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Malawi’s Parliament Reconvenes to Debate Budget Amidst Controversy

Malawi’s parliament is scheduled to reconvene today to deliberate and possibly approve the government’s controversial budget. President Bingu Wa Mutharika ordered the speaker of parliament to convene the legislative body amidst a political standoff between the president and the opposition-controlled assembly. The opposition, however, is accusing the government of employing thugs to intimidate them to rubber stamp the budget if parliament reconvenes today. The opposition coalition has refused to debate the budget until a dispute over what it called the poaching of its members of parliament by President Mutharika’s government is resolved.

Atopele Muluzi is an opposition member of the Malawi parliament. From the capital, Lilongwe he shares with reporter Peter Clottey his expectations for today’s business of the house.

“We were informed that the president has asked parliament to reconvene this afternoon, but we are not yet aware of the agenda. However, we have been informed that the business that is to be transacted would be the passing of the budget. This is highly irregular, of course, as you know, the budget needed to be deliberated for at least about 21 days according to our rules, whereby members are able to scrutinize the expenditures, projected expenditures, as well as the past expenditures of government,” Muluzi noted.

He said speculation is rife that the government would intimidate opposition parliamentarians into approving the budget.

“When we are expected to reconvene this afternoon amidst quite a lot of tension in the country, as members of parliament, we are made to understand that thugs have been sent to the gates of parliament, where oppositions members would be forced, would be intimidated in an attempt by government for us to rubberstamp the budget,” he said.

Muluzi said although the government may be acting unconstitutionally, he is sure the budget would be approved in due course.

“We are going to pass the budget. That is not the question. The problem that we have at the moment has to do with the fact that 41 cabinet ministers who are members of parliament who have cross the floor or have defected from the party, decided to join another political party in the house, violating the constitution in that process. Now, in an attempt to subvert the rule of law they have attempted to put the budget as a tool, in which they can hide behind to say the opposition does not want to pass the budget,” Muluzi pointed out.

He said the opposition coalition wish the speaker of parliament would make a pronouncement on those who have defected from one party to another in parliament.

“What we want is that the issue of Section 65, which is not a matter for discussion in the house, is merely a matter for the speaker to make a declaration. That must take place,” he said.

Muluzi declared unconstitutional President Mutharika’s order for parliament to reconvene to deliberate on the budget when parliament is already in session.

“The problem that we have at the moment is that the president has decided to unconstitutionally convene parliament. As you are aware, the Malawi parliament has been sitting, is in session as we speak. It’s just been suspended temporarily. What the president has done is to convene an extra ordinary session of parliament, when the national assembly is already in session, which is highly irregular,” Muluzi noted.