17 September 2020
embers of Parliament have been meeting in Lilongwe since September 4. During this session, we have seen various highlights, including President Lazarus Chakwera’s maiden State of the Nation Address (Sona), his taking questions from lawmakers and Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu’s presentation of the K2.19 trillion 2020/21 National Budget.
There have been lessons drawn from the session. For instance, by going to take the members of Parliament (MPs) questions, Chakwera showed not only that he wants to be seen to be following the Constitution to the letter but also transparency and accountability in how the government is running its affairs.
It is evident that the MPs were not prepared to ask Chakwera tangible questions. At times, the President caught the MPs, including Leader of Opposition Kondwani Nankhumwa off guard. When Nankhumwa felt the President was too serious, asking him to ‘stand at ease’ Chakwera put it that discussions in Parliament are a serious matter. In his words, he respected Nankhumwa as LoP, and that whatever they discussed was only supposed to border on seriousness.
The repercussions of that Chakwera-Nankhumwa stand-off are apparently far-reaching as some DPP brass has started questioning his proficiency in the office. It is a wonder that that should come now, when Nankhumwa has for so long been in the DPP Cabinet and the party’s politburo. For that matter, before he became LoP, he was Leader of the House. The in-fighting in DPP is going to another level.
Among some things that topped the agenda in Parliament, the media and social media platforms was the issue of construction of MPs’ official houses in their constituencies. This is an issue that was in Chakwera’s Sona, but it was really surprising since it was never in the Tonse Alliance campaign agenda.
Apparently, the paragraph was inserted in the Sona to divert people’s attention, including the MPs, from the nitty-gritties of the budget that was coming. Which is why some of the MPs missed the opportunity to ask Chakwera difficult questions and focused on trivia like where were some Tonse Alliance leaders and why Chakwera seems to be carrying on his shoulders his Hi 5 Agenda at the expense of the alliance.
From that, it is clear some of the MPs had little or no time at all to study the Sona and probe more deeply. For instance, during the May 21 2019 elections, Chakwera’s MCP was promising a universal fertiliser subsidy, while Saulos Chilima and the UTM Party were promising fertiliser at K4 595 per 50 kilogramme bag. When the two entered into an alliance for the fresh polls, the issue became misty as ever, only to be told that, in fact, only about 4.5 million farming households stand to benefit.
It is a shift from the 900 000 to 1.5 million that used to benefit under the targeted inputs programme. But, the question is, how are we going to cushion the burden this will cause, given that allocation to subsidised fertiliser and seed has tripled? For that matter, what modalities are in place that it is, indeed, the ‘substistence’ that will benefit from the programme, and not unscrupulous traders, transporters and other corrupt minds?
By the way, did government say anything about teaching the farmers proper fertiliser application? It is one thing to have four bags of fertiliser and a totally new thing to know how to properly apply it. Has consideration been made on the rain patterns? It is painful that the same people who bought fertilizer at a heavily subsidised price will be looking at the same government for relief when their yield lowers due to drought or floods.