A row has erupted after the state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation
(MBC) told the parliamentary committee on media that it has no mandate
to summon the broadcaster, writes Samuel Makaka.

Parliamentary committees usually summon organisations and government departments under their jurisdiction to appear before them to account for their activities and present their problems and successes.

But when the media committee called the MBC , it received a note to say the corporation could not afford to travel to meet them since Parliament had failed to approve its subsidy.

Malawi’s parliament
, which is dominated by the opposition, turned down the budget vote for the MBC last June on the grounds that the broadcaster was biased towards the ruling party.

Director General for the MBC, Patrick Khoza, said: “We told them that we have no resources to travel from Blantyre to Lilongwe to meet them as Parliament refused to approve our funding from government. I don’t know why they want to meet us; maybe they want to ask how we are starving.

“The committee offered to fund the DG and his deputy but we told them that they have to fund us including the MBC board but even if they accept to do so, I don’t think they have any right to summon us. We have been operating on our own resources and why would they need us to account for that?” he wondered.

But the committee chair, Berson Lijenda , a former employee of the MBC but now a legislator, said MBC cannot claim to be independent. “We still have power over them. For one reason (the MBC) operates from government buildings and for another it got some funding of about K65 million (U$500 000) in the first three months before Parliament finally disapproved their budget.

“The main problem with the MBC is that they undermine the committee, possibly because the chair is their former employee but this is about Parliament and not Lijenda and it’s for their advantage,” he said.

Lijenda said there are a number of issues the committee wanted to discuss with the MBC. These included what the MBC can do to secure funding in the next budget which is three months away.

“Parliament cannot change its stand if the MBC does not want to submit reports to Parliament through this committee. They are producing hate programmes like Makiyolobasi whose sole purpose is propaganda, pulling down integrity of opposition figures, so unless they change, Parliament may find it difficult to help them,” said Lijenda.

The financial hardships of the MBC came into the open at the end of last month when it failed to pay salaries on time. Management was forced to borrow money from a commercial bank with its transmitters as collateral.

A few months ago there were rumours that the DG and his deputy had huge salary increases, but these were denied.

Commenting on the MBC’s financial difficulties, Khoza said: “Our business affairs department generates just enough to make ends meet. For the salaries last month, the bottom line is that we paid our staff, it doesn’t really matter where we got the money whether it was a loan, a bank overdraft, it doesn’t matter.”

Sources at the MBC say that after Parliament cut government funding, the organisation has run into millions of debts including bank overdrafts to survive.