On Parliament and governance

With the spread of democracy in Africa in the 1990s, citizens appreciate how the three arms of the government function separately.

From the 1960, the continent was under dictatorships. The Executive was planning and approving policies seldom debated in Parliament.

Now, the Legislature plays a critical role in debating and enacting laws to strengthen democracy.

Although many countries claim to be democratic, more needs to be done in Malawi.

Following the restoration of democracy in 19993, Malawi adopted a democratic Constitution, but most colonial and dictatorial  sections were left untouched.

They include stipulation preserving the President’s discretions to appoint individuals to different governance institutions. With Parliament just rubber-stamping the appointments, those appointed mostly report to the appointing authority.

After 26 years of democracy, one can be jailed for “insulting the Head of state” and the police still use sedition laws to detain people and fine them in pound terms inherited from our British colonial masters.

This shows that Parliament still needs to change the laws immortalising the colonial legacy and impeding freedom of expression.

Despite the established of governance institutions in the country, most of them are still not independent. They include the Anti-corruption Bureau (ACB) and the Directorate of Public Prosecution.

Corruption in the country remains rampart corruption, but cases involving high-profile personalities connected to the governing party die silently because ACB and associated governance organisations are either toothless or in the Executive’s armpit.

This makes it difficult for the bureau to work professionally. After all, the President still appoints the ACB director after Parliamentarians rejected a bill to make the vital body independent.

Parliament has the duty to make such governance institutions independent by passing the rebuffed bill if it is tabled again.

Malawians want members of Parliament to advance the national agenda in line with their aspirations and the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy Paper III, the country’s roadmap towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty by 2030

SDG 16 requires countries to strengthen governance institutions to enhance public participation, rule of law and accountability at all levels.

But the sale of tractors procured using a $50 million loan from India obtained to ease farmers’ plight is a mirrors a breakdown in governance systems.

As exposed by Ombudsman Martha Chizuma, it is heart-breaking that Treasury and the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development sold the tractors at a discount to political elites while smallholder farmers still toil with the age-old hoe.

If governance institution were strengthened and independent, the issue would have been handled by competent courts to promote the rule of law.

Parliament itself should be independent to provide checks and balance to the Executive in matters like these.

Instead of just waiting to pass national budgets and bills, Parliament must also verify the performance of the government institutions based on previous budgets.

Strong mechanisms on monitoring and evaluation through the Parliamentary Affairs Committee will help enhance transparency and accountability of the programme. The committee should be empowered to summon individuals and institutions to gauge progress. If one is involved in corruption, the committee should be able to direct the issue to the ACB without waiting for the Executive to determine whether to prosecute the matter or not.

For Parliament to safeguard progress in the national agenda, there is a need to change the current system.

Parliamentarians should not only focus on approving national budgets, but also monitoring public spending against revenues.

The legislators should also be verifying audit findings and questioning anomalies. 

Parliament should ensure that there is accountability, transparency and participation in the national strides towards sustainable development.

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