In Malawi,the effort to pass the national budget for next year has stalled. The problem is caused in part by opposition legislators. They say before the budget is passed, they want the dismissal of members of Parliament who have violated Section 65 of the Constitution. That section forbids members of Parliament from changing party affiliation. So far, scores of opposition members have joined the party of President Bingu Wa Mutharika. From Blantyre, reporter Lameck Masina has the story.
The Supreme Court says the speaker of the Parliament has the power to expel lawmakers who change their party affiliation. So far, 60 members of the opposition United Democratic Front and Malawi Congress Party have defected to President Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, which has 80 members in Parliament, while the opposition has 110.
Mr. Mutharika says the opposition wants to impeach him. He says they want to use Section 65 to dismiss the legislators who left the opposition to join the president’s party.
That would give them the two-third majority needed to impeach the president.
“You will agree with me," the president told the press," that the opposition does not want to approve the budget. Instead, they want to apply section 65 to bring down this government. The opposition is trying to take over the government through the back door. This can not and will not be allowed.”The opposition dismisses the allegation and says it’s upholding the rule of law. It has tried before to impeach the president for abuse of power but says there’s no need to bring the government down now. They say the voters can do that in next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which they are confident of winning.
During last year’s budget meetings, MPs spent more than four months wrangling over which issue to deal with first – the renegade legislators or the budget. They agreed to begin with the budget, but after it was passed, the president ended the meetings. This time around, the opposition parties say they will not be fooled again.
Bakili Muluzi is the Malawi’s former president and
leader of the opposition UDF.
“As chairman of this partyand as presidential candidate of this party, UDF,," he said, "I am saying: No Section 65, no budget.”
In late June, President Mutharika suspended the Parliament in an effort, he says, to bring sanity to the body. The suspension led to mediation efforts by the clergy aimed at finding a solution to the impasse.
But the opposition and ruling party have not signed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) issued by the mediators, which contains possible solutions to the problem.
The mediators are led by Roman Catholic Archbishop Tarcizious Ziyaye. They propose that both issues be discussed at the same time. The mediators also suggest that the government help lift a court injunction obtained by some MPs to prevent the speaker from sacking the 60 legislators. The president is not expected to accept that proposal because lifting the court injunction would make it possible for the opposition to impeach the president.
The opposition has agreed to sign the memorandum of understanding. But President Mutharika has refused to link the latest budget talks to the section of the Constitution that forbids MPs to change parties. He is proposing a referendum to let the voters decide which issue should be decided first. But the opposition say that’s a waste of money.
He told the press, “I will not accept equating section 65 to the budget because the session that has been adjourned is a budget session, for goodness’ sake. It’s not a session for anything else and there we in the government will not accept discussing anything expect the budget.”
Economists warn a delay could harm many government programs. They say the government would not have the money to buy fertilizers, seeds, or other inputs to distribute to farmers – an effort that’s helped feed the country for the past two years.
Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations mission in Malawi, Michael Keating, says the impasse could lead to a loss of donor aid for Malawi.
President Mutharika has said that if the MPs don’t take
action, he will continue governing without the budget until the general
elections next year.
The country has been using a smaller emergency budget since the end of the financial year on June 30.