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Speaker mum on laptops purchase

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Speaker of Parliament, Richard Msowoya, has refused to comment on the decision by Parliament to buy and distribute, for free, laptops to all Members of Parliament at a time ordinary Malawians are being asked to continue tightening their belts.

Msowoya referred the issue to Clerk of Parliament, Fiona Kalemba.

“Talk to the Clerk of Parliament. Issues of procurement are done by the Secretariat,” he said.

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But Kalemba, who is the National Assembly’s Controlling Officer, did not pick our phone call through which we wanted to get her comment on the matter.

However, Executive Director of the Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), Gift Trapence, wondered why Parliament has made the purchase at a time when the MPs have less than 23 months to go before the next general elections.

“Such purchase could have been made when MPs were just elected to Parliament in 2014 and laptops could have been put to better use. With the remaining time to the general elections, the spent money could have been put to better use,” Trapence said.

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Several commentators writing on Times Facebook page (Times 360 Malawi), have blamed the MPs for apparently being selfish.

On the other hand, others have argued that the laptops are like stationery and that they are crucial in so far as the roles of MPs are concerned.

Two governance and human rights advocates Justin Dzonzi and Martin Chiphwanya have put their weight behind the purchase.

In separate interviews Tuesday, Dzonzi, who is Executive Director of Justice Link, and Chiphwanya, who is National Secretary for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), said current trends demand that Members of Parliament (MPs) have means of undertaking research on critical issues.

Dzonzi said the laptops will assist MPs in providing quick input on critical matters in the chamber.

“When you look at MPs’ nature of work, you realise that they need to undertake constant research so that they are able to make quick decisions on critical issues. For instance, they may be discussing a bill on money laundering and with the devices, they can easily do some quick research and provide comparative analyses with what is the case elsewhere,” Dzonzi said.

He added that perhaps what should be of concern is whether the declared cost is the true cost of the devices and whether someone did not get kickbacks to procure the laptops.

On his part, Chiphwanya said with advances that the country is making in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), the laptops are essential.

“At Parliament, there is Wi-Fi which was installed last year for MPs to get encouraged to be researchers as well as in an effort to keep up with the current trends at global level. We are in an information era and we certainly need information that can easily facilitate the flow of information,” he said.

According to information from the National Assembly, the purchase was approved by the Office of Director of Public Procurement (ODPP) where 193 HP laptops together with their bags were pegged at K450,000 each while another consignment of 20 Dell laptops together with a bag each were pegged at K470,000 each bringing the total cost to K96 million.

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