Thursday, April 25, 2024

Parliament watches over and checks the activities of government BUT it must also be watched!

Over the last few years opposition and ruling party legislators have been united in demanding better remuneration and improved conditions of service.

To this extent, the legislators have been successful in having their salaries hiked often secretly including having their constituency allowance increased substantially by up to 50%.

The MPs have also been resolute in demanding constituency vehicles and indications are that it is just a matter of time before they get what they want as they always do.

In spite of these upward adjustments that were effected even when most workers couldn’t have their meager salaries adjusted for inflationary purposes, MPs continue to put pressure on government for variation of their pay structure so that they are de-linked from the civil service pay structure and general conditions of service, With the intention to remove any barriers to raising their salaries willy-nilly.

It is fact that we only come to know about some of these lucrative and frequent salary increases for political representatives through the media after such was possibly leaked.

This means that there is a possibility that MPs occasionally do make and have their demands met under a veil of secrecy, especially those demands that when granted they could reveal the true character of our legislators – self-serving, two-faced pranksters.

It is a fact that whenever MPs debate their conditions of service, they put aside their political differences and speak with one very powerful voice, most of the time threatening to stall their legislative role if their wishes are not granted.

It is also noted that on many occasions the opposition bloc had resolutely remained steadfast in their role as watchdog but that on occasions when parliament has to debate matters pertaining to MPs’ countless emoluments, they have tended to join forces with the ruling party MPs, turning parliament into a chamber of a vocal, combative lobby group for the purpose lining their pockets.

Thus, while parliament has the privilege to protect citizens from the excesses of the Executive branch of government and has done a splendid job, the same parliament also has the power to do us immeasurable harm, especially when it keeps us in the dark about some of their maneuvering.

It is the nature of human beings to adopt a public image and conduct that appears to be beyond reproach when the reality is that human beings are inherently selfish and if left to their devices they are likely to cause more harm than good to society.

Since this is an undisputable fact of life, Parliament which is supposed to hold the government accountable must also be held accountable to ensure that MPs do not become law unto themselves and let the inherent greed in humans turn them into certified thieves.

MPs’ multiple of benefits are funded from the national treasury which gets the bulk of its revenue from our taxes. This being the case, government should account for the funds used to maintain and entertain our political representatives.

There have always been queries that some MPs just report to parliament for the sitting allowance and immediately disappear after clocking in.

In this regard, the activities of parliament, in particular, the performance of MPs or some aspects of the parliament’s activities ought to be assessed to ensure that we do not give our money to undeserving people.

In other countries, civil society organizations have created scorecards which they use to track down an MP’s deliverables through their daily activities. Their assessment areas could include attending parliament or committee meetings, number and quality of motions tabled, questions asked and so forth.

Unfortunately, there is nothing like this in Botswana and citizens have to score their MPs’ performance based on political party affiliation and some such petty criteria. The lack of objective performance assessment of parliament and parliamentarians means that most MPs often get paid handsomely for loafing and/or literally sleeping in parliament.

The overall effect of this is that the national assembly has lost its credibility and public respect. Thus, there is a dire need to have a non-state agency responsible for monitoring our parliament on some aspects such as transparency, integrity and adherence to its standing orders.

Relatedly, some MPs spend a lot of time and resources conducting research on topical issues before tabling motions or asking useful questions in parliament.

At times, the Executive concedes to some of the pertinent issues raised by MPs and often make commitments in that respect. However, on many occasions such promises by the Executive hardly come to fruition as we, with the passage of time, drift away to some new concerns.

Few years later, the same issues resurface as fresh concerns that have to be argued again by different minds and from a different perspective for resolutions. The risk is that a new administration could argue things differently and ultimately reject the proposal and return us to the crossroads one more time.

This going round in circles means that as a society, we are encumbered from making headway in our development trajectory mainly because MPs hardly make follow up on promises by the executive while voters also lose trek of numerous crucial issues resolved in parliament and therefore may not put pressure on the government to implement resolutions of the national assembly.

The reality is that a lot of important proposals or motions adopted are lost or are forgotten because information about parliament decisions is not readily and publicly available, except in the cumbersome-to-read Hansard.

This scenario further cement a need for an agency that could compile, organize and store crucial information about the activities of parliament and make such easily accessible and readable to members of the public.

In addition to promoting access to parliament activities, such an agency would help in tracking down proposed policies or legislation by creating a data base that is regularly updated to ensure that decisions by Parliament, especially motions adopted are not deliberately ignored and left to gather dust.  

There are times when Parliament debates bills and/or policy proposals that are technically deep for a lay man’s mind. This means that members of the public for whom the proposals are intended may not readily understand the implications of such to their lives.

The envisaged Parliament watchdog would be expected to provide simplified summary of bills and policy papers before parliament and demonstrates how the proposed legislation or policy is likely to affect ordinary people if passed in the form it is proposed.

This is critical in ensuring that citizens give informed direction to their political representatives who are duty bound to speak on behalf of their constituents. At the moment, some MPs do just speak nonsense in parliament and claim that their view represents those of their constituents when in actual fact they have never attempted to engage the voters to collate their views on a given matter.

The proposed Parliament watchdog will also function as an advocacy group that aims at reforming the operations of parliament specifically for improving the functioning and independence of parliament.

For instance, many people have called for a code of conduct for elected representatives but such can only materialize if these representatives, especially MPs, support the idea to be subjected to certain ethical standards to regulate their behaviors and conduct as community leaders.

Members of Parliament have not been very keen to petition government to have the political leadership subjected to some strict rules of conduct simply because they prefer to have a world different from the rest of us.

Parliament makes many life-changing decisions. Yet, most of these end up on the paper on which they have been recorded. Many of these decisions represent society’s last hopes for a better life hence society would be interested in their immediate implementation.

It is a fact that MPs present petitions on behalf of citizens and upon some of these issues being adopted, it is only logical that the civil society should take over the initiative by exerting pressure on the executive branch to implement issues adopted by parliament.

There has been very little intervention by the civil society in ensuring that resolutions by parliament are implemented, leaving all to the opposition legislators to play Jekyll and Hyde.

And the result has been a parliament that debates same issues over and over again with voters habitually celebrating that we are approaching the Promised Land, while the truth is that we stuck in the same place mainly because we tended to trust hyenas to discipline troublesome goats.

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