The nuts and bolts of deep­en­ing democ­racy

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Makha­bane Maluke

MUCH has been said about the need to per­fect or deepen our democ­racy in Le­sotho. A lot has been done, and much more still needs to be done. The adop­tion of the Mixed Mem­ber Pro­por­tional elec­toral model was one of the many moves made.

The is­sues raised in the New Zealand study tour re­port only serve to add more coal to the Le­sotho train en­gine fire. It would be very sad if our train chokes in the process of re­form. The lessons from New Zealand may not be the best for Le­sotho be­cause the for­mer’s sys­tems are com­par­a­tively too com­plex and de­vel­oped. The re­port ex­pects a rhino to run at a chee­tah’s pace.

An ef­fec­tive par­lia­ment and well-oiled gov­ern­ment ma­chin­ery with good sys­tems, which dove­tail well with those of par­lia­ment, are es­sen­tial pil­lars for any state to deepen its democ­racy. This as­pect is as im­por­tant, or even more so, as any other func­tion as­signed to any min­is­ter of the crown.

Many par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cies adopted the tra­di­tional Westminster model but ended up mod­i­fy­ing it by mak­ing their own im­prove­ments to suit their re­spec­tive en­vi­ron­ments. The onus in the di­rec­tion and pace each democ­racy takes is in the hands of both par­lia­ment and gov­ern­ment.

For ev­ery in-com­ing gov­ern­ment af­ter elec­tions, the im­me­di­ate task is to cre­ate a gov­ern­ment with named port­fo­lios. The nam­ing of min­istries only ex­presses ar­eas in which a new gov­ern­ment wishes to be judged by the elec­torate in the next elec­tion. We could trace Le­sotho from 1993 when demo­cratic rule re­turned af­ter two decades of un­demo­cratic Ba­sotho Na­tional Party rule.

Among the port­fo­lios which Congress gov­ern­ments val­ued was that of Par­lia­men­tary Af­fairs. Ini­tially, it was within the Min­istry of Law and Con­sti­tu­tional Af­fairs, and re­lo­cated to the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice. It was later de­cen­tralised to the of­fice of deputy prime min­is­ter. It has to be re­alised here that these are very pow­er­ful min­istries, and that is es­sen­tial for democ­racy to take root.

Un­der the first 2012 coali­tion gov­ern­ment, the port­fo­lio was gazetted/ap­pended un­der the deputy min­is­ter of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment. Did this not sig­nify the be­gin­ning of a de­cline of its sig­nif­i­cance? Why was it not ex­plic­itly as­signed to the deputy prime min­is­ter, who also hap­pened to be Leader of the House? In­ter­est­ingly, the cur­rent coali­tion does not have this port­fo­lio in the line-up of its min­istries. Could this be de­lib­er­ate?

There surely has to be some ex­pla­na­tion as is­sues of par­lia­ment may not be clas­si­fied un­der any other du­ties to be as­signed from time to time. This port­fo­lio is cited just to demon­strate that pri­or­i­ties may change over time. Such changes can be for bet­ter or worse. Spoil­ers may read the latest de­vel­op­ment as a de­lib­er­ate strat­egy to en­sure that gov­ern­ment re­mains strong in re­la­tion to par­lia­ment; where gov­ern­ment de­lib­er­ately dis­ables it­self to evade full ac­count­abil­ity to par­lia­ment. That, how­ever, would be mis­placed if lev­eled against a congress-led gov­ern­ment.

Whether that port­fo­lio ac­tu­ally served any good pur­pose or had any im­pact when it had a min­is­ter named to look af­ter it re­mains de­bat­able. The an­swer to that is an em­phatic no, be­cause there had been no or­gan­i­sa­tional ar­range­ments for it to bear fruit and demon­strate its wor­thi­ness. It lacked ded­i­cated staff and bud­getary al­lo­ca­tion.

Democ­racy has to be nur­tured and not just talked about. Ev­ery gov­ern­ment has to be in a good shape; with the skills, ca­pa­bil­ity and ca­pac­ity to re­turn good balls when­ever par­lia­ment serves. Some­one has to be en­trusted with the re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that all the min­istries are on the alert.

Ev­ery gov­ern­ment has an im­por­tant role in mak­ing par­lia­men­tary work suc­ceed. It is no sur­prise that the Na­tional Assem­bly Stand­ing Or­der (SO) 26(7) ex­pects the Leader of the House to ac­count why min­is­ters had failed to re­spond to par­lia­men­tary ques­tions. That SO as­sumes some spe­cial or­gan­i­sa­tional re­la­tion­ships ex­ist be­tween gov­ern­ment and par­lia­ment. All along, re­la­tion­ships have been dis­jointed.

The ex­ec­u­tive has to be well or­gan­ised to have a good link with par­lia­ment. The per­for­mance of the first coali­tion in re­la­tion to ques­tions could rank it as the worst in the history of Le­sotho’s Par­lia­ment. The port­fo­lio of Par­lia­men­tary Af­fairs has some spe­cial roles to play; to mon­i­tor and men­tor min­is­te­rial staff in mat­ters of par­lia­ment.

There ought to ex­ist a mech­a­nism within gov­ern­ment to fol­low as­sur­ances made by min­is­ters in the House; in­ves­ti­gate rea­sons for de­lays or lapses be­fore par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees take the ini­tia­tive to de­mand feed­back; to fol­low res­o­lu­tions/mo­tions passed by par­lia­ment for im­ple­men­ta­tion; re­quest the House to drop ei­ther ques­tions or as­sur­ances. This list shows how the ex­ec­u­tive has to be seen to be ea­ger to per­form well in mat­ters of par­lia­ment. The full ac­count­abil­ity of gov­ern­ment to par­lia­ment is very im­por­tant in a work­ing par­lia­men­tary democ­racy. The gov­ern­ment has to whip it­self to fully ac­count and the care taker of that whip has to be named.

If our ex­ec­u­tive branch had all along been se­ri­ous enough, by now, there ought to ex­ist a hand­book on how min­istries ought to han­dle par­lia­men­tary work. A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple in ex­is­tence is the hand­book com­pelled by the Min­istry of Laws and Con­sti­tu­tional Af­fairs for all min­istries, guid­ing how laws have to be de­vel­oped un­til the stage of the fi­nal bill. Par­lia­men­tary work de­serves such a guide.

This could have helped civil ser­vants of the first coali­tion to be more help­ful to their mas­ters. The cur­rent gov­ern­ment has to en­sure that their key staff is well drilled in what their pre­de­ces­sors were weak in. The at­ti­tude and han­dling of par­lia­men­tary work by a gov­ern­ment can cost it dearly at elec­tions if the op­po­si­tion is up to stan­dard.

Le­sotho has a very long way to go in its ef­fort to per­fect its democ­racy. To cite another clumsy ex­am­ple; the first Speaker of the 1993 par­lia­ment even had to con­vince gov­ern­ment on the need to have clerks of par­lia­ment to sit in the com­mit­tee of prin­ci­pal sec­re­taries, chaired by a gov­ern­ment sec­re­tary.

That is an ex­ec­u­tive fo­rum where gov­ern­ment poli­cies are de­signed. That ar­range­ment is, ac­tu­ally, out-of-or­der. Why does the pres­i­dent of the se­nate and speaker of the house not sim­i­larly at­tend cab­i­net meet­ings? The for­go­ing clumsy ar­range­ment re­veals that there re­ally ex­ists a huge vac­uum.

There ought to ex­ist a full-fledged Min­istry of Par­lia­men­tary Af­fairs, whose prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary would re­lease clerks of par­lia­ment to re­main as func­tionar­ies of par­lia­ment. There has to ex­ist par­lia­men­tary units at min­istries, just like the ac­coun­tant gen­eral has the ac­counts units at min­istries. The at­tor­ney gen­eral has le­gal of­fi­cers in ev­ery min­istry.

It is high time par­lia­men­tary work is given the se­ri­ous at­ten­tion it de­serves. The na­tion is wait­ing to see the next much-spo­ken-about re­forms. The Le­sotho In­sti­tute of Public Ad­min­is­tra­tion could be con­sid­ered to in­clude the par­lia­men­tary di­men­sion in its train­ing of civil ser­vants. That would add more value to that na­tional In­sti­tu­tion.

THE New Zealand study tour last year by lo­cal politi­cians and civil so­ci­ety rep­re­sen­ta­tives only adds to the dis­cus­sion on democ­racy, the writer opines.

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