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Hunger to feature highly in Parliament

kasailaThe current acute food shortage that has left over two million Malawians in dire straits is expected to feature highly when Parliament meets from February 22 to review the national budget that was passed in June last year.

Both the government and the opposition sides told The Daily Times in separate interviews that apart from the main agenda which is the mid-year budget review process, the hunger situation will obviously attract a lot of attention.

Meanwhile, opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the People’s Party (PP) have vowed that they will demand answers from government as to why several Malawians have been affected by hunger when billions of kwacha was allocated for maize.

MCP Publicity Secretary, Jessie Kabwila, said, “the biggest issue is hunger” and the party would like government to explain what has happened to all the maize that it claimed to have purchased to mitigate the acute food shortage.

“There have been reports about [the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation] depots being empty, yet we were told there was enough food for all those affected. They should show us how the procurement of maize happened and why things have gone wrong,” said Kabwila.

She added: “It has reached the point where people spend nights at Admarc depots and in certain cases, they are buying flour from Zambia. These mistakes are costing people’s lives and government needs to provide clear answers.”

Kabwila also said electricity problems and “our collapsing health system” will also have to be dealt with in the august House.

On his part, PP Leader in Parliament, Uladi Mussa, said his party will need answers from government on the current hunger situation which the latter promised would not be there.

“Poor Malawians are suffering. They are failing to buy maize because either the maize is not there or they don’t have money to buy it. Why is government failing to control the food crisis?” queried Mussa, who is also PP Acting President.

He added that his party will also want answers on the crumbling economy which has left Malawians hopeless as food prices continue skyrocketing against a weak income base.

“We will also want the Minister of Finance to explain how the budget is being implemented because it seems there is nothing on the ground. Why do we have this high inflation? What is he doing to contain it?” Mussa said.

When asked about key issues to be discussed during the mid-year budget review meeting, Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe said while the actual full agenda is not yet out, he expects that the food situation will not be ignored.

He said the actual figures on how much will be allocated towards hunger intervention are not ready “but some allocations will be increased while others will be reduced and maize obviously needs more resources.”

But both Mussa and Kabwila stressed that a proper explanation should be given regarding how the funds for maize were handled and what has exactly led to the current crisis.

Leader of the House Francis Kasaila said he expects that some new bills, apart from the ones which were on the last Order Paper, will be tabled.

He could, however, not say what these bills are, saying they will only be known after the Business Committee meeting next week.

One piece of legislation which observers say is long overdue is the Access to Information Bill which President Peter Mutharika argued has irregularities which need to be corrected before it is tabled.

However, s takeho lder s , including the Media Council of Malawi (MCM), observe that Parliament has powers to amend bills if need be such that the excuse that the ATI cannot be tabled because it has irregularities does not make sense.

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