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Time to turn: Lack of quorum in parliament a national shame

29th July 2012
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I know for sure that the phrase which says event x cannot pass without a comment is common to the extent that some people equate it to a slogan, and thus may not serve as the best opening when one is making some remarks on a big national issue.

I however, say this is not necessarily always the case and, consequently, proceed to proclaim from the rooftop that the latest incident where the budget estimates of one of the government ministries could not be approved by parliament due to lack of quorum should not be allowed to pass without many comments from taxpayers.

Since all government ministries happen to be important cogs in the wheel, which runs our national affairs, failure by the house to pass estimates of any ministry due to lack of quorum is worrisome and unacceptable. Things, however, get worse when the ministry involved is one handling the docket of agriculture, food security and cooperatives.

We need not belabor to explain why the nation was baffled by the incident under discussion, which occurred on Saturday, July 21, 2012, a date to be remembered in our parliament history as moment of shame to legislators and, in a way, to those who voted such characters into the esteemed office.

The agricultural sector employs more than 95 percent of the active population, literally feeds us, and is the backbone of the national economy. Our legislators have their origin in the peasant background and are presumably aware of its importance. How come they were not around to fulfill their duty on that significant day? Tanzanians will surely take time to comprehend and come to terms with this kind of situation.

There is always a way of explaining all sorts of strange happenings in our land of apparent peace, and attempt to wriggle out of all sorts of situations.

It was not surprising to hear some officials in the Speaker’s Office applying all the tricks in the cover up rule-book by telling us stories on how our honourable MPs were too preoccupied with some “emergency “commitments to be in Dodoma on the day the quorum could not be met.

We were told a “Ship” with questionable sea sailing credentials had sunk two days before, a few nautical miles off Zanzibar Island and some MPs hailing from the isles had gone to mourn the dead and witness the “rescue “operation of the “missing” passengers. A gas project was being unveiled in Mtwara and some MPs had to be there to witness the event! And an MP had lost a close relative, so tradition required some MPs to attend the funeral and console the family of their colleague!

These excuses can only be swallowed with a pinch of salt; for the simple reason that none of the events mentioned could not proceed without the presence of MPs without central role to play.

The National Assembly Speaker had seen it coming a few days before and warned MPs to take house sessions seriously, lest an embarrassing situation of lack of quorum would face the respectable state pillar, sooner than later.

There was nothing prophetic about her verbal intervention then, as TV cameras had been exposing us to scenes of unprecedented numbers of empty seats in the house and some dozing MPs, especially during afternoon sessions.

What are the reasons behind this attitude, or rather irresponsibility of our legislators? And what should be done to save the situation before the law makers rock the boat? These are some of the basic questions now being raised by citizens concerned about the future of their motherland.

Political analysts will tell you that some of the MPs are simply deadwood, especially those who have been in the house for more than two decades, thanks to semi-illiterate poor peasant voters, some of whom are easily enticed with drinks and a few coins during election time, or vote in a legislator simply because he/she belongs to the old political party they blindly trust. There are those with too many irons in the fire, for example an MP who is a Minister, has a party post and business companies to oversee.

Analysts further tell us that there are disillusioned MPs who have realised late that parliament is not a money minting machine as such, contrary to expectorations. Then those who board the parliamentary bandwagon for the sake of prestige, and commitment to serve the electorate is their second priority.

I agree with those who say the best way out of this mess is to enlighten voters on these issues so that they can vote wisely in future elections. A clause in the constitution allowing voters to kick out a non performing MP even before the five- year- tenure expires may also awaken our complacent MPs.

 

Henry Muhanika is a media consultant. hmuhanika@yahoo.com

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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