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The folly of our ways: The crowd we call our honorable members of Parliament

President Mutharika posing with Members of Parliament
President Mutharika posing with Members of Parliament

The crowd we call our Members of Parliament (MP’s) is so vainly armed (with an average formal education of less than eleven(11) classroom-years—the educational attainment of a form three pupil from a community day secondary school) but vested with all the legislative authority of the Republic and a herculean constitutional task to enact laws that embody and further the values in our Constitution (they barely understand!) and to exemplify the expressed wishes and interests of the people of Malawi (they can hardly be said to have internalized!).

Among the legislature’s primary constitutional powers and legislative responsibilities are to receive, amend, accept or reject government and private bills; debate and vote motions in relation to any matter including motions to indict and,yes, convict the President or Vice-President by impeachment; conduct investigations and exercise the power to subpoena the attendance of any person or office holder “whosoever as required in connection with the prudent exercise of the their functions” (remember the Mphwiyo circus where our MPs were left applauding the superb performance of the subpoenaed!)—it discharges most of its responsibilities through a system of committees such as the legalaffairs committee (comprising22 MPs) responsible for scrutinizing all bills which are to be tabled in parliament, with the exception of money bills which are the responsibility of the budget committee.  That is a tall order even for someone with half-a-dozen classroom-years more!

It may be of interest for the general public to inquire about how the august house (the plenary) circumvented section 61 of the Constitution to vote to lavish itself with such goodies as through-the-ceiling salaries, larger-than-life allowances and not-of-this-life car loans so disproportionate to due performance in their respective offices—the provision bars members from voting on matters in which they have direct or indirect material interest without disclosing such interest and members risk being charged with the serious impeachable offence of contempt of the plenary if deemed to have failed to disclose a material interest in such a matter.

It has allowed itself to be marginalized and reduced to merely rubber-stamping decisions of the executive and failed to utilize the deliberately intersected powers of the executive and the legislature for the enhancement of transparency and accountability.

The National Assembly can override the President if he withholds assent to a Bill after allowing a twenty-one day cooling off period but how often have we seen the National Assembly allow the President to ‘kill’ a duly passed Bill by simply just ‘sitting’ on a Bill that the National Assembly duly passed because it considers itself fittingly subservient to the executive.The Constitution also deliberately gives the National Assembly a role in the appointment of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Inspector General of Police, and the Auditor General, among other senior government officials or directors of constitutionally protected institutions—can we confidently say their involvement in any of these appointments has improved the quality of the appointments?

The Constitution also deliberately divides the responsibility for the financial management of the  country’s  finances  between  the  Minister  of  Finance  and  the  Budget  Committee  of  the National  Assembly—can anyone confidently say theBudget Committee’s involvement in the financial management of the  country’s  finances has improved of our management of our finances or more often than not merely rubber-stamped decisions of the executive?

In the not-too-distant inglorious past, a much-aspersed DPP regime cobbled together legislation meant to take us back to the stone age, our Members of Parliament (MP’s) happily passed it in-spite of Section 46 of the Constitutionprohibiting the legislature (or any other subordinate legislative authority, the executive, or other government agencies) from making any law that abolishes or abridges any of the rights contained in the Bill of Rights—a provision meant  to  guard  against  legislative  or  executive  excesses  that  may  erode  the protections  provided  by  the  Bill  of  Rights.Section 35 ofthe Police Act relating to the authority of the police toconduct searches without a warrant was amended; theLocal Courts Act was added to the statute books; section 46 of the Penal Code was amended to empowerthe Minister of Information to ban any newspaperconsidered “unsuitable for the public good”;the Local Government Act was amended toempower the president to call off local governmentelections;and, yes, there was also the “anti-injunction law”, an amendment to the Civil Procedures Act (Suits by or against theGovernment or Public Officers)—legislation prohibiting the courts from granting ex parte injunctions against government or public officers.They left us to fry in the sun!

Can we confidently say the crowd we call our Members of Parliament (MP’s) can ever discharge their constitutional duties solely for the benefit of the people (in accordance with section 12 of the Constitution) and give meaning to or interpret the expressed wishes and interests of the people of Malawi without fear or favor or as others say based only on the doctrines of both social contract and social trust and for the better good and prosperity of our Malawi?  How often have we observed our Members of Parliament (MP’s) shamelessly prioritize their interests at the expense of our interests, the nation’s interests oblivious to the fact that they swore to be accountable to the Constitution and to the electorate?

Our holders of elective office(s) are responsible for more than their utterances (words), actions, decisions or conduct; they are also responsible for how others interpret those utterances (words), actions, decisions or conduct.

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