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Malawi’s Parliaments relived

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The Life of the Malaŵi Parliament, Fifty Years On (2014) is yet another book of the didactic works of Victor Wedson Sibale.

Sibale has three published books, including A Handbook for Special Assistants to Cabinet Ministers and Deputy Ministers besides and two other civic education efforts, The Speakership in Malaŵi-the Office and Its Holders Since 1958 and Chitipa— Wenya : A Chronology of Our Legislators since 1960.

According to Sibale, these works are inspired by Malaŵi’s ace historian, Desmond Dudwa Phiri, who has consistently observed and argued thus: “…we cannot love our country sufficiently and respect people who lived before us unless we have a fair knowledge of our country’s history … There is no excuse to be grossly ignorant of Malaŵi’s history (The Nation, Tuesday, October 21, 2013 p15).

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In The Life of the Malaŵi Parliament, Fifty Years On, Sibale, true to his calling as a teacher, analyses the little known history of this institution from several angles, marking a Golden Jubilee of the institution from the post-independence Parliament elected in April 1964.

The book is split into three parts, and makes a spirited attempt to fill a knowledge gap that held sway on Malawians for generations— a practical example being that, while a primary school pupil of standard five would easily recall the chronology of all former heads of state in the country, starting with Hastings Kamuzu Banda up to the incumbent , the same pupil may not easily recall those that have headed either the National Assembly or the Judiciary over the years.

The reason is that the curricula both at primary and secondary levels do not create an in-depth understanding of Parliament beyond the general knowledge that it is one part of the three arms of government. This obvious omission of the institution of Parliament on school syllabi has thus created a huge knowledge gap from a historic context and this is rather a regrettable feature to our education industry.

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This knowledge gap is evident from lack of clear answers to questions such as who have been the leaders of Parliament over the years? (The answer is, of course, 13 Speakers and 29 Deputy Speakers). Since Parliament is a product of elections, how many general elections have we had in Malaŵi since 1964? Why is it that over the years, Parliamentarians’ term of office has been changing, ranging from two years, four years, five years?

How have the current 193 constituencies grown from a total of 28 before independence, then 50 at independence? ( Part 1).Why is it that the count or number of Parliamentary Sessions (now at 46) is not in sync with the years of our independence (now at 52, in 2016) when the spirit of the constitution provides that at least a session should last no more than twelve months?. Which Malawians have served as parliamentarians in the last 50 years for each one of the existing constituencies? (Part 2). Which 28 legislators have published books since 1964 and what are their 77 works or book titles? (Part 3).

The foregoing framework is assiduously explained in The Life of the Malaŵi Parliament, Fifty Years On, bringing the reader to a full rounded understanding of the institution of the Parliament of Malaŵi and its evolution to where we are today.

There is a lot to learn from this work and, from a historical standpoint, it should likely remain and get accepted as an additional reading source on the institution of Parliament in Malaŵi— apart from the recent work titled Malaŵi Parliament: Origins, Reforms and Practices (2014) by the immediate past Speaker, Henry Chimunthu Banda and a past Clerk of Parliament, L.M Khofi with his Malaŵi Parliament: Practice and Procedure (1974).

The convention of life of Parliament

Sibale informs that worldwide, the institution of Parliament is perceived to have a “life.”

P a r l i a m e n t , b e i n g conventionally a product of a general election, derives its “life” from Constitutional provisions in Malawi, starts after members of Parliament are sworn in following a General Election and ends five years thereafter on March 20.

T h i s i s t h r o u g h a dissolution as provided for in Section 67(1); The National Assembly shall stand dissolved on 20th March in the fifth year after its election…The five year life of the Malaŵi Parliament is not a new provision because even at independence in 1964, the constitution provided, in Section 57(3), for “… Parliament, unless sooner dissolved,…continue[s] for five years from the date of its first sitting after any dissolution and then … stand [s] dissolved.’’ This proviso was retained in the 1965 Amendment of the constitution; laying emphasis that Parliament would last for five years.

From the foregoing, Sibale educates that, since 1964, Parliament in Malaŵi has been dissolved 11 years, after various durations both beyond five years and below the statutory five years, offering explanations why, for instance, the third Parliament (1976-78) was prematurely dissolved (after two years of the five years) by Banda in anger after being dismayed that parliamentarians were failing to speak and express themselves in proper English.

That dissolution led to the introduction of English Language Proficiency tests for all aspiring legislators. The legislators we elected in 2014, constituting the twelfth Parliament, know pretty well that Parliament shall stand dissolved in 2019.

In fact, the convention that the institution of Parliament possesses a life of its own is widely accepted and in use in many Parliaments within the Commonwealth and outside.

The convention advances t h e c o n v e n i e n c e o f associating milestones with the duration of Parliament as opposed to shorter durations within a single life of Parliament. For instance, it is easier to identify when a momentous event took place through a particular life or term of parliament than through a Session of Parliament or Meeting of Parliament or indeed through a Sitting Day of Parliament.

Unlike Malawii, several countries use the convention of a “life of Parliament” over and above the count of Sessions, Meetings and Sittings. For example, as at December 10 2014, the following National Parliaments have had the following lives or terms of Parliament since independence:

Botswana was in her 10th Parliament; Ghana was in her 6th Parliament of the 4th Republic; Kenya was in her 11th Parliament; Zambia was in her 11th Parliament and Zimbabwe was in her 8th Parliament.

H i t h e r t o , M a l a w i Parliament has not been using the convention of life of parliament which should have made it easier to say:

1 Malaŵi’s Cabinet Crisis occurred in the 1st Parliament (1964-71)

2 Dr Banda was made Life President in the 2nd Parliament (1971-76)

3 The post of Second Deputy Speaker was created in the 2nd Parliament (1974)

4 Three Cabinet Ministers and a Member of Parliament, popularly known as the Mwanza Four, died in mysterious circumstances during the 5th Parliament (1983)

5 The Referendum to choose between one party and multiparty politics took effect during the 7thParliament

6 The country’s massive open plunder of public funds in an organised syndicate of public servants, politicians and businessmen occurred under the watch of the 11th Parliament (2009- 2014)

7 The country’s Golden Jubi lee was celebrated during the 12th Parliament (2014)

Parliament leadership

In Part 2, Sibale answers questions about the 13 Speakers and 29 Deputy Speakers that have led the institution of Parliament in Malawi since 1958, when the country had its first officeholder styled as Speaker.

He also lists those that have served as legislators, especially from the year of independence in Malaŵi. The interest here is that young readers have the opportunity to crosscheck who were their legislators, say, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago.

Living legacies of yester-years’ legislators

In Part 3, Sibale who is a teacher by both training and inclination, shares the legacies left by previous legislators particularly from their published works.

Over the 50 years, he has created an index of some 28 published legislators against a listing of 77 book titles, of which the highest output is from late William Murray Kanyama Chiume, with nine titles, followed by late Mekki Mtewa with seven titles, John W Gwengwe with six titles and the Mutharika brothers (Bingu and Peter) with five titles each.

For the 12th Parliament, no one is listed to have deposited a published work yet.

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