Govt, opposition urged to sit down and talk

21Jun 2016
Felister Peter
The Guardian
Govt, opposition urged to sit down and talk

AS the opposition camp yesterday continued to boycott parliamentary sessions chaired by deputy speaker Tulia Ackson, local political observers have underscored the need for a reconciliatory process aimed at eventually allowing National Assembly business to run smoothly again.

Parliament in Dodoma

Opposition legislators yesterday spiced their daily staged walk-out from the parliamentary debating chamber by covering their mouths with duct tape in a new style of protest against what they perceive to be Dr Ackson’s deliberate ploys to completely silence opposition voices inside the august House.

It was their first use of this particular protest strategy since they started their boycott about three weeks ago (May 30), evidently designed to further drum home their message of being denied the opportunity to exercise their right to freedom of expression as parliamentary representatives of the common wananchi.

In separate interviews with The Guardian, several local analysts noted that the opposition boycott meant voters were being dealt something of a raw deal in parliamentary debates, and called on the government to seek a compromise with the opposition.

A University of Dar es Salaam lecturer who did not want to be named said it was important for the government to at least listen to the opposition camp’s concerns since their new protest style of taping up their mouths in public portrayed a bad image for the country at an international level.

The lecturer suggested that the appointed National Assembly chairpersons take turns presiding over house sessions in place of the deputy speaker, as a strategy to convince opposition legislators to stop staging walk-outs and start participating again.

“What is happening now is very damaging for the parliament’s overall reputation,” he noted.

A mass communication lecturer at St Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT), Malagiri Kapoka, said it wasn’t proper for the highest law-making institution in the land to operate in a one-sided manner as seems to be the case at present.

According to Kapoka, opposition camp contributions are vital for all parliamentary debates as they usually cast a different, critical eye on issues and thus help to paint an alternative picture for watchers.

“…What the opposition MPs are trying to show is that they don’t have anywhere else to speak,” the SAUT lecturer said in reference to the taped-mouth protest strategy.
Reverend Aidan Msafiri, a local specialist on moral theology, ethics and education, said the opposition legislators have an agenda that needs to be addressed.

“They must have a very important message to convey to the government…it is only through talking to them that the government will know what they have to say”, Rev Msafiri noted.

And according to University of Dar es Salaam political science lecturer Bashiru Ally, the existing parliamentary rules and regulations are quite sufficient to resolve the matter in an acceptable manner.

“I don’t believe these regulations are so blunt that a satisfactory solution can’t be found for this kind of situation …the National Assembly is responsible of resolving its own issues,” Bashiru said.

Speaking outside the parliamentary building in Dodoma yesterday during the taped-mouth mini-demonstration, the acting leader of the Official Opposition Camp in Parliament, James Mbatia, said the idea was to highlight how opposition MPs were being denied space to express themselves freely in the National Assembly.

Deputy speaker Ackson had turned the House into a platform for ruling CCM party legislators to carry out a smear campaign against their opposition counterparts, Mbatia said.

“Before our boycott, (everyone) witnessed how the deputy speaker was allowing MPs from CCM to mudsling us (opposition) at will inside the chamber, but at the same time refusing to grant us the same opportunity to respond in kind. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped,” the Vunjo MP (NCCR-Mageuzi) said.

He added that opposition MPs were not ready to continue being insulted and declared that with effect from yesterday, they will not cooperate with CCM legislators in any official activity.

“The deputy speaker has divided the House. Denying us the right to exercise our freedom of expression inside the debating chamber doesn’t mean we shall keep quite. Our plan is to take our cry to the public,” Mbatia said.

Despite the opposition camp’s complaints about deputy speaker Ackson’s competence, CCM legislators and government ministers have been showering praise on her handling of parliamentary matters – in particular her hard-line stance against the opposition legislators.