Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
So it is that carnival time again where some 193 lucky ones among us, who – by accident of luck – found themselves imprisoned in an august House, otherwise fancifully called Parliament. They congregate to make laws…well, attempt to make some when the occasion arises.
These are called ‘Honourable’ MPs, never mind that the behaviour of many of them is without any scintilla of honour.
But, be that as it may, these folks after every three or four months congregate in Lilongwe every calendar year for five years.
Some of these folks have been in this House since the country was born; some are johny-come-latelies. But, for some indescribable reason, they all behave like age-mates, exchanging colourless jokes in the guise of making laws.
If you thought this session of Parliament would be different since it comes when Malawi was facing critical issues in all major sectors, be it in health, education…you name it, you must have been overly optimistic.
These folks do not care whether it had to take brave medics at Kamuzu Central Hospital to alert the nation – through an open letter to the newly-minted Far Eastern doctor in town – of what every one of us already knew.
These folks care only about their pockets.
After all, why should they care?
If any of the 193 legislators had slipped discs - or had malignant cancer - they would be medi-vaced to the nearest state-of-the-art clinic in the region. You who queue for six tablets of paracetamol to attempt to cure your cerebral malaria will have to foot that bill through your taxes.
So why should these guys care if my pre-mature baby-girl in Area 36 has to share oxygen ventilators with six-equally depraved pre-mature babies from M’gona, Kauma and all those god-forsaken places? They do not care if only one of these pre-mature babies make it. They will sponsor our transport back to Bwanje and we will forever be thankful…!
…Or are expected to…somehow!
That is why during the very first week these folks are meeting the first on their mind was their pocket.
In an unusual show of solidarity the oft divided Parliament’s tangible accomplishment was to form a cross-party committee to press government – through the Parliamentary Service Commission - to approve a monthly 500-litre fuel allocation to each of the 193 MPs.
When it comes to personal emoluments that is when you see a true multiparty Parliament in Malawi for everyone – from government to the opposition – agree to agree.
You can whimper the way you want but these are just about the only privileged few in the country who have the luxury of formulate, discuss and approve – or, in rare cases, reject – there own perks.
Never mind that the MPS are scheming to milk an already thin cow even thinner. Civil servants, who have to prepare these obscene sums to the ‘Honourable MPs’ are toyi-toying in the streets demanding less than a one-thousandth of what these so-called ‘honourable folks’ are demanding.
While Elias Kamphinda Banda and his hard-done-by civil servants have to carry tree branches to demand their piece of national flesh, these ‘honourable folks’ in the august House just have to threaten my good friend Ken Lipenga to threaten Amai that should her government dis these guys her minority People’s Party (PP) administration may not have its revised budget.
Now that is more scary than having one Kampinda Banda and his tag-tag army of angry, nay - hungry - civil servants blocking the gates to Capital Hill. Even if they rope in the lone ranger, John Kapito, Abiti will still give more ear to the less than 200 folks ensconced in the Chinese purpose-built Parliament than the over 100, 000 Malawians who were cursed by God of Abraham to be called the tantalising name of ‘public servants’.
So, after scheming how to rob Malawi blind, these guys get down to business. Now one would ordinarily think that after importing tax-free vehicles from concessionary Parliament loans these folks would at least get down to the business of making sure that my pre-mature Area 36 baby-girl at least has a ventilator and a bed to its tiny frame.
But hell, no; my namesake Ralph Jooma, instead of assisting my beleaguered friend Ken to find money to end the drug stock-outs in public hospitals, was busy behaving like a fashionista.
But, hey, maybe the young politician from the peninsula of Monkey Bay had the forthcoming Malawi Fashion Week in mind when – tongue-in-cheek – he said Kaka Edwin Banda was dressed like a smitten page-boy from some wedding!
Now, do not roast Ralph too quickly; we have been on this highway way before my namesake even thought of having ‘honourable’ affixed before his name. Aunt, Lizzie Lossa – remember her? - was christened ‘Dolly Parton’ when she burst in the chamber all decked up from head to toe in some colourful attire.
My other aunt Loveness Gondwe, too, did not escape these kindergarten cat-calls. She was called ‘Miss Ntcheu’ – quite appropriately, I must add in retrospect – when she pitched up in the chamber as if she was short-listed for some Miss Universe pageant of sorts!
But it is not as if it was only women who fall prey to this playful banter. Angoni Lucius Banda, too, attracted cat-calls of ‘Kanda Bongoman’ when he turned up in the chamber dressed up in a blood red suit the other day.
And we all remember Dumbo, yes, the Zomba Thondwe maverick whose fashion statement was not complete unless he had – not one – but two loaded pistols hid in his equally colourful robes.
My point is, our Parliament has never been a bastion of hope. It seems we send the 193 of our own to Parliament not to improve our lot but to enrich themselves before we despatch yet a fresh set of 193 loudmouths to equally enrich themselves.
Our MPs have no clue how to begin to solve the drug crisis whose benefit does not concern them any way. If a persistent scratch irritates them for a week Garden City or Morningside physicians in the Golden City will be waiting to open and stitch them up. It does not matter if they pitch up there already in cadaver state; ask that guy whose lifeless body we had to spirit away in the middle of the night!
…and shallow ministers
Hey, before I go any further, as a true Catholic let me pause…
I cannot escape a word or two on the seismic news from the Holy See. We, the two billion of us Catholics walking the face of earth, are bereaved, orphaned way before our holy father has breaths his last.
A dear friend of mine slid a ‘rosary ring’ on my middle finger after noting that I accompanied her to the Poor Clares’ chapel in Lilongwe with a rosary conspicuously absent from my neck. I have never taken that rosary ring out of my finger ever since. I guess, if I will ever need to remove it – which I doubt - I will need to have my finger ‘amputated’ somehow!
So the news that Pope Benedict XVI was walking away from the throne of St. Peter, as the Bishop of Rome, came as a shock. The last – and I think the first – pope to resign was in 1415, some 600 years back, when Pope Gregory XII threw in the towel.
The reasons could be different but the effects are the same. So fare thee well, il papa!
But let us return to ‘page-boy’ Edwin Banda.
Yes, the lawyer…
…Not to be outdone, Banda described ministers in the Joyce Banda administration as “shallow ministers”. This should have been laughable were it not serious.
So our Parliament is anchored by ‘page boys’, little boys all decked up in oversize suits to decorate an adult event they have no idea about?
As if that was not tragic enough, our “Executive” is also anchored by “shallow ministers”?
Oh boy! And we are surprised that half a century after independence we are still living the stone-age life of tilling the land with back-breaking hoes?
God save us!