Backbenchers in Malawi Parliament on Monday boycotted debate on the 2012/13 mid-term budget review statement, leaving only ministers and their deputies to make contributions on the floor.
Members of Parliament (MPs) are pushing government to implement the 500 litres a month each fuel allowances as agreed upon in 2008. They also want the allowances to be paid in arrears dating back to 2009.
The boycott was apparent soon after the House resumed its sitting from a weekend recess Monday afternoon, with only four backbenchers on the government side—Nkhata Bay South’s Etta Banda, Nkhata Bay South East’s David Mphande, Mangochi North East’s Alfred Mwechumu and Chikhwawa West’s John Zingale—taking the floor whereas the rest were either ministers or their deputies.
The silence from the backbenchers later forced Leader of the House Henry Phoya to call for an early tea break at 15.15 hours instead of 15.30 hours.
It was the Speaker of Parliament Henry Chimunthu Banda who first noted the silence and pleaded with the MPs to contribute to the debate.
His observation was later supported by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abel Kayembe.
In an interview during tea break, UDF spokesperson in the House Mahamudu Lali said there is reluctance to participate in the debate due to “some problems”, but could not directly say whether the boycott was due to the fuel allowances issue.
Asked on the fuel allowances, Lali, who is also the chairperson of the task force pursuing the fuel allowances issue, said: “It is a possibility that this would be one of the problems because if you have noted, it is the whole House which is not contributing, even the other side is not contributing.”
Last week, the government side shelved debate on President Joyce Banda’s State Opening Address to Parliament delivered two weeks ago amid fears that the backbenchers had planned to shoot it down following their meeting on Thursday last week when they resolved to push for the new fuel allowances.
Deputy leader of the House Anita Kalinde attempted to curtail debate, but her motion was defeated with the opposition shouting a loud ‘no’, thereby prompting the Speaker to urge the House to continue with the debate.
Phoya, could not immediately comment, but Kalinde in an interview after the House was adjourned said government has no idea why the MPs were behaving in such a manner.
After the motion to curtail debate was defeated, opposition MPs started commenting on the mid-term budget review statement.