The recent developments at the National Assembly, where the political leadership has not only spoiled itself with new luxurious vehicles but also enjoyed big increments in salaries and benefits while government is so thin on resources, have underscored the need for Malawi to look beyond the executive branch when it comes to cost cutting measures.
And revelations have also surfaced about Parliament spending budgetary lines for committee meetings and external travels even though no meetings and travel took place. This is really shocking.
All along, we have just been looking at Capital Hill when thinking of extravagance and careless spending of public money.
While it is necessary for the president, his ministers and top government officials to lead by example by making sure that they drastically scale down their take from the tax-payers kitty, it is also important for us to look at how resources can be saved and protected in the other arms of government such as Parliament and the Judiciary.
These branches of government are equally expensive to run as they have senior political and technical leaders who enjoy perks similar and in some case even higher than those accruing to cabinet ministers and principal secretaries.
Apart from huge fuel allocations, there are senior officials at Parliament and the Judiciary who are also entitled to expensive vehicles, subsidised loans and other generous fringe benefits, in addition to huge allocations for travels abroad and meetings at the expense of the poor tax payer.
For members of Parliament, they also enjoy duty free importation of vehicles and other personal goods.
Besides, these officials have powers to influence increments in their own salaries and benefits through political twisting and strikes or boycotts in the case of High Court and Supreme Court judges.
We all know how Members of Parliament have forced government to increase their salaries and benefits through threats of shooting down the budget and sabotaging of other government business in the house if their demands are not met.
It is therefore not surprising that while we are all talking of cutting down unnecessary expenditure in government, extravagance and self gratification is still the order of the day, especially at the National Assembly.
This is where leaders have the audacity to spend K300 million on the acquisition of vehicles for four senior leaders in addition to huge salary increments that have put an MP above a deputy minister on the salary scale.
This is where senior leaders and MPs in various committees are busy globetrotting, attending workshops and seminars that have little bearing on the ordinary person in the country.
This is where MPs would meet for four weeks in Lilongwe but spend days outclassing each other politically in the national assembly instead of discussing matters of national importance. This is also where MPs collect daily allowances in advance but don’t even show up in the national assembly without facing any consequences.
MPs have a huge responsibility of providing checks and balances and ensure that the government does not go beyond its limits through abuse of public resources. With the current problems prevailing in the country, Malawians are banking on MPs to demand answers from the government on what is being done to address the situation.
The MPs also have powers to demand stringent measures from the government, such as reductions in wastage and unnecessary spending, which are important in minimising suffering among ordinary people as well as in efforts to recover the economy.
But the MPs, starting with their leadership, seem to be a bunch of hypocrites as they are also part of irresponsible usage of public resources. One wonders whether they still have the moral ground to criticise and hold the government accountable for abusing public funds at the expense of medicine in hospitals and learning materials in schools.
As Parliament reconvenes in Lilongwe over the next few days, it is very important for the house to also come up with its own measures for cutting expenditure in line with what Malawians are demanding from government.
The MPs, starting with the political leadership, must demonstrate what they will forego to start sharing the suffering their constituents are going through at the moment due to suspension of donor aid as well floods and dry spells that hit the country early this year.
The same should be the case in the judiciary where demands for salary increments and new vehicles should be put on hold until the economy fully recovers.
The MPs will never be taken seriously when taking government to task over its lack of fiscal discipline if they continue to be part of the problem like the case at the moment. They currently cannot pretend to be on the side of the poor. #ThumbsDown to MPs.