The Executive, through the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Kondwani Nankhumwa, announced in Parliament that each of the 193 constituencies in Malawi will receive K20.7 million for chitukuko (development projects). The total disbursement is K4 billion. The announcement followed calls—previously—made by mostly opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) that the Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe, must explain to the august House the criteria that was used in selecting (purportedly) 86 constituencies (out of 193) as the beneficiaries of the K4 billion designated for chitukuko.
The script has had to change so fast between 27 and 28 February. It is hard to believe anything or stay focused and interested. If I may remind us about what the Constitution says about governing: The people of Malawi are the root of legal and political authority of the State. The other point I must make is that a public officer exercises the legal and political authority of the State for protection of the interests of the people of Malawi. And finally, the maintenance of the trust for the exercise of the powers of the State depends on an open, accountable and transparent Government, and informed democratic choice. When a person is appointed or elected into a public office, our constitutional set up does not expect that person to evolve into a tukumu-tukumu know–it–all who tells us—the people of Malawi—tikagwere.
The Constitution has an elaborate Chapter on public finance. A withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund can be made in the following instances: charged expenditure on the authority of the Constitution or an Act of Parliament; authorised expenditure under an Appropriation Act; authorised expenditure under a Supplementary Appropriation Act; authorised expenditure under an Act of Parliament made under section 173(5) of the Constitution (on repayable payments for allowances for persons or authorities other than Government); authorised payment under sections 178 of the Constitution (on expenditure pending an Appropriation Act); authorised expenditure made under section 179 of the Constitution (on the Contingency Fund); authorised expenditure made under section 180 of the Constitution (on Government borrowing through loans); authorised expenditure made under section 181 of the Constitution (on special funds and trusts) or section 182 of the Constitution (on the Development Fund); and authorised payments under a resolution of the National Assembly made under section 177 of the Constitution (on supplementary appropriation). The Minister of Finance is the public officer authorising the withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund. In short, ladies and gentlemen, if anyone is to spend public money, the spending must be constitutional, it must be legal. It is important therefore that there must be an Appropriation Act, a Supplementary Appropriation Act or a specially prepared Act of Parliament authorising a particular spending of public finance.
For as long as the K20.7 million that is to be made available to each of the 193 constituencies will come from public coffers, it must be constitutional, it must be legal. It matters less that the cause is noble. Procedure is procedure. It must be followed to the last full stop. It is in fact vexing that our public officers—especially the political public officers—act as if they owe the people of Malawi no explanation at all when queries relating to governing generally, and more specifically, public finance management arise. We cannot have official statements changing in 24 hours. It smacks of something fishy!
Similarly, the infrastructure projects that Government undertakes proceed on the back of either a loan authorisation law (where the loan is repayable by the people of Malawi) or a grant made at State to State level. The tendency to announce infrastructure projects as some pet personal projects of a benevolent ‘leader’ must stop. The praise-singing is unfounded. And those dancing perhaps have too much time on their hands.
And let me also say this: We cannot have a whole finance minister telling the nation that some financier of a government project does not want to be named. Really? The Constitution prescribes an open, accountable and transparent government. We cannot be handling public money in some kutapa kutaya mode. Let us leave kutapa kutaya mentality to some drunken fool swigging away his salary (it’s usually a ‘He’) at Ndamwera Zandiwo Booze Den. Zikomo. n
*Chikosa Silungwe is a lawyer and consultant at The Mizumali Foundation. He holds a PhD in Law from University of Warwick in Coventry, England.