Written by ANTHONY SIMWAKA
The Speaker of the parliament under our constitution is instinctively one of the highest – top five - political positions, behind the president, vice president, 2nd vice president and leader of opposition. The speaker has however more enumerated powers as a head of the parliament than most of these other positions.
Parliament as an equal arm of the government, can help to champion the ruling party's agenda or provide checks and balances through legislation for the betterment of the country. In some instances the Speaker’s action or inaction can paralyze the government, hence the need to have a strong and principled individual in that chair.
But the characteristics just mentioned are hard to find from our current crop of politicians. They tend to quickly abandon their principles for lucrative deals or financial gains from the government. They stop running the affairs of the parliament as demanded by the constitution and ordinary Malawians suffer as a result.
Much has been said about the position of the Speaker as being neutral or impartial. This is just not true or misinterpretation of the Speaker’s role, either to suit the government position or out of misunderstanding.
Elections have consequences and one such result is that the speaker is elected from the majority in parliament, which can emerge from the ruling party or opposition whether by coalition or simple majority. In either case, the Speaker has to run the affairs of the parliament bearing in mind the party and/or the coalition that propelled him into office for the benefit of Malawians. For example, the speaker as a practical matter shouldn’t table bills that will have a detrimental effect on its political party and ultimately Malawians, or at least question the bills’ intent. This isn’t impartial. It’s the more the reason why the Speaker doesn’t cease to be a member of parliament once elected to the speakership. He still represents his/or her constituents, and therefore that representation must be reflected in his views as relates to public policy.
It’s unfortunate that our speakers have been reduced to ROLL CALL MASTER where they just call out members of parliament to participate in the debates. We should be able to hear the Speaker take a stand on some of the issues whilst the house is session. Opposition is there to constructively offer alternate solutions to government proposals and that is lacking in part because the Speaker seems not be in control of the House at least in my view.
The current events as relates to the Section 65 of our constitution which declares a member’s seat vacant if that person defects to the other party, bears testimony as to why Speaker Chimunthu Banda has failed in his duties. The aforementioned provision has been debated and litigated to the highest court in the land, which means that we don’t need any further discussion unless new legal issues surface that were overlooked in prior determination, and yet he has done nothing at all to all those members , including ministers who defected to the government.
The Speaker doesn’t need an application to have a seat declared vacant; it’s enshrined in the constitution. The seats should have been declared vacant long time ago and let the aggrieved members prove their case against the speaker in our courts. The buying of time by the Speaker until the next election is tantamount to corruption. These members are operating and participating in passing bills illegally. Then there is the provision that requires elected officials up to the president to declare their assets. Again the Speaker has divorced himself from discussing the matter even though its intent is to protect Malawians from greedy elected officials who use their political power to enrich themselves or their family members by profiting from coffers or property to which they are supposed to be custodians on behalf of the ordinary Malawians.
Former president Bakili Muluzi’s is a case in point. Right now the former president is answering charges that were generated from similar circumstances. We don’t want taxpayers’ money to be used inappropriately when hospitals lack medicines; when teachers aren’t being paid on time; when running water and electricity are scarce commodities -- the list is endless.
As Speaker he has have the power to end and correct most of what is happening unconstitutionally in this country. It’s about time he put his House in order. I know, we live in a political environment where resignation is unthinkable but it’s only fair to state that his actions since Joyce Banda took office are worth calling for his resignation. It’s unfortunate that even civil and legal societies with leaders like Undule Mwakasungula and Gift Mwakhwawa, respectively, are silent on such matters. I would urge these rights group to at least declare their political allegiance so that we shouldn’t rely on them when there is need.
After about 20 years of experimenting with democracy we seem to be going backwards. Many in country join politics to enrich themselves and not to serve.
In conclusion, I am sure our parliament can learn one or two things from the way others conduct themselves. The American Congress (our version of parliament) comes to mind. The Speaker of Congress doesn’t have to come from the ruling party. In case of a major disagreement, each party takes its case to constituents. Yes, they aren’t perfect even after many, many years of practice but we can learn from their experience.
Chimunthu Banda, how about throwing in the towel?