By Duncan Mlanjira
Most Members of Parliament when voted into office usually desert their rural bases, opting to operate from affluent cities and completely alienating themselves from their constituents.
It is in this vein that President Lazarus Chakwera views that the country ought to have official residences for MPs within their constituencies to ensure they are part of the communities they represent.
And from his presentation in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered on Friday last week, it seems such residences shall be rotational to be vacated once the incumbent loses their seat in the august House.
Chakwera pledged that his Administration is actively engaging investors to develop plans for this project and to expedite its commencement.
But in his response to the SONA in Parliament on Monday, Leader of the Opposition, Kondwani Nankhumwa attacked this suggestion, saying the President did not do any justice to Malawians by pledging to construct the official houses taking into consideration that MPs are wealthier than many civil servants.
He meant to say MPs have their own personal houses to operate from and he suggested that a constituency office, equipped with the necessary operational tools, would be appropriate.
Yet the President pledged the construction of 193 Constituency offices to serve as permanent points of access for Malawians to reach their MPs.
Nankhumwa said it would instead be appropriate to consider building houses to civil servants such as teachers, nurses, police and army officers, social welfare officers and agriculture extension workers, among others, who live in dilapidated houses.
Chakwera promised to support the Legislature further by implementing the following innovations at Parliament:
* The development of the 2020-2025 Parliament of Malawi Strategic Plan to guide implementation of activities;
* The automation of both the Hansard Transcription System and Chamber Voting System to address delays;
* The establishment of Parliament Television and Radio to improve public access to information about House activities;
* The construction of new office blocks to increase Committee Rooms and offices for Members of Parliament and Staff.
And as usual, the DPP continues to attack the Malawi Congress Party’s 30-year regime when Nankhumwa first applauded the government for highlighting an agenda of unity through the newly-created Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity.
“It is also important that such policy projection is matched by actions on the ground to indicate seriousness,” he said. “Malawians are expecting to see how this peace and unity initiative will heal the wounds of victims of MCP 30-year atrocities.
“Malawians will be expecting to see how victims of political demonstrations in 2019 will be taken care of, especially in form of compensation for those that lost property and lives of dear ones.
“I have in mind the death of Superintendent Usiman Imedi, who was killed in the line of duty at Nsundwe in Lilongwe.”
Although others may argue that one cannot judge a government that has just been in office for three months, Nankhumwa opines that the character of a government can be judged from its actions on its first day in office.
“Over the last three months that this government has been in place, we have seen policy ambiguities and lack of decision-making. We have seen doublespeak; within the last three months, we have seen arbitrary and politically motivated arrests.
“Within the last three months, regionalism and cronyism have reared their ugly head where husbands, sisters, wives and brothers have been appointed into cabinet.
“We have also seen summary dismissals of perceived DPP sympathisers from their posts. Within the last three months, we have seen a sort of political power-play that would most certainly end in a leadership disaster of unparalleled proportion for this government.”
On the arrests on allegations of corruption and abuse of office that had been order of the day ever since the Tonse-led government comes into office, Nankhumwa says much as the “wheels of justice must surely continue to turn but we have a problem when the arrests are politically motivated and made purely based on excitement, and targeted only at members of the DPP”.
Among other things, Nankhumwa said Malawians are waiting to start having the pleasure of three meals a day; to start buying cheap fertilizer at K4,995 per 50kg bag (universal subsidy) and acquire non-renewable passports at K14,000.
“Malawians are waiting for the continuation of cement and malata subsidy, construction of classrooms and teachers’ houses, elimination of power and water connection fees and financial support to the elderly, among others.
“Indeed, Malawians businesses are waiting to enjoy a duty-free week; they are waiting for free electricity and water connection; our youths want to be among the one million people to be employed in the first 12 months of this government, and we have already done three months.
“This is what got the Tonse Alliance government elected on June 23. Already, we have noted that the SONA failed to boldly define a comprehensive road-map, let alone timelines of how these promises would be implemented.
“Instead, the President chose to hide behind less definable Hi-5 agenda, such as prospering together and subtly throwing the responsibility of ending poverty in this country back to Malawians.
“We are, therefore, left to wonder whether this is a Tonse Alliance government or just an MCP government. You can see, therefore, that there is no time for Mr. President to put two feet on the table, two hands at the back of his head and to just roll with the season because the honeymoon is already over.”