There always has been a remarkable feature in the current crop of Members of Parliament (MPs) who were ushered into their political positions in the May 20 2014 tripartite elections.
During both plenaries and committee meetings, issues have been discussed with some critical sobriety that was adamantly absent in the Parliament that preceded the first tripartite elections Malawi ever held.
So at the end, it was not just an issue of 190 or 191 MPs seeking time to be seen and heard by their constituents: it was a different ball game all together; every issue that came up to be discussed had experts who scrutinised it before it was adopted.
And, in any way, that’s the essence of Parliament.
Many a time, government was caught napping after presenting before the vigilant lawmakers—especially from the opposition side—bills whose comprehensiveness simply exposed flaws that heralded some Cashgate of sort.
Such would-be laws were fervently rejected by the opposition that demanded explanations on why some elements in the bill were being duplicated at a time Malawi needed honesty, justice and fairness most.
But perhaps, in the midst of reminiscences of the three Parliament meetings that have been there in the year 2015, particular attention has to be paid to the latest one which was opened by President Peter Mutharika early November.
It was a mixed bag: expectations were thrust into the periphery of human thought and both Leader of the House Francis Kasaila and Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera admitted that some things that have been prevalent in the meeting were pathetic.
After previous condemnations on MPs giving Malawians a raw deal by being absent during the plenaries, the habit perfectly reared its ugly head in the first meeting of the 46th Session of Parliament.
“We are concerned that some MPs decided to be absent when critical issues of national interest were being discussed in the House. The input of every member is significant and we wished everyone was available.
“It is obvious that Malawians expect all [MPs] to take part in shaping the progress of our country and the best platform for this undertaking is the chamber. It is my hope that next time, things will improve,” said Chakwera at the close of the latest meeting.
His concern was echoed by Kasaila and opposition People’s Party (PP) Leader in the House, Uladi Mussa, who stressed that the massive absenteeism by the MPs clearly showed lack of seriousness among elected representatives who were supposed to be the voice of their constituents.
Said Kasaila: “Honourable Members must understand that they are supposed to take part in every deliberation in the chamber because that is partly what they are elected for. Now, for them to choose to be absent when critical issues are being discussed is uncalled-for.
“But just like in any setting, we believe some lessons have been learnt and we will do better next time. Otherwise, we know the responsibility that Malawians bestowed upon us and we have to strive to meet their expectations.”
On his part, Mussa implicitly poked fun at the absentees, arguing they might have resorted to the behaviour after realising that they were not making any contribution, after all.
“I have been in Parliament for a long time and I have seen some Honourable Members who never stand to speak. Perhaps, they feel that whether they are present or absent does not matter because they don’t make any serious contribution after all.
“You know we use English during the deliberations and not every member can manage to properly communicate in the language. But, all in all, we will all sit down and see how we can make sure all members are presented in the chamber, that’s if they are not busy with other equally important engagements,” said Mussa.
A shortest Sona ever
Well, another unique aspect of the first meeting of the 46th session of Parliament was that, contrary to expectations, Mutharika delivered a record 25-minute State of the Nation Address (Sona) which was later changed by the government side to simply a statement and not a Sona.
The address—whatever name it was given—was torn apart by the opposition, the clergy and social and political commentators who argued it lacked details on how the President intended to propel the country forward.
However, on the other hand, others including the donor community described it as a perfect submission of the country’s situation and what was expected to be done in the midst of the growing poverty and the looming hunger.
Said US Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer, of the speech: “I think the President is being honest here. He is clearly aware of the problems facing the country and has rightly called upon everyone to build resilience, knowing that things are not rosy.”
Other envoys including British High Commissioner Michael Nevin and European Union (EU) Head of Delegation Marchel Gerrmann repeated such sentiments.
Unity in diversity
But perhaps, above everything else, there was one element of the meeting that defied predictions in its entirety, and that is the unanticipated mutuality that was there when critical issues were being discussed.
Even Kasaila admitted that he had not expected that the deliberations would be that smooth as the meeting followed hot on the heels of skirmishes that were prevalent between the legislature and the executive arm of government.
“Honestly, we did not expect there could be this peace. From the background of the accusations and counter-accusations between the two arms of government, the general expectation was that there could be problems between the two sides. But now, we are satisfied with the progress and we hope this will continue into the next meeting,” said Kasaila.
In fact, even commentators predicted a hot, troubled Parliament meeting where the opposition would give government a tough time when it came to passing bills.
But that was not the case. In fact, even the would-be laws that government failed to bring into the House which included the Access to Information Bill already had the blessing of the opposition side which said it had no problem passing it as long as it reflected its entire purpose.
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