Lawmakers Wednesday passed the K1.995 trillion 2021/22 National Budget in a record three and half hours (210 minutes) in what analysts have described as either a demonstration of top-notch efficiency on the part of Members of Parliament (MPs) or an acute shortage of budget analytical skills.
The passing of the budget came just 24 hours after Finance Minister Felix Mlusu announced a K5.5 billion total adjustment to 17 critical areas in the financial plan which lawmakers had expressed concern about.
Scrutiny of the budget during the Committee of Supply started at 2pm yesterday with a 30-minute break in between and by 6pm, all the 56 votes in the budget had been passed.
University of Malawi Economics Professor, Ben Kaluwa, said the supersonic speed at which the budget was passed could either mean efficiency or lack thereof on the part of lawmakers.
Kaluwa added that the adjustments by Mlusu on the eve of the Committee of Supply might have performed some magic as it answered the various concerns raised by lawmakers during the cluster stage.
On his part, Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency (CSAT) Executive Director, Willy Kambwandira, expressed worry over the lack of budget analytical skills among lawmakers.
“Passing a budget is not bad but our concern is that our parliament is the only parliament in the region that spends the least time scrutinising the budget.
“This is a bad sign and a bad tradition. This has been the trend over the years but they can do better. It is obvious that they have not fully scrutinised it in relation to performance tallies and national priorities,” said Kambwandira
The legislators scrutinised 56 votes of allocations to different ministries, departments, and agencies.
The National Government Finance Committee has the largest share at K336 billion while the Ministry of Finance has been approved to use K26.1 billion.
Mlusu explained that the Local Government Finance Committee got a huge allocation because it is responsible for the councils in the country.
“There are a lot of activities and programmes that the local authorities have to do. That is why we are giving them a lot of funding,” he said.
The minister said this was in line with the decentralisation programme.
The Office of President and Cabinet got K18.9 billion, National Assembly K15.2 billion while the Ministry of Agriculture got K223.4 billion.
Nevertheless, state-owned organisations have got K108 billion, the Roads Fund Administration K125.8 billion while the Malawi Revenue Authority has received K30.9 billion.
Mlusu was excited that the budget passed in a single day which has not been the case in previous budget sessions.
Mathews Kasanda is a journalist who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from University of Malawi (The Polytechnic).
In 2015, Media Institute of Southern Africa awarded him the Best Print Media Education Journalist of the Year accolade.
He joined Times Group Newsroom in September 2019.