The role of a Parliamentarian

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Farayi Munyuki When the President opened the fourth session of Parliament this week, he reminded some members of Parliament of their role, in the same way as did the first President on several occasions. Not all mPs truly represent their constituencies and the people of this country. Some Parliamentarians before being elected to the House had distinguished themselves as economists; others had been trade unionists and thus saw their role in Parliament as being spokespersons for the workers who speak forcefully on issues of labour. It is a major problem for some political parties to have a robust debate when it comes to policy development. Some of the political parties in the House have no policy on major issues of a particular concern. The lack of policy on education or security, for example, has driven some members not to contribute meaningfully to any issue under discussion. Admittedly an MP’s role is multifaceted. An MP wears many coloured coats, like a camel, depending on the situation. There are two clear distinctions on the role of an MP. One is serving the constituency. Some MPs are only seen in their constituencies around election time. And once they are elected, they never visit their constituency. The people who voted for them suddenly become a bother. The fact that MPs help people through issues is suddenly forgotten. The second is life in Windhoek and creating legislation. In some respects, they inter-link, but the work is quite different. It is generally portfolio-based and more macro. There is no ideal MP. No Churchill’s debaters. In our present Parliament, there are no Harold Wilsons. No Margaret Thatchers. We do not have the Thabo Mbekis or the Toures of Conakry, but we have MPs that holler across the Chambers in support of their party’s stand on an issue. Namibian MPs are good at heckling but in that sphere offer no tangible suggestion on what should be done. The debate on violence against women is a case in point. What the President wants is to have MPs who can bring specific skills into Parliament and assist in the development of the country This is so because they can bring realism into what can be a rather abstract world at times. Take the former Minister of Finance, Nangolo Mbumba. His experience is with domestic and international financial markets. “If you look at some of the big issues facing most developing countries,” he once explained, “it does not take long to reach the conclusion that both investment from a retirement savings point of view and investment in infrastructure, are two quite key issues.” But what happens if an MP fails to represent his constituency adequately? Should he or she be returned to Parliament or be disowned? What Parliament needs are MPs who can bring experience and knowledge. The Speaker of the National Assembly can do a lot of good to some of the MPs if he can arrange a series of workshops on Parliamentary debates and how they can put across the wishes of their constituencies. These workshops should favour a proactive approach to teaching the rights and role of citizens. Citizenship includes practical things like dealing with the law and its basis, including the bill of rights and the rights of the san people. People need background knowledge so they can see the principles on which representative democracy is based. Was it not William Pitt who once remarked that the voice of the elected must be heard and should represent the will of those who elected them? It is a sign of good leadership if he or she could play her/his role in Parliament as a backbencher. New MPs do not chair select committees. But they must learn to carve out their own role. The President has placed a challenge before their feet. Now it’s time they play their role effectively.