As Tanzanians prepare themselves for writing a new Constitution one among pertinent issues that may cloud the debate is the question of Special Seats.
This type of arrangement enables women to enter the National Assembly depending on the proportion of votes obtained by each party in parliamentary elections on the Mainland, and the proportion of seats obtained in the House of Representatives by the different parties in Zanzibar.
To gain access to reserved seats, parties need to obtain a minimum of five percent of the valid votes in the National Assembly elections, and ten percent of the constituency seats for Zanzibar.
The decision to have this type of seats in Parliament is seen as among strategies of implementing the Southern African
Development Community (SADC) declaration reached in Blantyre, Malawi on September 8,1997 in which Heads of State agreed that a 50:50 ratio between men and women should be reached in respective parliaments by 2015.
However, in recent years Special Seats have been facing fierce opposition from the public on grounds that huge chunks of taxpayers’ money is being spent in paying less important MPs in the House.
Given the fact that there are 102 Special Seats MPs in Parliament, quick calculations shows each day when the Parliament convenes about Sh 15,300,000 is spent on paying their allowances, as each MP pockets Sh 150,000 in per diem and sitting allowances per day.
The calculation can be stretched further by looking at how much the government spends in allowances for each week on Special Seats MPs and for the period of 62 days that the Budget session of Parliament convenes in Dodoma.
These two types of allowances (per diem and sitting allowances) are also paid to MPs whenever Parliamentary Standing Committees meet in Dar es Salaam ahead of parliamentary sessions in Dodoma.
It should be noted that parliamentary committees normally meet for 14 days ahead of parliamentary sessions. The committees meet for over 40 days while Parliament convenes for 80 days per year.
If the focus is made on salaries and other allowances paid to MPs, the picture is even starker.
Kigoma South MP David Kafulila( NCCR-Mageuzi) said women should be accommodated in Parliament without favouring them. Since district councils are a focal point of development each council they should be turned into a constituency, he suggested.
Having converted a district council into a constituency each political party during parliamentary elections sould be asked to field two parliamentary candidates- a male and female. During voting voters would also be instructed to vote for one of them, as one would be contending for the national and the other for the local constituency.
“In so doing one will not question the legality and competence of women MPs in Parliament as we will have given them legitimacy,” Kafulila asserted.
Hezekia Wenje (Nyamagana-Chadema) echoed this view, saying that during elections the National Electoral Commission (NEC) should convert districts into special constituencies for women candidates.
“It is indeed very true. My position on this is that Special Seats should be competitive from 2015 whereby a political party should nominate women candidates in a district to seek votes. A party candidate who emerges winner should become district representative in Parliament,” he said.
However, Wenje retained his second option, saying the government should create a level playing field for men and women to compete in existing constituencies.
But the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (Policy, Coordination and Parliamentary Affairs) William Lukuvi expressed fears on turning districts into constituencies.
According to him, getting two MPs - a woman and a man - from districts after turning them into constituencies would create unfairness among representatives as some districts were vast in size while others were small but with a huge population.
“Iramba district is larger in geographical area than the whole of Kilimanjaro region while Kinondoni district has a population approaching two million people,” he cited as examples.
Implementing the option of fielding women candidates only in districts, Lukuvi said such a decision would bring about a bloated Parliament as there are 239 constituencies and over 130 district councils in the country.
He said if the suggestion of turning districts into constituencies succeeded, there would be a pressing need to review their boundaries.
Lukuvi said turning district councils into special constituencies for women candidates has been successfully here the country might be difficult, as it leads to a bloated Parliament.
The minister said there is another model of getting MPs into Parliament, that is through propositional representation as implemented in South Africa and Mozambique.
During election political parties are asked to field presidential candidates and after results for the presidential election are out each political party gets a number of MPs depending on the presidential votes cast in its favour. That task is carried out by the national electoral body.
Such a system is criticized as it fuels favoritism, the minister noted, adding that the matter would be resolved in the process of writing a new constitution that is going on.