Dithering on Mid-Year Budget Review Meeting is a mistake

Dithering on Mid-Year Budget Review Meeting is a mistake

Apparently, there is uncertainty on whether Parliament will meet to discuss the Mid-Year Budget Review Report.

According to State House press secretary Mgeme Kalirani, President Peter Mutharika is still consulting on the logistics of holding this very important part of the budget execution process.

Of course, the consultations on logistics excuse me, is laughable. I mean, since when have presidents bothered themselves with mundane tasks of looking into the logistics of calling for Parliament?

What is important is for the President to provide direction on the matter and let Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe as well as Speaker of the National Assembly Richard Msowoya worry about the details.

This meeting of Parliament is crucial as it ensures that the Executive arm of government accounts for every penny of taxpayers’ and donor money that comes in the name of Malawians.

It is also a way of demonstrating that the Mutharika administration is managing our funds in a transparent manner—one of the central tenets of good governance. Parliament has to check whether—as at mid-year—Capital Hill has implemented the national budget in accordance with what the august House approved.

Where there have been underspending or expenditure overruns, the Minister of Finance must explain.

Parliament also has to look at the revenue side of the budget for the first six months to see whether the objectives they approved for the financial year will be met.

The idea is that where there is a problem, Parliament can provide advice or approve proposed changes from Treasury.

I believe that Parliament must see whether there are fiscal risks facing the country and how serious those threats are.

Thus, the House should reserve its right to be convinced by Treasury that they are prudently managing those perils so that they do not hurt the economy, including firms and households.

Elsewhere, that is called democracy and it ensures checks and balances. I am not so sure what the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration would call such a move of not facilitating the meeting of Parliament.

But where I come from it is called chaos, even autocracy, because someone has decided that he or she will account to himself and Parliament be damned!

Either way, toying around with the people’s representation in governing this country does not look good.

It might also raise questions of whether there is something embarrassing in the budget review report that the administration does not want the House to scrutinise. Coming after Weekend Nation’s revelations that some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) such as the Malawi Defence Force, State House and the Malawi Police Service almost blown their annual allocations six months into the financial year, the administration is exposing itself to unnecessary speculation and innuendos it surely do without at this very sensitive time of the year when elections are just around the corner.

The point is that it is important that Parliament be given the opportunity to see if government has departed from the principles of responsible fiscal management that they had approved in the Appropriations law they passed last year for this financial calendar.

If, for the sake of argument, the Executive has somehow departed from the approved principles, shouldn’t the administration provide detailed reasons for the government’s departure from those principles, including justification?

As the Public Finance Management Act says, Parliament has a right to know the approach government intends to take to return to those principles; and the period of time that Capital Hill expects to take to return to those principles.

Now, what better way of updating Parliament on these issues if not the Mid-Year Budget Review Meeting?

We are just weeks away from March 20 when Parliament will be dissolved. There is very little time left. The earlier President Mutharika approves the meeting of Parliament, the better for the citizens. But if, God forbids, he decides to circumvent the people by not approving a House meeting, President Mutharika will be making a terrible mistake; one that may leave his legacy scarred.

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