Constitutional and Standing Order amendments with targeted faces

As Malawi Parliament sets out to “Reforming” its Standing Orders; a lot of historical and democratic thought should concentrate the mind, lest, lightening might strike in the same place twice, or indeed thrice!

Reading in today’s (November 21)  local Newspaper [The Nation; front page article entitled Impeach Bingu As Well- NGOs”] where it is suggested that the Reforms of the Standing Orders are meant, among other things, to pave the way for the impeachment of the Vice President, is, if correct, most unfortunate!

One of the responses given by my old friend the former Minister of Justice, Now Minister of Education, Honourable George Chaponda; where he is quoted as saying, “That is totally untrue. There is nothing ofthat sort. We are just filling the loopholes in the Standing Orders.” he said. “They can interpret this the way they want, but the process is long and I am wondering where they got the information that they [impeachment procedures] will be tabled now. It is a long process”. No denial then?

Katsonga

You can see the former Justice Minister in this interview does not deny there is an amendment in the offing to the Standing Order dealing with the Impeachment of the Vice-President. He, however, says,“….the process is long…..” Surely, the good Minister, who is a trained lawyer, understood the question had nothing to do with when the amendments will be pencilled-in but rather, may they also include the impeachment of the President himself [he was mentioned by name and so was the Vice-President]? This is what the reporter and Civil Society Organisation’s Voice Mhone were asking. Still, by avoiding giving a clearer answer, he [Justice Minister], by implication, confirmed there is indeed such an amendment coming by saying it will not be tabled now. Assuming the Minister was quoted correctly!

The point of concern from the answers given by the former Justice Minister are that, he seemed not ready to give a clear answer to the main question; “Is Joyce Banda, as Vice President targeted in this mission?” Well, learned persons like my good friend George knows that Section 86 (e) [“conviction by way of impeachment shall not act as a bar to legal proceedings”] of the Constitution will make it difficult, almost impossible to enforce any amendment that will assist the DPP in their attempt to remove the Vice President from office; the DPP, if this is indeed what they are planning; have taken a wrong turn.

Under this Section, issues of Natural Justice, Retrospectivity, etc; would be raised in her defence! Perhaps the DPP government should await the outcome from the Referral of Section 86 of the Constitution the President of the Republic has tabled with the Courts before tinkering with the relevant sections in the Standing Orders of Parliament.

The problem Malawi has in amendments like these is that; a thorn in the flesh is identified, it has gone too deeply in the body, a simple implement like a safety pin would not dislodge it; so MPs are ordered to bring out the pneumatic drills! It is practical to assume that an amendment to Parliaments Standing Orders may also demand amendments to some parts of the Republican Constitution [Section 86 a, b, c, d and e], it is a very complex mission; and for what?

Malawians as a people and mostly, as Members of Parliament, do not have long memories; Malawian brains are not too good at retaining information; forgetfulness is a big disease that afflicts the Nation in a big way. Only a few years ago [around 2000/2011] an amendment to the Constitution’s Section 65 was drafted in such a way as to capture Brown Mpinganjira, was tabled and passed in Parliament. His “offence” is that he had dared to challenge the UDF President who was also the President of the Republic in the 2004 General Elections. Brown Mpinganjira was duly fired for his trouble because the UDF leadership   felt that such people should be kept at arms’ lengths.

Brown Mpinganjira was expelled from Parliament by using the amended Section 65 but, he was back in the House within a day or so of his expulsion through the Courts! I remember, I was Speaker of Parliament then!

Now, Malawians are aware how Section 65 as amended came back to haunt Parliament in Bingu’s first term of office? It looks like there has not been lessons learnt on such amendments at all.

Amendments to any section of the Republican Constitution with targeted individuals in mind, more often than not, are bad amendments to the Nation’s democracy and rules of natural justice and must always be discouraged.

It is a shame that because of huge majorities in parliaments, the ruling sides may lose the debate on such matters and still win the vote! This also shows clearly that a political party with a huge majority does not have to be right to claim they are following democratic principles! Although those in positions of leadership are expected by the people, to show restraint when faced with such “seductive” but, less than democratic choices.

Civil Society Organisations and Malawians in general should also be assured that, the MK1,000,000 salary increase, although, in the opinion of most Malawians, unacceptable,  wrongly timed and insensitive when one looks at the recession and other major problems currently afflicting the Nation! They will not affect Members’ voting patterns; fear, greed, personal and selfish reasons will guide them to take the money but; just like most Malawians, they also do have compassion (it is true, they do!) and, they are also experiencing the forex, fuel and hospital drugs’ shortages, lack of respect of rule law and human rights (they can see that), availability and affordability of food and other consumer goods.

These issues are what will drive their real response on the ground. Besides, these are issues which their constituents bring to their Surgeries when they visit their constituencies at weekends [well, those that do!].

Constitutional amendments must not be influenced by our dislike of an individual or individuals but, by our love for Democracy and Motherland Malawi.

My unsolicited advice to my good old friend Honourable George Chaponda is this; “Mipaliro yolasa mum’dima inalasa mfumu pachabe [“Arrows slung in the dark pierced through the Chief’s underwear through the front”].

*The author of the report  is Davies Chester Katsonga;

Director:        Campaign, Strategy and Party Development in the UDF (United Democratic Party – an     Opposition Party in Malawi).

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