Le­sotho’s parly democ­racy at work

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Makha­bane Maluke

LE­SOTHO is in its lane as a demo­cratic king­dom among other democ­ra­cies com­mit­ted to the West­min­ster model, and in the race to evolve into a work­ing democ­racy. All ef­forts have to be made to en­sure that it does not fall in the trap of be­ing a poor per­former in its prac­tice of democ­racy. A ran­domly se­lected sam­ple to test how we per­form could be the roles and re­la­tion­ships of Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment (MPS) and lo­cal gov­ern­ment coun­cilors, among other vari­ables.

Rel­e­vant laws dis­tin­guish be­tween their modes of elec­tion. Their ten­ure of of­fice is both five years, while their terms are not con­cur­rent. What could be the ef­fect if they were con­cur­rent? Could there be any sav­ings? To many vil­lagers, there is no clear dis­tinc­tion as to what to ex­pect from an MP and a lo­cal coun­cilor. What they are just aware of is that each of the two has to be elected at the ap­pro­pri­ate time.

Why do many ru­ral in­hab­i­tants still ex­pect their MP to de­liver or drive lo­cal de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives? Why do some as­pir­ing MPS, or even some cur­rent MPS, tend to de­vote their at­ten­tion to the de­liv­ery of the var­i­ous lo­cal ser­vices? This is also en­cour­aged by the me­dia — es­pe­cially ra­dio per­son­al­i­ties who en­gage with vil­lagers or call­ers dur­ing phone-in pro­gram­mers or MPS them­selves, to sound their views and at­ti­tude about the ac­tions of the lat­ter in mat­ters of ru­ral com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment.

To many vil­lagers, roles and re­la­tion­ships be­tween the two re­main un­clear. The port­fo­lio of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment with its unique man­date ex­ists; it is gen­er­ally known by vil­lagers be­cause of its ex­ten­sion ser­vice. The ex­is­tence of such a cen­tral gov­ern­ment agency re­veals the level of po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment and will to put ap­pro­pri­ate in­sti­tu­tions in place to pro­mote lo­cal de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives. The only chal­lenge is why some vil­lagers and ra­dio sta­tions con­tinue to pin their hopes and fix their eyes more on MPS for the de­liv­ery of lo­cal ser­vices and less on lo­cal coun­cilors.

Lo­cal gov­ern­ment is en­cour­aged to do its best with what it has; and only timely re­lease funds to the dis­tricts. There, how­ever, re­mains a grey area; the con­spic­u­ous ab­sence of an equiv­a­lent or­gan­i­sa­tional set-up for mat­ters gen­er­ally re­ferred to as “par­lia­men­tary af­fairs”. Le­sotho suf­fers the worst in­ca­pac­ity in this re­gard. This can be felt at con­stituency and cen­tral gov­ern­ment lev­els. Func­tional re­la­tions be­tween lo­cal and cen­tral gov­ern­ment have to be main­tained.

This grey area im­pacts dif­fer­ently on lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. There are those who bank more on their MPS who hap­pen to be closer to the pow­ers that be in Maseru, and less on a lo­cal coun­cilor who goes only as far as the coun­cil and not even up to the dis­trict level. This ex­cludes sit­u­a­tions where their MP is of a dif­fer­ent and prob­a­bly a hos­tile po­lit­i­cal party. It is worse where the coun­cilor is also from an­other party, and hap­pens to have a bias against some vil­lages.

Un­for­tu­nately, MPS end up com­mit­ting them­selves to ac­tively fa­cil­i­tate lo­cal de­vel­op­ment projects. At times, MPS pick felt needs which have not been put to the at­ten­tion of a rel­e­vant com­mu­nity coun­cil. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, the most such an MP can do is to pose a par­lia­men­tary ques­tion: whether a Min­is­ter is aware of a felt need at some named lo­cal­ity.

It is such ques­tions witch yield depart­men­tal an­swers like: “Yes, the min­istry is aware… and the mat­ter will be dealt with as soon as fi­nances per­mit.” In a well oiled democ­racy with ef­fec­tive par­lia­men­tary over­sight, the ex­ec­u­tive adopts in­built mech­a­nisms to whip it­self — pick such an­swers up as as­sur­anc- es; fol­low up and pin in­di­vid­ual min­is­ters to in­di­cate ex­actly a when those fi­nances will “per­mit”. Mech­a­nisms like that are de­signed to en­sure plan­ning and re­spon­sive­ness to prom­ises made in the House. In Le­sotho, the ten­dency is for the onus to re­main with the min­istry.

Some re­search on the num­ber of ques­tions and as­sur­ances thereof, for any past par­lia­ment, could re­veal the num­ber of as­sur­ances that were ful­filled. In ef­fec­tive par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cies, and if for any rea­sons, ful­fil­ment is not pos­si­ble, as­sur­ances have to be re­ferred to the House as a re­quest to drop such as­sur­ances.

Why does this not hap­pen in Le­sotho? It ought to be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the min­istry re­spon­si­ble for par­lia­men­tary af­fairs; which would also fol­low up min­istries on pend­ing ques­tions and progress on mo­tions passed by the two Houses. Statis­tics of this na­ture are a good in­di­ca­tor of how re­spon­sive to prom­ises made in the House min­is­ters are. That would re­veal rep­re­sen­ta­tives who keep min­is­ters on their feet.

This could be ex­tended to main­tain some in­for­ma­tion on how many in­ter­ven­tions each MP made in mat­ters re­lat­ing to Agri­cul­ture, Health, Trade etc. It is such de­tails if kept to help de­ter­mine which MP gets as­signed to be on which par­lia­men­tary del­e­ga­tion.

To add to this grey area, House Stand­ing Or­ders pro­hibit the ask­ing (rep­e­ti­tion) of a ques­tion that was fully an­swered in the same ses­sion. The Le­sotho con­sti­tu­tion also es­tab­lishes a par­lia­ment with only one ses­sion [un­less par­lia­ment gets pro­rogued].

That com­pels an en­thu­si­as­tic MP to wait for the next par­lia­ment to for­mally in­quire, if re-elected, in the house, about an as­sur­ance made in the pre­ced­ing ses­sions. Th­ese and many other short­com­ings re­strict over­sight — giv­ing gov­ern­ment am­ple space to hide its in­ef­fec­tive­ness from par­lia­ment.

How cen­tral gov­ern­ment han­dles/views/ treats/ap­proaches lo­cal author­i­ties is very im­por­tant. The wrong at­ti­tude can ac­tu­ally ren­der lo­cal struc­tures in­ef­fec­tive or ir­rel­e­vant. The 8th Par­lia­ment had a sad ex­am­ple. The Ci­tym­lum [in­dige­nous name] road project was im­posed re­gard­less of pri­or­i­ties of the dis­trict and lo­cal com­mu­nity coun­cils. Yel­low plant was de­ployed and a good road was ac­tu­ally con­structed, but not com­pleted.

This was wrong in that the un­men­tioned rea­son for such in­ter­ven­tion was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated: to in­flu­ence an oth­er­wise po­lit­i­cally hos­tile Ci­tym­lum com­mu­nity. Such projects have to be chan­neled through proper struc­tures.

Sadly, this and other sim­i­lar un­ful­filled prom­ises ac­tu­ally an­gered the ad­ja­cent com­mu­ni­ties as ex­pressed through the 2015 elec­tion re­sults. There will def­i­nitely be an up­hill strug­gle for the con­cerned party to win the con­fi­dence of those mis­treated com­mu­ni­ties. The next elec­tions — lo­cal and par­lia­men­tary — will def­i­nitely demon­strate this.

Al­lo­ca­tion of fund­ing for de­vel­op­ment con- tin­ues to largely, and cor­rectly so, re­main with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. Lo­cal author­i­ties only sub­mit pro­pos­als and look up to the cen­tre which has the fi­nal say. Lately, some com­mu­ni­ties are keen and sense the di­rec­tion which fi­nal al­lo­ca­tions fol­low. It is this, and other causes, which de­ter­mine shifts in party loy­al­ties dur­ing elec­tions, re­gard­less of pop­u­lar philoso­phies etc. This can be read in the pat­tern of elec­tion re­sults lately. Un­ful­filled prom­ises add to this.

Le­sotho ought to swiftly adapt and adopt good par­lia­men­tary prac­tices to be abreast with 21st cen­tury demo­cratic trends. Re­la­tions be­tween cen­tral and lo­cal in­sti­tu­tions have to be per­fected. Could there be any sound rea­son against rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dis­trict coun­cils in the Sen­ate of Le­sotho? That would also give Sen­ate a lighter com­plex­ion by adding some elec­tion di­men­sion to the House which has re­mained un­demo­cratic ever since.

There ought to ex­ist some Lo­cal De­vel­op­ment Fund to em­power both MPS and Lo­cal author­i­ties to ex­er­cise some in­de­pen­dent say in the fi­nanc­ing of some small lo­cal ini­tia­tives. That would de­velop some trust be­tween MPS and lo­cal coun­cilors who can jointly be viewed as agents of change through work­ing to­gether.

The ques­tion of a vi­brant Min­istry of Par­lia­men­tary Af­fairs de­serves either the sym­pa­thy or bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of gov­ern­ments. Par­lia­ment it­self has to de­cen­tral­ize and have a for­mal con­stituency of­fice manned by at least one em­ployee of par­lia­ment who can read a draft bill to pre­pare lo­cal in­hab­i­tants for their in­puts- where an MP some­how is in­ca­pac­i­tated. Lo­cals de­serve to be pre­pared in­tel­lec­tu­ally for the vis­its of port­fo­lio com­mit­tees.

While the 9th Par­lia­ment holds the key, it ought to have al­ready as­sem­bled some be­hind-the-cur­tains teams al­ready, to just think aloud about the var­i­ous re­form is­sues. Re­liance on im­ported con­sul­tants and our of- ten grand com­mit­tees has only de­liv­ered us to where we are to­day. A com­mit­tee may not orig­i­nate an idea and work on it alone.

There has to be a for­mal rec­om­men­da­tion from dif­fer­ent minds. If the con­sti­tu­tion gets im­proved to pro­vide for dis­tinct ses­sions of par­lia­ment, that will def­i­nitely im­pact on both par­lia­ment and the ex­ec­u­tive. Le­sotho has not to be told that by a con­sul­tant from else­where. Sim­i­larly, could it make any dif­fer­ence if Na­tional As­sem­bly and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment elec­tions had sep­a­rate IECS if their terms con­tinue to run as at present?

The ques­tion of be­ing a demo­cratic king­dom is an­other mat­ter of thought as it raises the is­sue of monar­chy in a democ­racy. As it is now, His Majesty only de­liv­ers speeches from the throne and gives royal as­sent to bills passed by the two Houses. Speech from the throne is fol­lowed by a de­bate of a mo­tion of Thanks, for its de­liv­ery.

It is doubt­ful if there is any work­ing mech­a­nism to en­sure that His majesty gets to for­mally know the views of MPS on is­sues con­tained in His speech? A vi­brant democ­racy has to en­sure that; at times ne­ces­si­tat­ing a con­cerned min­is­ter to come back to for­mally ad­dress the House on some ex­pressed views on His Majesty`s speech.

The mo­tion of Thanks can be amended to ex­press or flag some lack of con­fi­dence in the gov­ern­ment which is sup­posed to im­ple­ment the contents of the speech. Ef­fec­tive over­sight starts with the par­lia­men­tary open­ing speech and not to wait for over­sight com­mit­tees.

Stand­ing Or­ders fur­ther pro­vide for com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the two Houses and not with His Majesty`s of­fice. This has to be re­viewed; but as a monar­chy and not a re­pub­lic or pres­i­dency which sub­ject head of state to elec­tions.

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