Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya has ruled ‘out of order’ Malawi Congress Party (MCP) president Lazarus Chakwera—who is also leader of opposition in Parliament— speech in the House in which he branded President Peter Mutharika as “a Prince of Thieves” presiding over the most corrupt administration, saying words that reflected on the Head of State be struck off the Hansard – a book of record for the House.
Leader of Opposition in Parliament Lazarus Chakwera: Said Mutharika “has failed to demonstrate that he is not a Prince of Thieves presiding over a kleptocrcay’ and remarks have been edited from Hansard
The government chief whip Henry Mussa protested that Chakwera’s speech was “full of hate” and containing insults and slurs demeaning the Head of State.
Msowoya, who promised the House to widely consult and listen to the speech again before making his determination, on Friday morning urged members of the House to observe their own rules (standing orders) and avoid reflecting on the Head of State.
Msowoya said “Honorable members it is also a considered view that, remarks become disrespectful if it contains words that reflect on him personally or impute an improper motive on a part of a president.”
The Speaker said the statement that Chakwera made to brand Mutharika “incompetent and insensitive” comes close to disrespectful and reflects on the President.
He said any insinuation that the President is a thief imputes an improper motive on a President and therefore it is a breach of standing order 97.
“Therefore, I hereby rule that those words should be struck off the record of that day,” said Msowoya.
Msowoya also appealed to legislators to be exemplary and desist from un-parliamentary utterances that would cheapen the quality of parliamentary debates.
The Chief Whip Mussa applauded Msowoya for what he described a convincing ruling that is above petty party politics.
“This is a historic ruling, since 1964 no leader of opposition has been ruled out of order and have his remarks removed from Hansards, I agree with the Speaker that let’s be civility enough and avoid insulting our leaders in this case State President,” said Mussa.
He told Nyasa Times in an interview that robust and frank parliamentary debate can never thrive in a climate of insults and defamatory remarks.
The rules of Parliament are thus in place to ensure that multiparty discourse is conducted within the limits of freedom of speech, with respect and dignity.
There was no comment from Chakwera who was absent in the House when the Speaker was making his ruling.
MPs enjoy the highest level of free speech and are protected by parliamentary privilege, which means they cannot be sued or prosecuted for anything they say during the proceedings of the House.
However, as Westminister parliamentary experts Robert Rogers and Rhodri Walters write in How Parliament Works: “The protection of privilege is balanced by a need for it to be used responsibly.”
Even in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, freedom of speech has several limitations.