Sunday, August 10, 2008

‘No MOU, no budget’

The opposition in Parliament has accepted to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) prepared by the clergy to end the political feud that is budget and Section 65. I spoke with UDF leader in the House, George Nga Mtafu, on the MOU and its future.

The opposition’s stand all along was Section 65 first, now you say budget first. Why the change of heart?

We have to put a few things right. One, the mediators wrote us a letter asking us—government and opposition—whether [or not] we were willing to sign the MOU. The last day for answers to that question was on Monday [August 4], and we in the opposition have said yes. I don’t know what the government has said. That being the case, we said we will sign and we are waiting for the mediators to say come and sign. Let it be known to everybody that we have been willing to end the political impasse.

Two, we agreed to a motion to pass a resolution to allow the Minister of Finance to spend the first four months of this financial year and we have also given, in that resolution, monies for presidential and parliamentary elections and fertiliser subsidy. Three, with that the budget per se has not been passed. Four, the brilliant compromise agreement is, for us, still valid.

Why do you call it brilliant? I have heard you say so several times.

It’s a good compromise agreement.

What do you, as opposition, lose in this compromise because in any compromise you lose and gain something?

What we are asking for is that priority this time be given to Section 65 and from the agreement you see that on day 12 [of parliament meeting] the budget will be passed first and at the end of it will come Section 65. We are doing all this so that the dear Republic of Malawi can move forward.

Initially, we were asking that we impeach the President but this is a formula we departed from a long time ago. The clergy asked if we are interested in that. We said no. This is part of the MOU, we will sign it. But let it be known to everybody that we have not departed from our demand that Section 65 must be dealt with in this sitting. Unless 65 is done concurrently in this sitting, then there are troubled days ahead of us.

But it sill comes after the budget is passed, most likely, and once beaten twice shy....

No, no, no.

The President may close Parliament as he did last year.

Let him do so. We are willing to let him do so. The budget has not passed as of today. Get it from me.

The understanding is that on day 12 the budget will be passed.


After that matters of Section 65 will start.

Yes, that is if we all sign the memorandum of understanding.

So, if the ruling side does not sign, then budget...

Then the budget does not pass.

In a way, as you put it, the onus is on government?

The onus is on government. Our demand for [Section] 65 has not lapsed, the demand is still live, come what may.

You have given money for elections next year, meaning you are interested in contesting and winning because we contest to win. But the way issues of Section 65 are discussed in public does not necessarily win you support. Are you sure you are on course politically?

We are standing for the right and the country must now know who is the aggressor. These people [the clergy] were called to bring us together, to bring us to a compromise solution and someone doesn’t want a compromise, they want to get hundred percent. What I am saying here is that nobody gets 100 percent. They can just forget it. You can’t get 100 percent! Forget it! So, we are moving ahead, Section 65 will have to be done whether one likes it or not!

And the ruling side will claim the opposition is delaying the budget...

No, no, no. We are not delaying the budget . We have gone so far to say, ‘let this country get somewhere’, and someone is saying ‘I don’t want this country move forward’.

Both government and opposition sides claim they want this country to move forward, but we are not moving. Who should we believe?

Someone doesn’t want this country to move forward. What we have said is that we give K91 billion for elections and fertiliser. That is moving forward. This is up to October and he who wants this country to move forward will have to make sure it moves on from October.

But we are already late, as a country, and fingers are pointing at the opposition.

The opposition is not at fault in anyway. It has never been. All the opposition wants to do is that if we bundle up together budget and [Section] 65 there is no problem. But if someone wants Section 65 to be forgotten, then they are making a big mistake because that is not what we want to do.

So, all this we are being told that the opposition is against the budget is mere propaganda, is that what you mean?

We have agreed to release monies for the country to be moving. Even the wise men of God have actually discovered the element of legality of the Constitution and that both Section 65 and the budget are constitutional and we must get both. But someone wants to get only his way through, which is wrong. Mind you, the issue of [Section] 65 has been lingering with us for over three budgets. We have been so nice, saying ‘our country first’. But now our time is up, our issues also must be considered.

Our issues? What is your message to Malawians?

I hope they will sit back in their important time and go over the entire scenario. We have done our part as opposition. We have been willing to dialogue. We have been willing to hear wise words from the men of God. They have advised us to come to a compromise agreement and we have said ‘yes’. The country will have to decide and give a proper verdict.

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