The Dar es Salaam-based Legal and Human Rights Centre has done our community another important service by assigning itself a noble task of monitoring the performance of our brand new 10th Parliament, in an attempt to enable the taxpayer find out whether the proverbial new broom is sweeping clean or not. Striking the iron while it is still hot is the right expression to describe this kind of intervention.
The centre, which is reknown for its no-nonsense approach to advocacy work in society, followed the proceedings of the just-ended April session of the House keenly and issued a brief report which provides food for thought.
Of course, some of the noted aspects of the proceedings had been observed by curious members of the public, thanks to good media work, including live coverage done by some TV stations.
National Assembly Speaker, Anna Makinda, however, contends that it is both unrealistic and unfair for any person or institution to evaluate the new Parliament which has met only three times since the MPs won a public mandate in the October, 2010 general elections.
The Speaker goes further and laments that the human rights body did not seek her comments before making its premature assessment public.
Observers who believes in the Kiswahili proverb which ‘Siku njema huonekana asubuhi’, literally meaning signs of a good day are seen in the early morning hours. I beg to differ with the Speaker on her take that it is too early to comment on the August House performance.
What exactly has the Human Rights body observed? First, it has detected signs of partisanship based on political parties affiliation during the debates and voting on motions or bills of national significance. A good example cited is what transpired when our legislators were debating the Judiciary Administrative Bill 2011,which raised some dust but sailed through, anyway.
The Bill had some controversial clauses which MPs in the opposition camp who happen to have a legal background noted, competently pinpointed complications involved, and urged fellow legislators to make some necessary amendments.
One such clause was on formation of ethics committees which allow holders of political posts at various levels to be members of such committees. Those opposing introducing this practice forcefully argued that this would infringe on the freedom of the Judiciary.
There were other proposed adjustments in this bill which even lawyers who are not MPs say do not make sense although they were endorsed, despite the fact that even the Prime Minister voted with the opposition MPs on the amendments.
Legal and political observers attribute what transpired to partisanship, where MPs of the ruling party, who are the majority, seem inclined to reject amendments to government-sponsored bills proposed by colleagues from the opposition camp, either to save the face of the bill sponsors, or to avoid giving the opposition a political mileage, or both.
This assertion can’t simply be dismissed as the malpractice is not new. Observers are disillusioned because the 10th Parliament happens to have many new faces of well educated MPs, even on the ruling party side, who are not expected to put party interests before national ones.
Debate on the Judiciary Administration Bill 2011 also provided observers, including the LHRC, a test case on how serious some MPs are with their work. Records indicate that 128 out of 339 MPs were in the House as this important bill was being debated. Simple subtraction show that 211 MPs were not in the House.
Where were they? Did they pocket their day’s work allowance or not? Should we assume they are already tired when their five-year contract is just beginning? What example are they showing to the workers of this nation? More questions can be raised about this kind of behaviour from legislators who promised to serve the nation to the best of their ability while crying for votes.
We are aware that three of the bills discussed during the April session, including one on the constitutional matters, were brought by the government under the certificate of urgency so that they be fast-tracked without serious deliberation. Can smart MPs entertain this kind approach to national affairs? Our MPs still have a chance to prove their competence, but the first impression they have displayed leaves much to be desired.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org