Prof Katjavivi – taking parliament to the people

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Windhoek

The Chief Political Correspondent of New Era, Mathias Haufiku, last week interviewed the Speaker of the National Assembly, Professor Peter Katjavivi, over a range of issues pertaining the legislature. Katjavivi touched on several issues, including the declaration of assets, the need for a new parliament building, as well as the need to ensure that parliament has a point of reference in every region through which it can provide information to the general public.

Give us an assessment of your time as National Assembly Speaker since your appointment in March?
Members of the 6th National Assembly were sworn in on 20 March 2015 by His Lordship Chief Justice Peter Shivute. The following week, from 23 to 27 March 2015, an induction workshop for members of parliament was conducted by the National Assembly, with the support of the European Union Parliamentary Support Programme, to introduce them to the functions and workings of parliament.

The induction workshop focused on many topics, amongst others the Separation of Powers, Parliamentary Committees Best Practices, Role of Parliament’s Oversight Function and Code of Conduct and Declaration of Members’ Interests.

The Code of Conduct and Declaration of Members’ Interests will be tabled in the National Assembly in the course of next week for approval by the House. [Ed. this week]
On 21 April 2015, the National Assembly hosted President Hage Geingob, when he delivered his Maiden State of the Nation Address that coincided with the official opening of parliament.

On service delivery, parliament held a two-day conference from 27 to 28 April 2015 on The Green versus The Blue Economy, under the theme ‘Sustainability for Poverty Reduction, Water, Energy and Food Security, as well as Designing and Developing Cities that are Economically Viable and Socially Inclusive”.

In order to enhance the oversight function of Standing Committees of Parliament, members of the National Assembly attended Development Budget Workshops that were held in Swakopmund from 18 to 23 May 2015 and 1 to 5 June 2015, respectively.

During these two workshops, members analysed development projects of various [government] offices, ministries and agencies (OMAs), as contained in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) 2013/2014 to 2015/2016, and formulated questions to permanent secretaries of the various OMAs to solicit feedback on the status and feasibility of the various projects.

The members wanted clarity and detail of project descriptions, the feasibility of concluding dates, the amount budgeted during the current MTEF, the synchronisation of project descriptions – with amounts budgeted during the current MTEF, balances remaining after the current MTEF, general accounting problems, and the impact of these projects on the outcome of the current MTEF and NDP 4 [the fourth National Development Plan].

Furthermore, parliament is undertaking steps to refine and implement its Strategic Plan and has also introduced the subject of producing Annual Reports.

Do you feel your responsibility would have been easier if the size of parliament was smaller?
I am actually delighted with the current size and composition of our National Assembly, because it has dealt with one of the key challenges that had persisted since the country’s independence: the problem of quorum.

There are countries with larger populations yet they have smaller parliaments in terms of numbers. Why does Namibia need a bloated parliament?

For us, the size of parliament should correspond to the population in any given country. There are even smaller countries, with a smaller population than Namibia, but with the same size as our current membership of the National Assembly. Therefore, I do not accept the notion that the Namibian parliament is necessarily a bloated parliament.

Do you think new MPs need training to know how parliament works, seeing that most of them hardly make any contributions, or are you satisfied with their level of understanding when it comes to parliament?

I do not think MPs need training to speak on issues that they consider to be vital to the people that they represent. However, I would accept that members who are new in parliament need to familiarise themselves and to master parliamentary procedure. In time, this will come about as people find their way in the new environment.

Can you tell us about the concept of taking parliament to the people that you’ve been preaching about for some time now?

My two predecessors had spoken at length about taking parliament to the people. I congratulate both of them for having popularised this concept. However, I believe the time has come for us to further interrogate this concept and make sure that we implement it within the framework of the ‘agenda for change’.

We need to connect parliament with all citizens of Namibia. That is, the question of access, understanding the basics of parliamentary procedure and to have confidence in their parliament that their voices will be heard and their issues taken up by parliamentarians, so as to improve their lives, as it is expected within the overall mandate of parliament.
Here, we are exploring new innovations to enhance taking parliament to the people by looking at the possibility of ensuring parliament has a point of reference in every region that will in a way set up a hub by which parliament can provide information.

An example of this is the envisaged setting up of a teleconferencing facility and the parliamentary radio. All these endeavours are aimed at making sure parliament is connected to the people and that the people have access to the lawmakers in order to have their views heard.

You are an active member of the ruling party. Does this pose an element of conflict of interest when it comes to you applying rules in the house on Swapo and the opposition? How do you strike a balance?

Yes, I am a member of the governing party, but I am also aware of the convention that every speaker must adhere to. That is, to exercise my responsibilities as a speaker in keeping with the rules and do it impartially. I am also aware that all the members represented in the house have elected me to this position unanimously.

Plans to build a new parliament are in motion, despite opposition from the general public. Does the voice of the public count when government embarks upon such projects?

Yes indeed, we are finalising plans to build a new parliament of Namibia. As most of us are aware, we never previously had a State House, Supreme Court or parliament. All these buildings became necessary to cater for the needs that were identified and justified. So, it is in that context that arrangements are underway to build a new parliament to cater for both houses of parliament.

The new building will address the essential needs of all Houses of Parliament, as well as providing office space for members of both Houses of Parliament. The new building will also facilitate much better use of facilities that need to be shared, for example the parliament library, the legal services unit and the ICT [information and communication technology] unit, amongst others.

Several MPs are currently operating from rented offices around Windhoek. How many MPs operate from outside, which parties and how much does parliament spend on renting office space per month?
Indeed, a sizeable number of MPs from all parties represented in the house, have offices outside the parliament building.

The issue of the Workers Revolutionary Party has been dragging on for months now. Despite parliament not giving the party its money or office space because of its internal squabbles, its two members continue to serve in parliament and receive a full salary. Why is this the case?

The issue of the Workers Revolutionary Party was essentially an internal matter and I am now happy to say a solution to the problem was found.

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