Parliament had a dramatic start of a session this year when it stayed for close to two weeks without a Leader of Opposition.
When the Parliamentary Secretariat announced the first meeting of the 48th Session from June 21 2019, indicators were clear that the meetings would not be easy and that government would have a tough time as the opposition refused to accept the legitimacy of governing Democratic Progress Party (DPP) leader Peter Mutharika as the President.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which has majority opposition seats in the House following the disputed May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, refused to respond to the State of the Nation Address (Sona), saying doing so would be accepting an illegitimate leader as they were there to pass a provisional budget aimed at allowing government to spend until September 2019 before the National Budget was tabled.
During the opening of the first meeting in the 48th Session of Parliament, MCP members of Parliament (MPs) showed a vote of no confidence in Mutharika’s presidency when they openly called him wakuba (thief) and walked out during the presentation of the President’s first Sona since the contested May 21 2019 poll.
The protesting MPs left bottles of Tippex on their tables, symbolising that Mutharika had won his second term with the aid of Tippex which was used to alter election results sheets.
No tangible business was discussed during the first meeting which was held for three weeks, save for the passing of a K511.3 billion provisional budget, before adjourning sine die.
In his speech during the adjournment of the first meeting, Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa, who is also DPP vice-president for the South and Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, expressed dismay over the behaviour of the opposition, describing them as hypocritical.
He said: “I will fail in my duty, as Leader of the House, if I do not register my strong misgiving and disappointment with the conduct of our friends from MCP, for heckling President Mutharika as he delivered the Sona and walking out of Parliament afterwards.”
MCP’s Lobin Lowe, who was elected Interim Leader of Opposition, warned government to be careful, arguing the governing party’s time was over as the courts were going to decide their fate soon. He said there was a need for government to know that change can be delayed but it cannot be denied, emphasising on passing a provisional budget.
“Let me emphasise the all-important facts that we crucially came here to pass the provisional budget so that we do not deprive Malawians of essential services and thereby, not stifle government‘s business as the country waits with anticipation for the ruling on an electoral case that is currently in court,” he said.
On a positive note, the House made another history by electing the first ever female Speaker Catherine Gotani Hara, a position that was contested by female candidates only.
The House also registered the first ever largest number of independent MPs at 55 of the 193 membership.
At the beginning of budget cluster sessions, the committees seemed not well conversant with the budget, which led critics to accuse them of rubber-stamping the K1.7 trillion National Budget.
However, the performance of committees improved as legislators began to know their roles and how they were supposed to behave.
This year has also seen two major enquiries carried out by parliamentary committees. In November 2019, an enquiry into the selling of tractors that were obtained under the Export-Import Bank of India, Loan Authorisation Act of 2010, to politicians, civil servants and other private sector individuals was carried out by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
PAC engaged all relevant stakeholders, starting with people from the Office of the Ombudsman, Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and others.
Using a Parliament approved loan, government procured 177 tractors and 144 maize shellers in 2014, but the equipment, which was initially meant for smallholder farmers, was sold to politicians, civil servants and other business persons.
Following an investigation that culminated in a report titled The Present Toiling, The Future Overburdened in which the Ombudsman highlighted cases of gross maladministration, the office demanded an apology from Secretary to Treasury Cliff Chiunda and Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Grey Nyandule Phiri for overburdening Malawians with a loan that did not benefit them.
Another notable enquiry Parliament carried out in the year is that of the infamous Livimbo Primary School land encroachment saga, as well as land grabs by a joint parliamentary committee comprising three committees of Education, Legal Affairs and Transport and Public Infrastructure. This was done following a revelation by Lilongwe City South West MP Nancy Tembo of the alleged sale of the school.
The enquiry opened a can of worms as it exposed more land management flaws to the extent that commentators have called for a full enquiry into land management in the country.
Punishment for misbehaviour
The year also registered the first punishment to two legislators following unruly behaviour. In October, Speaker Gotani-Hara suspended Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda (MCP) and Blantyre City South East MP Sameer Suleman (DPP) for two days from any business of Parliament due to disorder.
The Speaker made the announcement following a heated debate between the two sides where government side felt the Speakership was somehow favouring the Opposition in punishing members in the House.
In her ruling, Hara used Standing Order 105 (3) Sanctions against disorderly conduct which says; if a member is named, the Speaker may direct that he or she be suspended from the Assembly on the following terms (a) on the first occasion, for the two sitting days period from the time of suspension.