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Open perspective: Government, parliament and national development

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How our government works agrees quite well with the standard of any evolving modern democracy. Based on the principle of separation of powers, Parliament sets the rules, the Courts decide disputes and Government runs public affairs.

Government operates through ministers that constitute the cabinet. The cabinet works in sector ministries through Principal Secretaries. Ministers are accountable to Parliament as the people’s assembly and ultimately to the electorate that puts it in power.

Three kingpins are in charge of the nation. The President and his Cabinet who define development policy and strategy; the Chief Justice and her Judges mandated to keep law and order and the Speaker of Parliament who presides over the definition of the framework for protection and development of citizens.

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The integrity of the three offices determines everything. Just as Cabinet behaviour and civil service follow the values set by the President, Parliament takes its cue from its Speaker and Leaders of the House, while the Judiciary adopts the hue of its Chief Justice and Supreme Judges. This is a make or break combination!

For established democracies the capacity of these institutions is granted. Not so for evolving systems such as Malawi. The integrity of the incumbents and how well the institutions co-ordinate cannot be taken for granted due to the combined challenges of attitude, capacity and corruption.

We know that good governance and development are intertwined, and that people participation is the key. No matter how good the values of government are they have no effect till people become engaged in their own development; they are unsustainable till the young generation is integrally involved.

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Participatory governance and development begins in Parliament. What Parliament deliberates must always stand for the aspirations of all of society to have their voices heard. Parliament must genuinely be a house that defines and pursues the goals and destiny of the country on behalf of all people.

People centred development should mean that people are both beneficiaries and active managers of the development process; it means that mechanisms are created for popular participation in all processes leading to people’s own development. It is for Parliament to ensure such mechanisms are available and used by all people.

Both government and opposition meet in the House of Assembly, but it is the latter that plays the most significant function with regard to protection and development of society. Parties in opposition must use Parliament to lead and focus the representative and watchdog functions performed by all its members.

The main role of the opposition is to hold government accountable to the public and making sure they are answerable to the electorate. As a bloc opposition puts checks and balances on government and prevents it doing what could negatively affect the rights and aspirations of the people.

No matter the air of purity incumbent government is never fully accountable and can only be trusted at the peril of the citizen. The executive in this country has excessive powers which are often abused, sometimes fatally, compromising rights and freedoms enshrined in the democratic constitution. For example, government is not only not transparent in the appointment of judges, it also exerts direct influence which interferes with the course of law.

We have witnessed Parliament passing self-serving laws only to be repealed by a people-centred version. Whether it is legislation, policy or budget under debate Parliament must focus on what is good for people and country.

In respect of the propensity for unaccountable government, opposition should be firm and steadfast in protecting the Constitution and fighting for people and country. Opposition must fight for all justifiable public demands made of government and at the same time defend people from any unfair and harmful laws, policies and practices.

Remember political parties form governments and Malawian parties are loosely governed entities disinterested in issues of integrity. Parties are corrupt institutions although some of them improve considerably on their uMunthu score and become conscious of corruption and integrity when they enter Parliament under peer pressure and public scrutiny.

To work well, opposition must check on the personality of government. The largest opposition party in Parliament, such as Malawi Congress Party , provides alternative government. However it has to be said that this is a high profile leadership role that calls for dignity, maturity and accountability. Free citizens won’t put into power an alternative government that reflects values contrary to public expectations.

Opposition works well if the leaders muster the wisdom to read what people feel, say and want;— if the bloc has good enough intelligence about what government is doing, where it is failing and moot out courses of action that truly represent society.

A good opposition is sharp enough to shape alternative policy and strategy, to alter national narrative and to turn people and government towards what is good and just. In other words opposition is as much a part of national leadership as it is of present government.

The Leader of Opposition not only projects the position taken by the opposition bloc in matters under debate, they also comment intelligently on topical issues put forward by people, government or interest groups. This function requires integrity and statesmanship. It demands deep understanding of issues and style of self-portrayal that commands enduring respect.

True, opposition is essential to achieving equity and social justice with regard to delivery of quality services and the evolution of democratic societies, but opposition for the sake of opposition is counterproductive. There are times opposition has to agree with government on terms of common understanding of what is good for people and country among the Commonwealth of Nations

My last word: Whether or not Malawi advances depends on the quality of the three arms of government. A bad combination sows seeds of laxity associated with systemic failure or fertilises corruption linked to socio-economic stagnation.

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