Monday, July 9, 2007

…Opposition pressurising Judiciary
By Rex Chikoko
Parliament got it all wrong to suspend budget deliberations because of its failure to discuss issues about Section 65 which are in court, Malawi Law Society (MLS) and Chancellor College Dean of Law have said.

On July 3, 2007, Parliament indefinitely suspended deliberations on the 2007/08 budget following an impasse between government and the opposition on what to prioritise between passing the budget and implementing the ruling on Section 65 which the Supreme Court validated on June 22.

Following the ruling, Speaker Louis Chimango petitioned 41 MPs whom he deemed to have been affected by the ruling, some of them Cabinet Ministers.

But Deputy Minister of Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly and MP for Zomba Central Yunus Mussa obtained an injunction restraining the Speaker from declaring their seats vacant.

DPP also petitioned the Speaker to declare vacant his own seat for joining an organization that was political in nature, as well as those of UDF MPs for moving from the government side of the House to the opposition.

MLS spokesperson Chimwemwe Kalua said it is was not unusual for Parliament to continue deliberations in the House while the Speaker is under injunction.

Kalua said by forcing the Speaker to act on an issue which was in court, the opposition MPs were indirectly putting pressure on the Judiciary.

“The Judiciary has to work independently. They should not receive pressure from any quarter. By giving the Speaker an ultimatum, they are actually interfering with matters of the Judiciary.

“The Speaker can do nothing until the order is vacated. Right now, the hands of the Speaker are tied and it is wrong to put the budget session at ransom,” he said.

He said issues of legal nature have no time frame, saying the MPs should know that the House has a duty over national affairs.

Kalua also took a swipe at Malawi Congress Party (MCP) for threatening to fire the Speaker from the party for allegedly being biased towards government in his conduct.

“In Parliament the Speaker should serve the interest of all political parties regardless of the party he belonged to. The Speaker must promote honest and proper debate. MCP is wrong to threaten the Speaker,” he said.

Agreeing with Kalua, Dean of Law at Chancellor College Charles Mhango said in a separate interview Parliament was wrong to prioritise political interests before those of the country.

Mhango said MPs, who had sufficient interest in the matter, would have joined the case as friends of the court other than pressuring the Speaker to act on an issue, which was in court.

“The right to seek an injunction is a legitimate right and every person has it. It was wrong to prioritise political interests,” he said.

But MCP insisted that it will only return to Parliament when the injunction, which was obtained against the Speaker, has been removed.

MCP spokesperson in Parliament Ishmael Chafukira said his party already stated its conditions to resume budget discussions, saying it was up to government to act on them.

“The head of National Assembly has been paralysed. How would you expect him to preside over the budget when he has an injunction on his head? If the injunction is removed MCP is ready to pass the budget even today,” he said.

He said it was not the opposition parties that sought an injunction against the Speaker adding that government holds the key for the way forward saying the opposition has already made so many concessions on the issue.

But Leader of the House Henry Chimunthu Banda said it was government’s wish to pass the budget as soon as possible and expected the opposition parties to see the merit of prioritising the budget over section 65.

Chimunthu Banda dismissing suggestions from some quarters that government should initiate dialogue on the matter, said the issue of priority was straightforward and that there was no need for dialogue.

“While I am not trivialising dialogue, but on this issue there is no need for it. This is an issue that would be resolved without engaging in dialogue. It is a question of prioritising things,” he said.

He said some of the demands of opposition MPs are fallacies since they are defying logic. He added: “There is no way they can claim that some MPs are not bona fide when no legitimate court has said so.

He also maintained that there was nothing government could do to coerce Yunus Mussa, to withdraw the injunction.

“He obtained an injunction in his personal capacity. I tried to convince him out of it but he refused, we cannot gag him. Besides he is a UDF Member of Parliament,” he said.

There is an impasse between government and the opposition members of Parliament in the House on what to prioritise between the national budget and section 65.

While government side insists that Parliament should first discuss the national budget, the opposition has put its foot down and opted for Section 65 which is expected to see MPs deemed to have violated the said section being expelled from the House.

The Speaker yesterday applied in the High Court in Lilongwe yesterday for an order to vacate the injunction.

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