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Foolhardy parliamentarians

It is very worrying when those entrusted with making the law in Malawi end up defying the same law. The Constitution of Malawi states that all legislative powers of the Republic are vested in Parliament. The only time this power can be challenged is when Parliament assumes powers and responsibilities not set out in this Constitution. So the law-making function of Parliament is paramount.

There are three other functions that Parliament plays in Malawi’s democratic dispensation. Among these functions is that of oversight. This involves monitoring government performance and spending to ensure that the Executive branch performs in a responsible and accountable manner. In addition, Parliament plays the representation. Members of Parliament (MPs) do not go to Parliament to serve their political parties alone but to represent the interests of the people by acting as opinion leaders to influence local communities and voicing constituent interests in Parliament.

Perhaps the most important of the functions of Parliament is budgeting. Parliament is charged with the role of approving and allocating the revenue that the Executive branch requires to implement its policies; overseeing and monitoring government spending to make sure expenditures are used properly. The Constitution of Malawi under Chapter XVIII details how the country’s finances should be handled. Section 171 mandates that “no tax, rate, duty, levy or imposition shall be raised, levied or imposed by or for the purposes of the Government or any local government authority otherwise than by or under the authority of the law” and in Section 173 (2) is clear that “no moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly”.

Specifically, Section 176 of this chapter states that “when the estimates of expenditure to be met from the Consolidated Fund, but not charged thereon, have been approved by the National Assembly, a Bill, to be known as an Appropriation Bill, shall be introduced in the Assembly providing for the issue from the Consolidated Fund of the sums necessary to meet that expenditure and the appropriation of those sums, under separate votes for the several heads of expenditure approved, to the purposes specified in the Bill.”

In simple words, the budget that MPs approve every year is an Act of Parliament. No one should remind parliamentarians that an Act of Parliament has primacy over other forms of law and that it is only subject to the Constitution. The Constitution’s framers gave Parliament these powers since they understood the importance of the national budget. The budget is the most important economic policy tool of the government and provides a comprehensive statement of Malawi’s priorities. As the representative of the people, Parliament is the appropriate place to ensure that the budget best matches the country’s needs with available resources. This ability is especially critical given the need to balance the country’s limited resources in relation to the very many needs and wants.

It is, therefore, very foolhardy for some MPs in Malawi to think that they can hoodwink Malawians under the pretext of accountability and transparency when the real issue is about electioneering as the country gears itself for the 2019 elections. A few weeks ago, there was the case of a certain group of MPs accusing the ministers of Finance and Local Government of the act of criminalising the government. They claimed that there was some unbudgeted K4 billion allocated to parliamentary constituencies whose representatives had a soft heart for the ruling party. This group of MPs pretended to offer democratic checks on the Executive as their role demands and yet ended up in the most stupid of positions. This is evidence that when it comes to matters related to money, those honourable men and women in Parliament will put aside their differences and agree without any regard for the laws of the country.

Do not be misled by the out of Parliament posturing and showboating. Once the budget is debated and agreed in Parliament, it becomes law. Whatever these MPs say outside Parliament is politicking at its best. Once again, these MPs believe that they can continue to foolishly do things that are too dangerous and risky as long as they win votes. That is the meaning of foolhardy. Malawians do not allow such type of MPs to get into Parliament in 2019.

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