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Malawi’s Finance Minister Comes Under Fire From Opposition

Malawi’s finance minister has come under intense criticism for demanding that opposition members of parliament refund allowances given them as members of parliament. Godall Gondwe reportedly told opposition parliamentarians to either refund monies paid to them or the government would deduct it from their salaries. But opposition parties dismissed Gondwe’s directive as yet another move by President Bingu Wa Mutharika to intimidate them over the controversial Section 65 debate in the National Assembly.

Major opposition parties in the National Assembly are boycotting Parliament because they want the Speaker of parliament to act on Section 65, a constitutional provision which bars legislators from leaving parties that sponsored them into power and joining another party inside Parliament. President Mutharika is expected to lose out if the speaker makes his ruling after several members of the opposition were allegedly lured to switch sides. From Mzuzu in northern Malawi, finance minister Gondwe tells reporter Peter Clottey that his directive is in line with state practices.

“The contention is quite clear, we pay members of parliament what we call a subsistent allowance for attending parliament. We give them a daily subsistence of 15 thousand Kwachas (about 107 dollars) a day, but we give that one-week in advance of their attendance of parliament. And we pay them the amount for five days and they (opposition) did not attend parliament as a matter of fact, and so what we are asking them is to return the money. It is as simple as that. That is really our rule here. You are only given the money to spend if you have attended parliament, they have not,” Gondwe pointed out.

He said the state would recover any unwarranted funds paid to anybody.

“Each time somebody has been overpaid by the government and he is unable to return the money, the government would deduct from his salary. And in this case what we are saying is that if you are unable to return the money we will recover from their salaries. That’s how it is. So it is a legal way of handling the matter,” he said.

Gondwe denied speculation that the recovery of the money has political undertones to intimidate the opposition.

“No that is not the case, and it would not be the first time we are doing it. If you have been overpaid by the government, knowingly, or unknowingly, the government would ask you to pay back that money. If you are unable to do so, the government would recover it from your salary. And in this case, those who cannot return the subsistence that we paid them are to either pay it back straight to the government and if they are not able to we will recover it from their salaries,” Gondwe pointed out.

He reiterated that state practices stipulate that government only pays for work done, adding that the government would recover the monies paid to the parliamentarians who were absent from duties in parliament.

“Nobody asked them to absent themselves from parliament. If there is a contention of a parliamentary nature like Section 65, they are expected to air that in parliament. We could have discussed it in parliament. But they decided not to do so by boycotting parliament. Therefore, as far as the government is concerned, they have not attended parliament voluntarily, and should return the money,” he noted.