Parliament on Thursday referred a federalism motion put forward by Mzimba North legislator Yeremia Chihana (Alliance for Democracy-Aford) to the Legal Affairs Committee for further scrutiny.
Chihana argues in the motion that in the interest of equitable distribution of resources and development in Malawi, and as a solution to the challenges brought about by quota system in the Education Sector, coupled with the elasticity of Malawi politics, and to ensure equal participation in political decisions, the country needs to change its system of government.
He said: “This House is satisfied that Malawi has now matured to change its system of government. To that end, this House resolves that all efforts and legal framework should be put in place towards the adoption of a federal system of government within a specified period.”
During the debate, most opposition members of Parliament (MPs) supported the motion, saying it was high time the country moved to federalism as it was already taking place indirectly.
However, MPs on the government side argued that passing such a law would divide the country. They also said it was not true that there is no equitable distribution of development projects among the regions.
On his part, Thyolo Central MP who is also Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Ben Phiri said it is important that MPs understand the concept of federalism.
He said: “I am not in agreement with the division that the motion will bring. I think the subject in question is that many people don’t understand what federalism is about. Let’s debate this but let it be referred to the relevant committee for scrutiny. We should not do this out of anger.”
In an interview later, Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Symon Vuwa Kaunda said it was sad that some people from the North want to paint a bad image of northerners just to satisfy their ego.
“I am also from the North and I don’t support this motion. This motion is not good. It will just divide the nation, so government is not in support of it. We are glad it has been referred to the Legal Affairs Committee,” he said.
But Chihana in a separate interview said he was optimistic that the motion will be supported after passing through the Legal Affairs’ Committee, since there is evidence that national resources are not distributed equally and the quota system has denied many deserving Malawians the right to higher education.
He said: “I believe it will pass into law. I know that soon it will be brought back. Malawians are tired and they need change. I have support even from government, only that they didn’t want to speak it in the House.”
The motion was previously defeated in the same House, when it was brought by Rumphi East MP Kamlepo Kalua who only got support from Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
In 2006, President Peter Mutharika, then a professor of international law at Washington University School of Law in the United States of America, proposed federalism as a solution to address the issue of national unity.
In his paper presented at the National Constitutional Review Conference in Lilongwe held from March 28 to 31 2006 titled Towards a More Manageable Constitution, he observed that Nigeria successfully resolved problems that were created by its three regions at independence in 1960 by establishing what are now 36 states and one federal territory.
However, in August 2014, three months after becoming President, Mutharika urged political and religious leaders against calls for federalism, arguing it would divide the country.