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
STATE FOR AF/S A. GALANEK
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: ECON EINV PGOV KMCA KDEM MI POL SUBJECT: MALAWI'S PARLIAMENT SEEKS BIGGER ROLE
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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.
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.