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Budget first, salary increase later

I am very impressed at the speed at which votes are passed in Parliament. I am sure by today, Friday, the budget would have been passed.

I should say this is very commendable. This is how things should be.

I am saying all this against the background of threats by some Members of Parliament (MPs) to topple the budget if government does not approve their 70 percent salary increase.

It should be borne in mind that in the past, Parliament, especially opposition MPs would put their personal and political interests first and the national interests later.

We saw how the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and United Democratic Front (UDF) led by John Tembo insisted on Section 65 first and budget second.

This should be between 2004 and 2009 when former president Bingu wa Mutharika had a minority government in the august House after he dumped UDF, the party that sponsored him into power to form his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The move by the opposition cost most of the MPs their seats during the 2009 general elections.

More than half of the MPs, mostly those who were for Section 65 first and budget second, lost their seats in what political analysts said was Malawians’ display of anger over their legislators’ decision to prioritise a political issue against an issue of national importance.

The opposition MPs wanted the Speaker to rule that those MPs who had left UDF to join DPP should be sent out of Parliament so that by-elections be held in their respective constituencies.

Now, when I heard that MPs were demanding a 70 percent salary increase and that they threatened to disturb the budget passing, I felt taken aback.

I know the cost of living has gone drastically up but our honourable MPs take a cool K1 million plus home at the end of the month.

If the government approves the 70 percent salary increase, they will now be close to K2 million every month apart from the usual K50,000 sitting allowance they get when they are meeting in plenary or committees.

This is no little money taking into account the economy the country is in, this is no little money taking into account that the majority of Malawians live in abject poverty and this is no little money taking into the account that most constituents do not even know when they will get the next meal and when did they had the last proper meal.

MPs should be there to serve the people they represent not their bellies.

MPs should put the interest of the nation first and not their own personal interests.

Our legislators should be told in clear language that they did not get into politics to get rich but serve the people of Malawi.

I am not so sure whether President Peter Mutharika has approved the salary increase or not but according to Lilian Patel, Chairperson of Cluster 9 of Parliament, she was optimistic the President would pend his signature on the issue.

I am not against MPs getting a salary increase but I feel the national cake should be shared equally.

Most civil servants get less than K100,000 a month and we have an MP who wants to get K2 million a month. As much as I appreciate that their job is honourable, sometimes, some of them, their behaviour is dishonourable.

Some of them come to Parliament very late while others even never go to Parliament to do the job we voted them to do, yet they want more of the national cake than the others.

I know that the government is in a fix. The government should either approve the salary increase and make the legislators smile or reject their proposal and get the MPs’ wrath.

The government should be bold enough to reject the 70 percent salary increase and negotiate for a lesser percentage pay increase.

It would be immoral to award the MPs a 70 percent salary increase while the civil servant who does the donkey’s work of government gets a meagre 10 percent salary increase.

This is how civil servants are demotivated. I am not surprised that most qualified civil servants leave the government for the private sector for obviously the greener pastures.

As I said earlier, I am not against the MPs getting the pay hike but this should be done in good faith; otherwise, bulldozing the Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe to do it is the same as looting the public coffers.

We all know how the International Monetary Fund has expressed concern over the increased wage bill.

If the donors decide to pull out its aid because of the wage bill, it will be the same opposition asking the government to explain what happened, it will be the same MPs expressing concern on “behalf of the people” and it will be the same MPs asking for answers on the matter.

I always think we can do much better as a nation on the matter. We should all understand that we are in very difficult economic situation and that the government is now in a fix.

Instead of asking for pay hike, let our good parliamentarians help the government find instant solutions to the economic problems rocking the nation.

After solutions have been found and the economy is fixed, then we can think of demanding more in both salaries and allowances.

This should be done after bearing in mind that the national cake is for all of us, not the privileged few.

This country, this Malawi, belongs to all of us, not to MPs only, not to judges only, not to the President and his Cabinet only but to the ordinary poor Malawians as well who are always urged to wake up early in the morning to cast votes for our elected leaders.

Malawi should, therefore, be taken as a national asset not a personal asset for the privileged few.

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