Speaker against ‘too much respect’ for leaders
Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya has bemoaned the tendency to treat Malawian leaders as untouchables, saying the development is thwarting efforts to hold leaders accountable.
In his ruling on government complaint on Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera’s response to President Peter Mutharika’s decision to fire George Chaponda as Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Msowoya said 53 years after independence and 24 years in multiparty democracy, the situation has not changed.
Chakwera observed, in his written response, that “the executive arrogance that has been exuded in the handling of the issue of the former minister puts the question on the moral standing of the President, the Executive and the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party]”.
Following the remarks on Wednesday, the government Chief Whip, Henry Mussa, rose on a point of order stating that Chakwera’s statement was against Standing Order 98 and needed to be withdrawn.
Parliamentary Standing Order 98 states that the conduct of the President and the Vice President shall not be called into question in the course of debate other than by way of procedure for impeachment.
On Friday, Msowoya said, from the understanding of the order, Parliamentarians are clearly prohibited from debating on any issue which is reflecting on the conduct of the President.
But Msowoya said conduct simply means the action or manner of managing an activity and, to that end, Chakwera’s statement does not refer to the conduct of the President.
Msowoya said, in his opinion, the statement could not be said to have called into question the conduct of the President.
He, however, observed that, to make it very clear, Chakwera was supposed to remove the word President from the statement.
It is at this point that the Speaker said that, after conducting research in some parliaments within the Commonwealth— including those in countries such as The United Kingdom, South Africa and Kenya— it was established that most parliaments do not have equivalent provisions such as the one under Standing Order 98.
“This, honourable members, is because such parliaments have provisions which allow members to summon the Head of State at any point in time to answer questions regarding their conducts, in the chamber and outside. We have seen, through the media, how such debates are conducted in parliament, mainly the Commonwealth examples of Parliament.
“The debate hinges on the actual conduct of the President or Prime Minister because this is part of the oversight role of Parliament, which is not the case with our standing orders because they have a provision specifically protecting these officers from the very [sic] type of debate. As I reflect on what happens in these parliaments, I was reminded of the need for us, as leaders, who take pride in being representatives of the people, to open ourselves up more to scrutiny of the very people we represent to enable them monitor and question us in order to meaningfully hold us accountable,” Msowoya said.
After Msowoya’s ruling, Chakwera replaced the word ‘President’ in his statement with the word ‘leadership’.
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