Members of Parliament (MPs) started their business of the Mid-Year Budget Review Meeting with leader of opposition Lazarus Chakwera insisting that the President should have declared a State of Emergency instead of a State of Disaster.
Responding to a ministerial statement which Minister of Transport and Public Infrastructure Francis Kasaila delivered in the House at the start of the four-week meeting, Chakwera argued that a State of Emergency in floods-ravaged areas could have made a difference in the response to those affected.
He said government should have involved Parliament to give it the necessary powers to act quickly.
Said Chakwera:“More could have been done by Parliament or the relevant committee to declare a State of Emergency.”
Government earlier reacted to Chakwera’s sentiments on a State of Emergency with derision.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu said in an earlier interview President Peter Mutharika opted for a declaration of State of Disaster as a more prompt reaction requiring less procedure that also preserved human rights.
Tembenu said according to Section 45 (3) of the Constitution, declaration of State of Emergency would have required approval from the Defence Committee of Parliament. He added that a State of Emergency has a shorter life span of 21 days.
But Chakwera shot back and said: “This is the worst disaster that Malawi has experienced in recent memory. It is important that we stand together, it is not time for scoring cheap political points.”
In his contribution, People’s Party (PP) leader in Parliament UladiMussa condemned government for its late response to the disaster, especially in Salima where flooding took place earlier than districts in the Southern Region.
He also pointed out that many affected households were being ignored because they did not have a double tragedy.
“The assistance, when it comes, is focusing on families whose crops and houses were washed away, but those who have houses intact are not being assisted,” claimed Mussa.
Chitipa South MP WelaniChilenga, who also chairs the Climate Change Committee of Parliament, condemned the poor flood warning system and information dissemination.
“Heavy rains and flooding took place on January 12, but response only came in three days later. In future, flood mitigation measures need to be taken seriously,” Chilenga said.
In his statement, Kasaila said 361 000 people needed immediate food assistance and government would contribute 14 000 metric tonnes of maize from the Strategic Grain Reserves.
Government has so far collected K85 million in its local bank account opened for disaster response and K99 million in its foreign currency denominated account, according to data published by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma).