Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The legislative work has begun, amidst challenges ….

The announcement of the list of nominated councillors becomes the last act to complete the processes of constituting the legislatives organs of our governance system at both national and local level. At the national level parliament has been duly constituted with the election and endorsement of the Vice President, Speaker of the National Assembly and the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, whilst the various districts, cities and town councils are in the process of electing their council chairpersons and mayors.

The completion of these processes signals the beginning of legislative functions at the two levels and one only hopes that Honourable Members of Parliament and Councillors will embrace their mandate and discharge such with utmost honesty and truthfulness to their electorates. This expectation is held amidst all other developments that may suggest possible deviations discrediting the essence and core of ensuring that these organs operate in a manner that upholds the preservation of public interest.

Amongst these developments were the court case challenging the Parliamentary Standing Orders on secret ballot voting, the reported whipping of ruling party members of parliament to ensure that the Vice President endorsement and voting for both the Speaker of the National Assembly and the deputy are effected as preferred by the President, and now the nomination of councillors by the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development. Ordinarily all of the above should pass as just part of the known practices as provided for by the legal instruments of the land and with less alarm to be raised on any of these. It is the circumstances around the enforcement and conduct of these processes that has raised eyebrows about the value they add to democratic practices or lack of it. Firstly, the court case should have passed as one where the applicants were simply seeking the courts to make a determination on the constitutionality of the Parliamentary Standing Orders.

It is a right that all citizens and organizations including public organizations, are guaranteed by the nation’s laws and therefore an expected occurrence. However, the intent of the appellants and the circumstances surrounding the motives and seemingly planned and crafted executive intentions created a very hollow justification in the eyes of both the contending political parties and indeed the public. This was understood in the context of the implications of the case as it affected the election of the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Deputy, as well as the endorsement of the Vice President by the National Assembly. The details of this case and its implications are common knowledge and out there in the public domain as it was broadly covered by both print and electronic media houses, including the international Press. The caucus meeting of the elected members of parliament from the ruling party and the reported whipping of this group to support the party leadership choices is also a known practice that would normally pass without raising any eyebrows.

However, that there were insinuations that if they were not whipped into towing the line, there were likelihoods of party members defying the party leadership position and actually voting against both the Vice President nomination and the Speaker of the National Assembly and Deputy becomes a contentious issue on democratic practices grounds. These insinuations were reportedly based on the ruling party divisions or factions, especially on the issue of who becomes VP and what that means for the ruling party in the long-term. It is the impact of such whipping that comes to light as worthy of concern against expected roles of the members of parliament as individuals and a collective.

General perception is that the elected should make decisions, including voting, based on their convictions and guided by the public interests and if that means defying or going against their own party position then democracy becomes the beneficiary. In the long term it also raises questions as to whether members of parliament will transparently and openly debate issues of national interest without looking over their shoulders as to who could be watching if they are upsetting the perceived applecart, especially if a political party has taken a position that a member is uncomfortable with, or is totally in disagreement with on principle. This creates a possible scenario where legislative functions become mortgaged to the interest and expectations of the executive even when such intentions are not in the electorates’ interests.

Lastly, is the process of nomination of local councillors for all the local government organs in the country and as it has become practice; the list from the Minister responsible has raised concern as to the wisdom and value these nomination add to the elected. Let me briefly state that the known principle for providing for nominated councillors was historically meant to be a way of opening up possibilities to add value to the calibre of those elected. It was accepted that politics been what it is, may not provide or produce the type of quality required in local governments through elections and therefore this gave the nominating authority an opportunity to assess this quality after elections. After identifying the type of qualities that may not be available amongst the elected, then there should be an effort to look within various members of the public in general (not necessarily party members) who are deemed to possess the qualities, competences and skills that can leverage the operational efficiency of local governments. Amongst these could be retired public servants of vast knowledge and experiences, private individuals with certain skills and expertise who will possess these qualities over and above what the elected possess.

Ordinarily, you therefore don’t expect to have amongst this list a group of individuals whose capabilities and levels of understanding national and local issues are far below those already there through elections. It is on the background of this premise that we currently hear calls of abuse of this prerogative by the minister responsible, because over the years the process of nominating councillors has degenerated to an exercise reminiscent of the old ‘spoils system’ which is dominated by patronage and rewarding party activists, including those who lost elections. History is flooded with examples of how this type of approach had led to the collapse of the government machinery and simply suffocating the efficiency and effectiveness of the public service. This is not a route we wish to take, by compromising preservation of public interest through accepting unproductive ways of manning our organs of the state, especially our law making bodies.

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