Of perks, greed and operational independence

Hon Folks, I never lived a moment to doubt the need to protect MPs’ operational independence. In fact, many governance watchdogs have for long criticised the prevailing system which enables the Executive to use funding as a means for putting the Legislature on a short leash.

Parliamentary committees have at times failed to meet and execute functions meant to provide checks and balances, especially to the Executive, when Treasury says there’s no funding. There’s little, if any at all, debate on the need to ensure that all arms of government have “ring-fenced” budgets, all things being equal.

Democracy becomes functional if the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are able to carry out their constitutional duties independently, alleging their loyalty only to the Constitution and the laws of the land. Boot-licking the public purse-keeper can only be done at the expense of the tax-payer.

Which is why, even the other key players in the democratic process—the civil society and the media—guard jealously their freedom and vehemently resist government overtures to regulate them, let alone define what constitutes responsible execution of their duties.

But I must hasten to add that operational freedom of Parliament shouldn’t be about determining their own perks as reported in the media earlier in the week (The Nation, 11 December 2018). Our “resource envelope”, to quote the jargon MPs probably like to use, can best serve the national interest if perks are considered in proportion to the needs of the larger public on the one hand and other players in the larger public sector on the other.

At the dawn of the multiparty government, overzealous MPs travelled to various countries in the region and beyond with the aim of studying how to come up with so-called “Sadc salaries” for themselves.

Obviously, that kind of dishonourable action only attracted a backlash. Why “Sadc salaries” for MPs alone when teachers, doctors, engineers, soldiers and all others are given miserable Malawian salaries which are way below the Sadc average?

Now, if MPs or their Parliamentary Service Commission must determine their own perks, why should anyone else have their perks determined by others? 

If the problem is in having to look to the State President for a final say on perks for the MPs, and if indeed such an arrangement infringes on the MPs sense of operational independence, why do the MPs feel justified to vet perks for our judges?

Once upon a time the MPs bulldozed their way on loans only to end up with loans for 4×4 twin-cab vehicles some of them could not service. Then the demand was on having such loans written off on flimsy grounds that such vehicles were needed in the execution of their constituency duties. Greed!

The problem with Parliament is that it’s averse to being on the receiving end of the principle of checks and balances while, at the same time, can’t wait to see the Executive and the Judiciary dancing to its tune.

Consider this: one of the very first things that Parliament did in 1995 was to repeal the Recall Provision which empowered the constituents to recall their non-performing representatives in Parliament. The MPs also repealed for the Senate which had powers to scrutinise Bills and check excesses by MPs. The result is having Parliament that plays god, answering to itself!

Consequently, we’ve witnessed Parliament turned into a circus where “bad laws” were passed in haste to satiate the wishes of one president and changed without qualms after change of government.

We’ve also seen some MPs being enticed to vote against the wishes of the people (as was the case in the recent shooting down of a bill to change the system for electing the President from first-past-the-post to 50+1) only to end up apologizing when confronted  to their  constituents .

Yet, the same MPs have ever attempted to fire judges and they have, in their Standing Orders, procedures for impeaching an elected president and a vice president.  Power!

Not that impeaching a President who has significantly violated the Constitution and written laws of the land is bad per se, but an institution which wields such enormous powers over a President elected by universal suffrage should not construe mere determination of its perks by the Executive as an infringement on its operational independence. That is hypocrisy! n

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