By Taonga Sabola & Rebecca Chimjeka:
The Business Committee of Parliament met in Lilongwe Wednesday but failed to decide on the date for the budget meeting as the Office of the Speaker is still waiting for a response from President Peter Mutharika on the matter.
Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara confirmed the Business Committee meeting in an interview, saying they discussed preparations on how to conduct business in the august House in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
One Member of Parliament who sits in the committee told The Daily Times that the Speaker had communicated with Mutharika that Parliament starts meeting to discuss the 2020/21 national budget from May 22.
The lawmakers were initially set to meet from May 8 to June 26 but failed to convene due to Covid-19 restrictions that the government had announced which included that public gatherings should involve not more than 100 people.
Hara said the committee thought of making the necessary preparations to avoid last-minute decisions when Mutharika nods to the opening date.
“We were just discussing how business would be conducted in the wake of Covid-19. We did not discuss the issue of dates because we are still waiting to hear from the President,” she said.
The Parliament meeting is also expected to discuss the date for the fresh presidential election after Malawi Electoral Commission declared that it is the august House that has to set the date.
Political commentator Henry Chingaipe said he expects Mutharika to allow Parliament to meet to transact business as the budget meeting of Parliament is a constitutional requirement.
According to Chingaipe, it should be in the interest of the Democratic Progressive Party-led administration to get the budget discussed and passed as spending without the process may have “serious repercussions on specific individuals in the future”.
“We must be learning the right lessons from our recent experiences as a nation. The requirement for the Speaker to consult with the President for Parliament to meet was based on very optimistic assumptions about the goodwill and the statesmanship of the holder of the Office of President.
“But we have seen a few times now where the President is sometimes conflicted and is unable to rise above the conflict of interest. In the end, the President uses his veto power to frustrate and undermine the effective functioning of what ought to be an operationally independent branch of government,” Chingaipe said.
Mutharika’s spokesperson Mgeme Kalilani said Wednesday that the consultations for the meeting of Parliament have not yet been concluded.
Section 59 (1) of the Constitution provides that for Parliament to meet, the Speaker must consult with the President for approval.