Decision on parliamentary sessions laudable,as we all hope forthe best

03Apr 2020
The Guardian
Decision on parliamentary sessions laudable,as we all hope forthe best

MEMBERS of the National Assembly on Tuesday agreed on procedures to follow during the current sessions of the House’s marathon Budget meeting in the wake of the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) infections.

Restrictions have been placed on the number of MPs to attend the sessions on any particular day, and even then, within an auxiliary requirement of mandatory testing on a daily basis.

MPs unanimously bought the mandatory testing proposal from the opposition, which speaks volumes about the seriousness with which Tanzanians view the matter.

There are various other measures, all affecting the breadth of parliamentary work and the intensity of discussions – for instance, in relation to the cancellation of the weekly session of direct questions to and answers from the Prime Minister.

This particular measure appears mainly due to the tightened time schedule for business in the House’s business, with enhanced priority directed at constituency needs and ministerial work. Broader parameters of accountability are put on hold when the timeframe is a bit constrained.

As seen in other countries, this crisis time is a situation where some political differences are put aside so that the focus can be directed on what unites the country.

The key issue in legislative work is maintaining oversight via basic transparency in the work of the government, while additional parameters of oversight work depend on having a supportive environment. When there is a virtual state of emergency as at present, that can’t be assured.

It wasn’t clear how far parliamentary committees consulted and reached on the framework of the key proposal, as much of what goes to the debating chamber or to the Speaker as a question or proposal would in many cases have been worked upon.

On this issue there was no dissent on the need for mandatory testing, though there were shades of emphasis in how MPs could or would participate, with an implied suggestion that anyone testing negative could participate. That doesn’t appear to have been the overall outlook, whose focus is social distancing – with prior mandatory tests.

Parliamentary work as well as media following on what MPs are doing will now depend more on efficient delivery of relevant documents in the morning before the session in the afternoon, while the media will receive documents much later.

As the public is used to plenty of electronic communication or day-to-day needs, this mode of consultation and service provision will not be much of a problem technically.

All this will definitely have a bearing on the upcoming General Election, which President John Magufuli has declared will be held as scheduled – this October.

It was already clear that months of agitation ahead of the polls would be cut short by the Covid-19 emergency, and even the semblance of formal campaigning for the polls was similarly at risk.

But the holding of the five-yearly polls is of great national significance, and postponement might do more harm than good. It is only to be hoped that, relative to the Covid-19 pandemic, all will be well by mid-year.