Malawi Opposition parties are accusing President Bingu Wa Mutharika of intimidation after Mutharika threatened to withhold pay and other benefits of opposition parliamentarians if they fail to pass the government’s budget today. The opposition describes Mutharika’s action as illegal, which could undermine the country’s young democracy. But Mutharika maintains that opposition parliamentarians would not be given their salaries for next month or additional months if the national budget is not passed. Some political observers say the failure of the government and the opposition to approve of the budget could inhibit the inflow of donor funds essential for sustaining the country’s economy. Joseph Njobvuyalema is an opposition member of Malawi’s parliament. From the capital Lilongwe, he tells reporter Peter Clottey that President Mutharika’s ultimatum is a disgrace to democracy.
“That is what the state president has said. But you see, I think the president is misadvised because there is a procedure which parliament follows to approve a budget. Members of parliament have to look at the figures and the activities, what happened in the previous financial year, and what are the intentions of the current year to come. Now we know that takes a lot of time. As a matter of fact, the constitution provides for members of parliament to discuss the budget for three weeks. Then, thereafter, we go into what we call committee of supply, looking and scrutinizing all the figures, vote-by-vote or ministry-by-ministry. So, I don’t think it makes sense for a president to give an ultimatum,” Njobvuyalema noted.
He said it is unfortunate some Malawians are blaming the opposition of being the cause of the budget not being approved.
“No, that is not correct. There is no way one can put the blame on the opposition because all along since the state president has been in office, the opposition is the one which is in the majority, and we are the ones who approved his budget. But what we are saying is that we are looking at the supreme law. The provisions of the law have to be complied with. Much as the budget is important, the constitutional provision must be upheld and the president is aware of it,” he said.
Njobvuyalema said there was need to implement section 65 of the constitution, a constitutional provision which bars legislators from leaving parties that sponsored them into power and joining another party inside parliament.
“Section 65 is an issue, which is not properly handled. Multiparty democracy would die in this country, and we would be reverting to one-party system. So, we think it is important that we must implement section 65 now, then approve the budget. But we are saying what should we do next? Let’s discuss and let’s implement section 65, which can only be done in 10 minutes time. The speaker will announce it in 10 minutes and then we continue with our budget. What’s wrong with that?” Njobvuyalema asked.
He said a majority of Malawians want section 65 implemented, despite President Mutharika’s threat of withholding pay and other benefits of the opposition if the budget is not approved today.
“We are not saying we have to approve a budget in order to get a salary. That’s not the idea. We represent the interest of the people and we are looking at what those people are talking about. The majority of Malawians want section 65 to be implemented. Then we move on with the budget. After all, according to the provisions of the laws in the country, government can spend up to the end of September then come back to parliament and say we have done this. Can we now approve the budget? We are more than ready to approve the budget,” he noted.