By Mathias Haufiku
WINDHOEK – With just 40 days to go before the Sixth Parliament commences, Parliament is yet to acquire extra office space for the 26 additional MPs, who will join the enlarged national legislature.
With the current building seemingly too small to accommodate all 104 MPs, the National Assembly Secretariat is now running around to secure office space within the close proximity of parliament.
Secretary of the National Assembly, Jakes Jacobs, yesterday confirmed office space is yet to be found after he told New Era the secretariat is still busy looking for office space ideally in the centre of town.
President-elect, Dr Hage Geingob, and the new MPs will be sworn-in on March 21.
All backbenchers and members of opposition parties are entitled to a fully furnished office on the premises of parliament to carry out their duties.
Meanwhile, the nine standing parliamentary committees will be the biggest beneficiaries with more backbenchers set to take up seats in the National Assembly as from March 21, National Assembly Public Relations Official David Nahogandja told New Era yesterday.
He said most of the committees are understaffed at the moment because of lack of backbenchers and additional backbenchers would enhance the work of standing committees.
“You should take note that most of the parliamentary work is done in the committees and at the moment the committees are understaffed because the ministers are more than the backbenchers,” he said.
Ministers and deputy ministers are not keen on joining committees because they have to attend to their ministerial duties.
“The tricky part is the fact that we do not know how many of the MPs will be backbenchers and how many will be deputy ministers and ministers because we do not know how many line ministries there will be,” he said.
Committee members are normally expected to travel across the country conducting community meetings about pertinent issues in the regions, which must be brought under the attention of legislators.
The nine parliamentary committees are the Standing Committee on Standing Rules and Orders and Internal Arrangements; Standing Committee on Privileges; Standing Committee on Public Accounts; Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs; Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security; Standing Committee on Economics, Natural; Resources and Public Administration; Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social and Community Development; Standing Committee on Gender and Family Affairs; Standing Committee on Information Communication and Technology.
Last year the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) MP, Steve Bezuidenhoudt, said the National Assembly Secretariat should embrace mobile technology because MPs do not need a physical office in the modern world. If parliament can provide all the tools needed for this then all will be well, he said.
“It is unfortunate that we have this situation now. I foresee a situation where members will be spread all over town. The situation will not allow fluency and could be a total disaster. With the new building coming, I hope provisions have been made to accommodate all the MPs,” said DTA of Namibia MP, Katuutire Kaura, at the time.
Swanu President, Usutuaije Maamberua, at the time said the repercussions of the constitutional amendments were not considered before the Constitution was amended to allow for more members in the National Assembly because “no one looked at the implications involved such as salaries, office space and additional parliament staff. This was a project driven in a very narrow manner”.
Swapo MP, Nangolo Mbumba, also commented on the matter last year, saying that space limitation should not be used as an excuse, adding that the space constraints will be sorted once the new parliament building is constructed.
Commenting on the same issue, NUDO MP Arnold Tjihuiko said, “It does not really matter where the office is, as long as members are provided with an office. When we raised this issue during the time of the constitutional amendments, we were assured that all these things have been taken care of, so this comes as a bit of a surprise to me.”
The limited parliamentary space bolsters parliament’s requests to receive funding to the tune of N$700 million to construct a state-of-the-art parliament.
The Tintenpalast is the seat of both chambers of the National Council and the National Assembly and is over a century old, having been built between 1912 and 1913.