Malawi's President Banda Versus ‘Selfish’ Members of Parliament

Malawi's President Joyce Banda caused chaos in parliament by insisting that members of parliament not get their outstanding fuel allowance, saying her government has no money to pay.

MPs are demanding up to K10 million (about $27,778) in fuel allowances, backdated to 2009, and Banda's refusal has not gone down well with the legislature, with many MPs insisting that they will get their dues. They are also demanding an allocation of 500 litres of fuel per month to each MP.

President Joyce Banda standing on a podium

Malawi's President Joyce Banda. Image from: Friends of Joyce Banda Facebook Page, used with permission

A heated debate has sprung up among Malawians, centering on whether MPs deserve the fuel allowance at a time when the country's economy is doing badly. Civil society organizations and individuals are calling on the government to ignore their demands. Blogger Pearson Nkhoma agrees with the position taken by the president and a number of Malawians in a post titled ‘Karma Driving Politics in Malawi‘, writes:

Time is nigh to take off the salaries, and the other benefits. We can not afford to be paying our employees more than what we the employers get. We just can not afford such unnatural course of social injustice…the Malawians who employ those employees need to get what the employers get not the other way round; And the employers don't do anything save for introducing unpopular policies like changing the flag bill, injunction bill, the third term bill etc.

While Pearson Nkhoma has called for a referendum on the MPs’ demands, journalist Mabvuto Banda calls them selfish:

@bvutoB: In my understanding, the MPs have achieved nothing to deserve bonuses, in arrears or not.  As lawmakers, the MPs have just been good at being retrogressive and moving the country in circles. I ask: what can we rationally point as their achievements since 2009?

Another blogger Henry Chizimba feels that the parliamentarians should give the president some breathing space. Though no fan of the president, he says MPs seem intent on pulling her government down. In a post referring to this development as ‘Street Democracy at its best‘, he concludes:

If the honorable MPs are serious about serving the people in their constituencies, then let them let the government go this time. Let them give the Banda administration some breathing space hoping that they can pull some economic miracles and be able to pay the recently raised salaries, and more importantly, recover the economy.
At this juncture, the article rests its case but is quick to point out that the honorable MPs’ MK10million demands is both ludicrous and selfish, and at worst, unMalawian. Most sadly, the demand smacks of street democracy at its best.

Kondwani Munthali's post from 2011, following a national budget presentation, provides an invaluable primer to this latest row over pay and entitlements. The post highlights the salary differences between civil servants and MPs. While there may have been changes in salaries in the last 18 months, the changes have not been significant. Munthali argues:

In essence, the gap between the MP in terms of allowances and entry grade in public service annually is around K3.2 million whilst the ordinary Civil Servant will have to pay for increased minibus fares (spare parts going up), rentals (withholding tax) domestic (meat, offals, water, salt) and with the likely hood of companies downsizing as new taxes adding to low production due to poor electricity and water supply, lack of fuel and shortages of foreign exchange will slow down the economy….

But as poor as they are, the majority whom (an estimated 5 million of the population) live on K300 per day have to continue contributing to the “new found economic freedom” while The President, Ministers and Members of Parliament drive in brand new 4X4 worth K20 million on the market, earn tax breaks for personal vehicles, earn K4 million in allowances annually and more importantly continue to preach prudence to the poor people.

Malawi's economy is in recovery mode. The government seems to be doing its best to attend to a myriad of development issues, but severe grain shortages in the past months have started to take their toll, leading many Malawians to believe that the MPs latest demands are misplaced at best, outright selfish at worst.

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