Parliament has authorised government to access a $50 million (about K36 billion) grant from the World Bank for early childhood development (ECD) amid queries from opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) on why government fast tracked the passing of the bill.
The International Development Assistance (IDA) Investing in Early Years for Growth and Productivity in Malawi Project Loan Bill seeks to improve ECD standards in 13 districts by incorporating nutrition, early education and maternal and child health.
Initially, MCP believed the loan was a grant from the IDA, claiming the country did not need more loans when it was already highly indebted.
MCP through interim Leader of Opposition Lobin Lowe attempted to block the tabling of the bill on the basis that it had not undergone the 28-day notice going by Standing Order 125.
He said: “Standing Orders are clear about circulating a copy of the Bill at least 28 days before it is tabled. Standing Order 126 gives the option of a waiver of this but my worry is that the Business Committee meeting was informed that there was a Supreme Court ruling that waiving these Standing Orders has resulted in shallow bills being passed.”
Lowe told the House that the bill, Investing in Early Years for Growth and Productivity in Malawi Project, was gazette on March 5 2019 and circulated to parliamentarians on March 8, barely five days before it was tabled.
But upon consultation, second deputy speaker Clement Chiwaya set aside the protest on the basis that whatever court ruling was made did not invalidate the Parliamentary Standing Orders.
Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe justified the haste in which the bill was being tabled.
“The reason the bill is being fast tracked is that decisions by the financial institutions on how much money can be borrowed or accessed from them were made late. We had to ask the Ministry of Justice [and Constitutional Affairs] to draft the bill quickly so we could access the monies,” he said.
With the $50 million, the government will complement existing ECD programmes in 13 districts including Rumphi, Mchinji, Ntcheu, Machinga and Mangochi.
Of the contributions to the debate on the loan bill, the majority were from districts which will not benefit from the K36 billion funding.
These included Blantyre West MP Peter Kumpalume, Salima Central MP Felix Jumbe and Nkhata Bay South East MP Noah Chimpeni.
Meanwhile, Parliament has also passed the Malawi Engineering Institution Bill which repeals the Engineers Act of 1972 with the view of providing a new legal framework that will comprehensively deal with challenges and new developments in the engineering profession.
Tabling the bill, Minister of Transport Jappie Mhango said enforcement of the repealed law became a challenge due to delays in the registration of professionals and lack of continuous professional development and enforcement of engineering standards.