By Taonga Sabola & Jameson Chauluka
President Peter Mutharika will Friday deliver his State of the Nation Address (Sona) to Parliament through a recorded message, a stark departure from a long-standing tradition where a president physically addresses the House when opening a budget session, The Daily Times has established.
Parliament acting spokesperson, Ian Mwenye, confirmed the development in an interview, saying this was agreed during a Business Committee of Parliament meeting held in Lilongwe Wednesday.
Mwenye said since the state opening of Parliament is generally associated with large gatherings which are against Parliament’s Covid-19 prevention guidelines, the Business Committee recommended a number of options aimed at decongesting the building at the opening of the budget meeting.
“In this regard, the President will deliver the Sona through an audio recording. The Sona will be debated from June 8 to 11 2020,” he said.
In the Business Committee meeting minutes, it was reported that Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Joseph Mwanamvekha, will present the 2020/21 national budget on Friday, June 12.
Parliament is expected to break into cluster committees that will scrutinise the budget for five days from June 15 to 19 and is expected to reconvene for general debate from June 22 to 26 before the Committee of Supply session, where lawmakers debate and pass allocations to ministries, departments and agencies.
Mwenye said the programme is subject to change at any time as the House is expecting some election-related bills for the forthcoming presidential election within the week.
“Once the bills are received, the Business Committee will meet at the soonest time possible to revise the programme,” Mwenye said.
State House Press Secretary, Mgeme Kalilani, could not be drawn to comment on the new arrangement where Mutharika will not physically address Parliament.
The Sona helps a sitting Head of State to explain to citizens the state of affairs in the country as well as highlight development projects taking place and those completed.
The Sona also helps the president to highlight strategies on how the administration intends to handle emerging challenges.
Meanwhile, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has submitted names of four judges from which Mutharika is expected to appoint the next chairperson of Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) following the resignation of Jane Ansah.
Ansah, whose contract is ending in October, stepped aside after the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the Constitutional Court’s decision to nullify the presidential election in the last year’s tripartite polls.
The other commissioners’ contracts expire Friday.
Registrar of the High Court and the Supreme Court, Agnes Patemba, confirmed to The Daily Times that the JSC nominated four names for the position of Mec chairperson.
Malawi Congress Party Secretary-General, Eisenhower Mkaka, also disclosed that his party has submitted to Mutharika names of people who should be appointed Mec commissioners.
On his part, Democratic Progressive Party spokesperson Nicholas Dausi asked for more time to consult before commenting on whether the party has submitted the names to Mutharika.