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House committee disbanding shows need for independent Speaker, says Dr Lwaitama

25th August 2012
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A view has been aired urging that the post of Speaker of Parliament revert to an independent individual, so that supervision and crucial discussions to hold the government accountable are not disrupted.

Dr Azavely Lwaitama, retired senior lecturer in the philosophy unit at the University of Dar es Salaam floated the idea last week in evaluating parliamentary performance in the just ended budget session.

He said that currently MPs were performing better than in previous years in challenging the government, but the House lacks an independent Speaker not associated with the ruling party and its central committee.

In Kenya an MP elected to the post of Speaker is supposed to surrender his party membership as well as the constituency in order to assume the post, he said in example.

The Speaker could be from outside the House but at present the Speaker not only holds a party membership cards but also sits in its central committee, he said. “This is a barrier for her in controlling discussions criticising government conduct when chairing debates,” he asserted.

As a member of the ruling party holding two thirds of parliamentary seats, it is difficult for her to facilitate the sort of discussions that irritate the government and the ruling party, he further stated.

MPs’ responsibilities include criticising the government by seeking out gaps in explanations given by the government to MPs’ questions, “and the Speaker should make sure that this objective is achieved,” he emphasised.

Recruiting the Speaker from the ruling party hinders facilitation of crucial discussions that harm the ruling party since this shall go against both the party and the Speaker’s interests, he asserted.

“The debate on the 2012/2013 estimates of the Ministry of Energy and Minerals is a clear example of executive use of emotions to cover their mistakes as they have to favour rather than criticise the government as MPs do,” the don intoned.

When permanent secretary Eliakim Maswi awarded a tender of Sh1.5billion per month, and the House energy and minerals committee questioned the move and refused to approve the ministry’s estimates the minister, Prof Sospeter Muhongo qualified the committee as corrupt.

The minister raised a hot debate concerning William Mhando, the suspended managing director of the Tanzania Electricity Supply Company (Tanesco) for awarding a tender of Sh800m per month to his wife, he said, insisting that there is no law that prohibits the director’s wife from being awarded a tender.

“The only important thing is to find out whether the bid followed the right procedures. The issue is not who awarded the tender; once it follows the procedure it’s not a problem,” the don indicated.

He said it was not reasonable for MPs to pass the ministry’s estimates while the parliamentary committee that oversees the ministry did not approve it and there were alleged of corruption that had not been cleared by a court or the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB).

He said it was unfortunate that MPs did not discuss the bid awarded by Maswi of Sh1.5 bilion per month and concentrated on the bid of Sh800m per month “as they were controlled by emotions of the minister.”

“May be there is a conflict of interest among MPs as many of them own companies but the Speaker was also controlled by minister Muhongo’s emotions. She disbanded the committee due to allegations of corruption which had to be tabled before a court or PCCB to get a preliminary view of whether there is a case to answer. That is why there is need for an independent Speaker,” he reiterated.

He said participation of MPs in debate on various issues in the House is not good as some of them do not contribute.

“Especially for MPs from CCM only about five always speak in the House,” he said, castigating MPs from CCM with remarks that are of no benefit to the nation like thanking their voters, families, parents and whatever.

MPs holding Special Seats do not represent women in Parliament as they are nominated by a political party which is dominated by men. Therefore the select Special Seats MPs on the basis of their specific interest, thus such MPs will not air out women’s problems in the House, he said.

MPs do not represent views of the majority who are poor as they declare in their campaigns or as people believe as most MPs come from a small section of society that made up by rich people.

“MPs should not necessarily be residents or natives to where they represent,” he said, elaborating that one can live in Dar es Salaam and contest for Kigoma constituency. “Who says this person will not present views and problems of Kigoma people?” he asked.

The presence of executives in Parliament is a barrier for MPs to criticize and make the government accountable, in which case there is need to change those laws.

He was speaking against the background of a move on July 28 by House Speaker Anne Makinda to disband the parliamentary committee for energy and minerals due to charges of bribery and collusion with vested interests raised by the minister, Prof. Sospeter Muhongo.

The main accusation was that some legislators engaged in financial dealings with Tanesco officials for huge benefits. The 2012/2013 budget session of the National Assembly ended mid this month.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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