US embassy cable - 04LILONGWE1126

MALAWI'S PARLIAMENT SEEKS BIGGER ROLE

Identifier: 04LILONGWE1126
Wikileaks: View 04LILONGWE1126 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Lilongwe
Created: 2004-12-10 07:50:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: ECON EINV PGOV KMCA KDEM MI POL Parliament Political
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LILONGWE 001126 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
STATE FOR AF/S A. GALANEK 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: ECON, EINV, PGOV, KMCA, KDEM, MI, POL, Parliament, Political 
SUBJECT: MALAWI'S PARLIAMENT SEEKS BIGGER ROLE 
 
 
------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1. (U) Malawi's Parliament appears to be in the process of 
defining a new, more active role for itself in economic 
policy.  Leading members of several relevant committees have 
told us they intend to hold public hearings on policy 
direction, to gain earlier access to draft legislation, and 
to head efforts to improve Government's execution of 
institutional reforms.  A better qualified crop of MPs, 
together with the absence of a ruling majority and a 
Government focus on reform, add up to an opportunity for more 
participatory legislature.  End summary. 
 
 
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REACHING BEYOND MERE OVERSIGHT 
------------------------------ 
 
2. (SBU) Embassy recently held a series of conversations with 
leading members of the Parliamentary committees that have a 
role in economic and fiscal policy oversight: Public 
Accounts, Commerce and Industry, and Budget and Finance. 
While these committees have traditionally played purely an 
oversight role, the members were all quick to describe a more 
ambitious program for active participation in policy making. 
We have seen these committees in several policy-forming 
forums where they had not previously been engaged, which 
lends credence to their ambitions. 
 
 
----------------------------- 
A REFORMIST RULING-PARTY VIEW 
----------------------------- 
 
3. (SBU) Maxwell Milazi, a freshman MP in the (nominally) 
governing United Democratic Front (UDF) and vice chair of the 
Commerce and Industry Committee, defined the first priority 
of the committee as oversight.  Asked about the future of the 
committee, he said he saw it moving toward determining 
economic policy jointly with Government.  His committee has 
plans to begin regular public hearings on a range of policy 
issues, from dumping to banking regulation.  It also plans to 
request draft budgets far enough in advance to formulate 
substantive input before the draft is formally presented to 
Parliament. 
 
4. (U) Milazi himself represents a reformist current in the 
UDF. Having been bypassed as the party choice for his 
district, Milazi ran as an independent, on the understanding 
that he would change back to UDF if he won.  After winning a 
bicycle-driven campaign against a well-connected incumbent 
with a party car, he has rejoined UDF but obviously owes less 
to the old guard than did his predecessor. 
 
 
---------------------------------- 
THE MORE SEASONED LOYAL OPPOSITION 
---------------------------------- 
 
5. (SBU) Respicious Dzanjalimodzi, a freshman MP, chairman of 
the Public Accounts Committee and highly placed member of the 
opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), described the new 
Parliament as having unique technical expertise.  He is 
himself a good example, as a former Secretary of the Treasury 
and 25-year civil servant.  Believing that UDF leadership has 
ruined the country's fiscal management systems, he sees his 
committee's role as providing firm leadership in restoring 
the system to soundness.  His committee, which has an audit 
oversight role, is going back as far as the 1997 budget year 
to uncover systemic accountability problems (and, no doubt, 
UDF-guided misappropriations). 
 
6. (SBU) Louis Chimango, a senior MCP member, former minister 
of finance, and creator of the Budget and Finance Committee, 
is a bit less ambitious than his younger colleagues.  He was 
more openly critical of Government and placed less hope in a 
new role for Parliament than in the political power of the 
opposition.  Even so, he said the committee has perhaps too 
timid a charter and intends to engage on a political level 
rather than technical.  Being an old hand in Parliament, he 
felt the new crop of Parliamentarians would need a couple 
years' seasoning before they could effectively shape policy. 
 
 
------------------------------------------- 
COMMENT: SEVERAL REASONS FOR A NEW ACTIVISM 
------------------------------------------- 
 
7. (SBU) These MPs' descriptions of a more activist 
Parliament make sense for several reasons.  As Dzanjalimodzi 
intimated, and as nearly everyone here observes, this 
freshman crop has a much better background, educationally and 
professionally, than previous Assemblies.  Part of the reason 
is the UDF's loss of popularity as elections approached. 
With opposition parties having a real crack at power, their 
most seasoned politicos ran for office on the possibility of 
getting cabinet positions.  As it happens, they lost, and 
Parliament gets the benefit of an unusually experienced, 
educated, and ambitious collection of people. 
 
8. (SBU) As well, the absence of a clear majority in 
Parliament, and the loss of party discipline within the UDF 
itself, has created a new political chemistry.  Independent 
initiative, and the possibility of an independently minded 
Parliament, have left room for leadership that is not closely 
aligned either with the Government or a unified opposition. 
And now, the density of potential leaders is particularly 
high. 
9. (SBU) Finally, the leadership of the President Mutharika 
is influencing Parliamentary dynamics.  He has identified his 
presidency with a clear issues-oriented agenda and pushed 
away the old guard of his own UDF party with his 
anti-corruption campaign.  This has left many MPs without the 
traditional ready-made alignments.  As they puzzle this out, 
the possibility of making their mark within the Parliamentary 
institution looks more and more promising. 
 
GILMOUR 

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