Day of sackcloths, placards, disruptions during Sona
By Cathy Maulidi:
There was drama in Parliament Friday when President Lazarus Chakwera was delivering his State of the Nation Address (Sona).
Chakwera’s address was interrupted twice prompting the Speaker to intervene.
Some Members of Parliament from the opposition bench were putting on sack clothes as a message to the President that many Malawians are suffering, according to Leader of Opposition, Kondwani Nankhumwa.
The strange attire also brought tension before the President entered the House as Leader of the House Richard Chimwendo Banda stood on a point of order seeking the Speaker’s intervention on whether it was proper for the MPs to dress in such a manner.
In her ruling Speaker Catherine Gotani Hara said: “Official dressing for male members of Parliament shall be a suit which consists of a pair of long trousers, a neck tie and a jacket and for female members has to be a formal dress, skirt, long sleeved dress. The standing orders are clear that the suit has to be decent.
“We have to make sure that we are dressed formally. If you remember Honourable Lucius Banda was sent out of this House for wearing a red suit. Let’s not set a bad precedent Honourable members. So if you are wearing something that is not recognised as decent I request you to please go out and dress appropriately,” she ruled.
But the opposition protested the Speaker’s explanation and did not allow those dressed in such attire to leave the chamber.
It took deputy leader of the House Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda to end the matter.
“Madam Speaker today is a very important day. The whole nation is looking forward to hearing the State of the Nation Address and I think it will be very important that we focus on the main business of today.
“We have Legal Affairs Committee that can later look into the matter and define what is proper dressing. I submit Honourable Speaker,” said Chiponda.
The Speaker went by Chiponda’s advice.
But this was not the end for the members of the opposition as immediately after the President entered the chamber, the MPs took out placards with different messages which they displayed for Chakwera to see.
Some of the messages read, ‘Hire the youth not retirees’, ‘Create jobs not thieving empire’, ‘Where is the President, Malawi has no leadership’, ‘Malawi lost under Chakwera,’ ‘Malawi is a crime scene’, ‘We are tied of your words Chakwera, we need action’, ‘ No drugs in hospitals.”
The MPs displayed the placards until Chakwera got to his seat.
According to Nankhumwa, the messages on the placards were cries of Malawians.
“They sent us with a message to the President and we have passed that message through the sack cloth dressing and the placards displayed,” Nankhumwa said.
When the President was deep in his address, Nankhumwa interjected him when he brought on the floor a complaint that the opposition side was not served with bottled water.
“I’m surprised we haven’t been given water this side,” wondered Nankhumwa.
Though saying that a point of order is never allowed when the President is speaking, the Speaker allowed Nankhumwa to speak and in her ruling to the point of order, she said the issue would be addressed.
As the house was glued to the address, another disturbance came up.
There was a verbal war between some legislators from the opposition and some people standing in the gallery.
The MPs alleged that the people, who were standing in the press gallery, were taking their pictures and issuing threats to them.
“They were taking pictures of the Members of Parliament whom they said would be attacked when they step out of the House,” Nankhumwa said.
But the noise that disrupted Chakwera for the second time, angered the Speaker who later evoked standing order 105 to send one of the Members, Naomi Kilekwa of Mulanje South East out of the House.
However, Kilekwa refused to leave the House.
She said, “I won’t leave, they will attack me outside. Ah mufuna akandimenye panjapo.”
After efforts to make her leave the House proved futile, the Speaker then threatened unspecified punishment on her to be delivered on Monday.
At the end of the Sona, the opposition MPs did not go out to be with the President during a photo session.
“We did not go to take a photo with the President because we were being threatened. This is strange. It has never happened anyamata achipani exchanging words with Honourable members right here in the House.
“We are back to days of terror,” said one of the members, Kennedy Kachingwe for Blantyre Rural South West during a press briefing.
At the beginning of his Speech, Chakwera said he had been tipped about a hostile environment during his address.