Committee for budget review

Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament says it is concerned with the uncertainty regarding the Mid-Year Budget Review Meeting of the National Assembly which traditionally takes place from mid-February.

Committee chairperson Rhino Chiphiko said in an interview yesterday that indications were that the meeting may not take place.

Chiphiko: We could have been told of the meeting by now

He said: “By now, we could have been told of the meeting looking at it that the Speaker [Richard Msowoya] wrote the President on 22 December last year asking for that. But, up to now, there is no response. This is worrisome.”

But presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani said President Peter Mutharika and the Office of the Speaker of the National Assembly were discussing the matter.

He said: “I can confirm that the Speaker wrote the President on the issue and that the two have been discussing on the logistics for the opening.

“Let’s wait for the two offices of the Speaker and the President to finalise their consultations as the law requires. Thereafter, we shall have official communication. There is no need to speculate about it.”

Despite not being mandated by the Public Finance Management Act or the Standing Orders, the Mid-Year Budget Review Meeting of Parliament has become a tradition since 2005 to assess the performance of the national budget and provide checks and balances on expenditures.

Even Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe has acknowledged that the review has served the government well by enabling it to examine the continued pursuance of sound fiscal management.

Chiphiko said if the meeting fails to take place, there would be negative implications on the economy.

He said: “We are heading for a disaster. Already, some government ministries, departments and agencies, including State Residences, have already overspent. Without scrutinising them, what do you expect? Most donors haven’t given us their money and they will not release it if we don’t explain how we spend.”

Economic analyst Dalitso Kubalasa said the review meetings provide a platform to assess budget performance and help Treasury to devise necessary adjustments.

He said: “This is an important time, especially in an election year to check if all is well with this law that was passed in June 2018 alongside all contractual obligations to its people.

“I pray that the government will still make sure that this ideal and best fiscal financial management practice be adhered to in the true spirit of open budgets, transparency and most importantly, accountability to the broader public.”

During the meeting, Gondwe is expected to explain how he will balance the 2018/19 National Budget following the withdrawal of a K60 billion budgetary support pledge by the World Bank.

The minister also owes Malawians an explanation on over-expenditure by about 80 percent of entities such as State Residences, Malawi Police Services and Malawi Defence Force.

Msowoya said his office was waiting to hear from the President after submitting an application for the meeting.

Given that constitutionally, Parliament will stand dissolved on March 20 at the end of its five-year lifespan to pave the way for the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections, there is a four-week window during which the Mid-Year Budget Review Meeting can take place.

In the 2018/19 fiscal year, domestic borrowing rose by 473.6 percent from K30.7 billion in the revised 2017/18 to K176.1 billion.

As of December 2017, Malawi’s total debt was 55 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) with external debt accounting for 29 percent of GDP and domestic debt making up 26 percent of GDP. n

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