] is not concluded and the World Bank is meeting in March to discuss funding which was incorporated in the 2013-2014 budget.”
Chiume’s explanation drew an angry reaction from delegates, some of whom were overheard saying government should not dictate things.
Karonga Nyungwe member of Parliament (MP) Khwauli Msiska further worsened the situation when he said the proposed meeting of Parliament is at the mercy of the President as it would be regarded as an emergency sitting as per Section 67 of the Constitution.
In an apparent attempt to defuse the tension, PAC executive director Robert Phiri asked his chairperson the Reverend Dr Felix Chingota to make closing remarks.
Chingota announced that PAC would consolidate the suggestions and come up with the final draft this Thursday.
However, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson Jessie Kabwila expressed happiness that the delegates raised their concerns.
“These days, one can only talk through PAC if he or she wants government to listen. We have presented our views,” said Kabwila.
Besides calling for an early meeting of Parliament, delegates also suggested criminalising of handouts by politicians, establishment of long-term development framework which incoming governments should not disregard, autonomy of accountability institutions, publication of names of those involved in the cashgate, depoliticisation of appointments and resignation of the President.