October 4, 2007

Lawmakers accuse President of fraud / Corruption seen as worsening

Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika is embroiled in controversy over startling revelations that the President and Clerk of Parliament, Maltilda Katopola assented to the controversial power interconnection Bill on September 5. Mutharika, through his spokesperson, made the call for Speaker of Parliament, Louis Chimango to resign, blaming him for submitting Malawi Component-Mozambique, Malawi Transmission Interconnection Project Authorisation Bill number 8 of 2007 for Presidential assent when it was not passed in Parliament. A group of parliamentarians have exposed a copy of the controversial Act that was assented to before it was debated. And, the concerned lawmakers are planning to lead a mass protest on the President’s actions and demand his resignation.
In the Act, the Clerk of Parliament certified that the Bill was passed on 23 rd May 2007. The chronological event shows that the Bill was gazetted on 11 May 2007 and that it first appeared on order paper as 3rd bill to be read on 23 May 2007. President Mutharika, according to the Act, assented to the Bill on 5 September 2007 before he unliterary prorogued parliament on September 14. The same Bill was still appearing on order paper on the 14th September and was due to be passed before the Business Committee’s agreed date of 21st September when the House was supposed to rise. "From the chronological events, it is extremely difficult to buy the ‘mistake’ theory. The conspiracy theory is far much more plausible," a source from Speaker’s office said. "When one sees the date the Bill was assented by the President, one will realise that there was serious committing of fraud because parliament was still in session and discussing the budget," said the source.
Lawmakers say Mutharika’s demand to have Speaker resign is "misanthropic" because the Head of State and Clerk of Parliament were party to this "deceit". The parliamentarians are calling on the Speaker to tell the nation on who authored the memo that accompanied the Bill to the President for assent. "The reason for proroguing parliament was failure of National Assembly to pass the very same Bill. But by then the President had already assented to the Bill thereby converting it to an Act," Parliamentary sources said.
The controversial Bill was asking authorisation for Minister of Finance to enter into a financing agreement with the International Development Association for financing in an amount in various currencies not exceeding in the aggregate the equivalent of thirty one million five hundred thousand Special Drawing Rights (US300 million or MK4.5 billion).
Many Malawians are calling for the President to resign other than shifting the blame on the Speaker alone.
State House spokesman in defence of the President, stated: "The role and duty of the State President is to approve or disapprove of any bill and not to be verifying if indeed the bill was debated and passed." A political analyst at the University of Malawi, Boniface Chinsinga told Daily Times tabloid that the President was "equally to blame" and that Speaker and Clerk of Parliament "be taken to task". While parliament was in prorogation the second deputy speaker, Jones Chingola had requested the business committee to pass the same bill. President Mutharika has come under heavy criticism recently with the image of his administration dented due to corruption, constitutional violations and bad governance despite attaining economic prudence.
In the meantime, Transparency International (TI), the global corruption watchdog, said in its latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI) that Malawi had dropped 28 places from 90 in 2004 to 118 this year, a three-year time-frame mirroring Mutharika's assumption of the presidency in 2004 on an electoral ticket that promised to clean up the administration. As a recipient of donor funding, Malawi's slide down the CPI in 2007 does not augur well. In 2001 the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other major donors suspended aid to Malawi, citing corruption, over-expenditure by the state and poor governance. In 2001 the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other major donors suspended aid to Malawi, citing corruption, over-expenditure by the state and poor governance Minister of Energy and Mining Henry Chimunthu Banda, the country's acting president while Mutharika attends the United Nations summit in New York, said although there was political will to combat corruption, the high level of public service graft was a consequence of the government being the biggest employer, so there was a greater likelihood of corrupt officials in the public service than the numerically smaller private sector.
Mavuto Bamusi, national coordinator of the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), a grouping of local human rights organisations, told that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which is responsible for tackling graft, had become a political football, and was toothless because parliament had yet to appoint anyone to its leadership post. "Such a scenario has reversed any gains that the ACB could have made in curbing corruption. Parliament rejected the man who was nominated by the president to head the ACB, and that meant crippling the functions of the body because certain decisions are made by the director only," Bamusi said.
He also attributed Malawi's poor ranking in the fight against corruption to poverty: more than 70 percent of the about 12 million population lives on less than US$2 a day. "The gap between the rich and the poor, measured by Gini coefficient, is still yawning. Remuneration for civil servants is still pitifully disproportionate to the cost of living, and public-sector reforms like privatisation are leading to retrenchment and other forms of marginalisation," he noted. (Daily Times, Lilingwe/IRIN)

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