On egocentric and constituency-less parliamentarians

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Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.

Article 44 of the Namibian Constitution vests the legislative power of Namibia in the National Assembly with the power to pass laws, with the assent of the President.

Article 45 states that: “The members of the National Assembly shall be representative of all the people and shall in the performance of their duties be guided by the objectives of this Constitution, by the public interest and by their conscience”.

Experience of the past 26 years of independence demonstrates the opposite of the above provision. It would be stretching the truth to contend that “public interest” has ever been the main consideration of our parliamentarians.

Similarly, actions of the National Assembly fall short of what would be expected of “representative of all the people” – let alone being guided by the objectives of the Constitution.

One is persuaded to conclude that the only “conscience” that guides our parliamentarians – at least the majority – is selfishness. In essence Article 45 of the Namibian Constitution is rendered redundant, serves no purpose and must be expunged.

Two examples, among a plethora of others, suffice to be cited here. Firstly, since Independence our parliamentarians have dismally failed to address the fundamental systems that kept our country and people in perpetual servitude for more than a century – and still fail to repeal repugnant and unconstitutional laws, such as the Native Administration Proclamation 15 of 1928 and others.

The laws in our parliamentary chambers still speak of “natives, police zones”, etc. One would be inclined to believe that only a few of our parliamentarians would have objected to the colonial laws at the time of their promulgation. Indeed, many would have cheered loudest at the promulgations of such laws. Nothing to date proves this assertion to the contrary.

Secondly, at a time when poverty is becoming a natural partner of the majority of Namibians, our parliamentarians are in fifth gear towards spending N$2,2 billion on a new parliament building.

The argument against this seemingly unplanned expenditure should not be seen as an attempt to begrudge parliamentarians of a luxurious and large parliament. It is about a failure to plan, the unexplained overnight escalation of the cost and the timing of the exercise.

It boggles the mind that in parliament the majority, as the Speaker said, is in favour of the new building.

The disconnect between the “conscience” of our parliamentarians and the “public interest” derives from the nature, form and structure of our electoral system – the proportional representation system, based on party lists.

The system does not place any form of parliamentary accountability in relation to public accountability on our National Assembly members. After all, the electorates voted for parties and not the individuals who do not represent any constituency.

It is time that the practicality of parliamentary accountability is questioned, especially in the absence of direct engagement between parliament and the electorates. We need to interrogate issues, such as what is parliament accountable for, to whom, and in what manner.

The pitfall of the proportional representation system is that it places the good, the bad and the ugly unelected politicians in one chamber, with no direct mandate from the electorates.

For example, Swapo won the majority of votes from the electorate and therefore enjoys the majority seats in the chamber. The DTA, RDP, and others also won substantial votes and have seats in the chambers.

Then you have those who “won” a percentage share of seats, literally those who lost but have been given left-over votes from other parties, as if the electorates would be happy to have their votes allocated to a party they did not vote for.

Therefore, across the political party representation, it is safe to say that those who sit in our National Assembly today are not directly voted into office by the citizens. It then becomes foolhardy to expect such individuals to be fully accountable to the citizenry or to have “conscience” and be guided by public interest.

It is now becoming clearer that with or without a larger, exorbitantly funded new parliament building, there is need to discuss the nature and extent of the National Assembly accountability; real public accountability to the Namibian people in contrast to a situation where parliamentarians are accountable to themselves and for themselves.

Our legislators should be concerned with placing the Namibian citizens at the centre of their considerations, not just as electoral targets, but also as meaningful agents of socio-economic development.

The main preoccupation of the National Assembly, within the context of the clarion call for poverty eradication, should be to develop policies and design services that respond to individuals’ needs and are relevant to their circumstances.

Effective engagement by a citizen-centric National Assembly requires political support for the genuine devolution of power and decision-making, and restoring the status of citizens as major stakeholders with whom parliament should engage.

Before rewarding the National Assembly for its exceptional failure to repeal repugnant colonial laws and place public interest at the centre of its functions with N$2.2 billion of taxpayers’ money to spend on a new building, let us spend the money on raising the living standards of the Namibian people, while properly planning for a new parliamentary building for the future.

Our people should come first above all other considerations. Surely, this is not much to ask from our “elected” leaders.

* Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.

 

 

 

 

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