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Budget meeting starts Friday

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SAID THE MPs HAVE NO CHOICE—Kawale

Parliament Tuesday released guidelines for the 2020/21 budget meeting that would see 100 ‘youthful’ lawmakers meeting for two hours every day in the chamber while those of advanced years have been asked to stay away as they are deemed susceptible to the fatal effects of Covid-19.

The guidelines are a way of minimising the spread of the novel coronavirus while Members of Parliament (MPs) continue to transact government business of passing the budget and other businesses that might include deliberating the electoral reform bills.

The bills will determine when and how the fresh presidential election, which was ordered by the courts after nullifying the 2019 presidential election, should be held.

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The guideline state that the House, among others, will be meeting for two hours only per day and only 100 MPs will be allowed in the chamber while the rest will follow the proceedings and contribute to the deliberations in other rooms at Parliament Building.

In her communication on the new guidelines, Speaker Catherine Gotani Hara says Parliament encourages MPs with pre-existing medical conditions and those above 60 years of age to be working from their places of lodging as they are more vulnerable to Covid-19.

They are, however, supposed to avail themselves for substantive voting if they feel so.

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“The other [MPs] not seated in the chamber will occupy seats in either the members’ or ministerial lounges, to follow the proceedings on the TV screens. The [MPs] shall not change allocated seats,” the communication reads.

Parliament Chief Public Relations Officer, Ian Mwenye, confirmed Parliament setting up the guidelines whose aim is to facilitate “a well-organised conduct of parliamentary business during the budget meeting”.

The guidelines say before the scheduled sitting of the House, the party whips and the Speaker— who will be responsible for independent MPs— will designate members in accordance with the numerical strength in the House and the business to be transacted.

“[MPs] sitting in the lounges shall indicate their intention to raise a point of order electronically to the presiding officer. All notices of business including the Order Paper shall be circulated electronically, and therefore members should bring along their laptops.

“All [MPs] must be given an opportunity to attend the sitting of the House by party whips. The nominations for Honorable Members to sit in the chamber shall be sent and received by the Clerk of Parliament by 5.00pm a day prior to the date when the sitting of the House will be held,” reads the guidelines.

It further says questions to ministers shall be put in writing and ministers shall respond to them in writing and be posted on designated areas.

The guidelines add that the deliberations will not be open to the public, the development that will prevent several stakeholders including development partners from physically monitoring the deliberations.

Malawi Congress Party Whip, Sam Kawale, said his party understands the need to be cautious with the pandemic but where necessary adjustments will be made.

“It is going to be new for everyone, so where we see a need, we will be adjusting. Know that everyone will be contributing to the deliberations,” he said.

On his part, Democratic Progressive Party Whip, Simon Vuwa Kaunda, said amid the existence of the pandemic, they have no choice but to follow the measures and that as a party, they would have loved to have everyone in the chamber.

“But with Covid-19, what should we do? We just have to follow the measures,” he said.

Parliament is set to meet from this Friday to July 24. Among others, the lawmakers are expected to set a date for the fresh presidential election after Malawi Electoral Commission proposed that the poll should be held on June 23.

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