Budget debate: Opposition praises govt
by NATION REPORTER (8/16/2007)
After almost four months of political bickering, Members of Parliament on Wednesday sobered up and spoke on the same wavelength, giving hope to Malawians that the 2007/2008 national budget would finally be approved.
Spokespersons on finance from main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) Respicious Dzanjalimodzi and Friday Jumbe of the United Democratic Front (UDF) set the promising tone by praising the Bingu wa Mutharika administration for achieving remarkable economic growth and turning the country into a foodbasket, after years of food insecurity, among other achievements.
Dzanjalimodzi—who nevertheless expressed disappointment that the government side had refused the House to discuss a financial resolution allowing the Executive to withdraw money from the Consolidated Fund to cover operations for three months—said Malawi was regaining its status of a "star performer" which is reminiscent of the Kamuzu Banda era.
Both Dzanjalimodzi and Jumbe commended government for the fertiliser subsidy programme which they said has yielded tangible results, despite some logistical problems it faced.
Dzanjalimodzi asked Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe, who listened attentively to the contributions, smiling at some points when patted on the back for a job well-done, to consider reducing the value added tax (VAT) currently at 17.5 percent and increase the tax-free bracket for employees so that they have more disposable income.
Like his colleague, Jumbe also urged the government to consider increasing the Constituency Development Fund from K2 million to K5 million.
He said he would accept the 2007/2008 budget as being pro-poor if only it improves the buying power of ordinary Malawians and brings about infrastructural development in all sectors of the economy.
President of People’s Progressive Movement (PPM) Aleke Banda also expressed optimism for a better Malawi, saying macro-economic indicators during the Mutharika administration have improved tremendously compared to other countries within the Sadc region.
He said he was happy that after facing a lot of turbulence, the House was now able to discuss the budget, which would benefit all Malawians regardless of their political affiliations.
"It is, therefore, my hope that political will, good economic policies and their implementation should continue as we implement the 2007/2008 budget. My plea is that despite our political differences, all honourable members should deliberate the budget objectively and close ranks on areas that we can quickly reach agreement," Aleke said without interjections and noise that have been the trademark of parliamentarians since they started meeting on-and-off three months ago.
Aleke, however, expressed concern over the high vacancy rates in key ministries and government departments, wondering how the government would operate effectively.
"Definitely, the pace, quality and value for delivery of the budget will suffer with these high vacancy rates," he cautioned.
Aleke said there are hundreds of young Malawians with diplomas and degrees loafing around because government is not willing to recruit them due to lack of work experience.
"Rather than emphasise on experience for the new entrants in the public service, I suggest that we establish tailored on-the-job training initiatives and revival of well-planned induction courses at the Staff Development Institute at Mpemba [and] also utilise the Malawi Institute of Management [Mim].
As if they had not been on each other’s neck, the MPs from both sides shared jokes and shook hands during tea break and after Speaker Louis Chimango adjourned proceedings to this morning, where Alliance for Democracy (Aford) lone legislator Loveness Gondwe and others are expected to continue with debate on the budget.