Ex­er­cise of parly over­sight else­where

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Makha­bane Maluke

OB­SER­VANT read­ers may have re­al­ized that the Busi­ness Re­port, South Africa’s na­tional fi­nan­cial daily, reg­u­larly car­ries briefs from across Africa.

In­ter­est­ingly, even par­lia­men­tary de­vel­op­ments oc­ca­sion­ally fea­ture. One notable ob­ser­va­tion is that it is mostly the more re­form­ing par­lia­ments which so fea­ture. There is usu­ally some­thing to learn from such read­ings.

The Na­tional Assem­bly (ref­er­ence to the Up­per/se­nate and Lower/house of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives as a sin­gle whole) of Nige­ria has been one such a ju­ris­dic­tion.

It was re­cently re­ported on its over­sight func­tion. The brief noted that the Up­per House was due to in­ves­ti­gate a rail­way con­ser­sion that the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment wanted to grant to a United States firm amid al­le­ga­tions of reg­u­la­tions vi­o­la­tions by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

It high­lighted fur­ther that the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives had launched a sim­i­lar in­quiry a month ear­lier. Aim be­ing to es­tab­lish if gov­ern­ment had opened talks with that US firm with­out con­sult­ing par­lia­ment.

How these Houses came to know about this has not been hinted, and that is of in­ter­est in the work­ings of par­lia­ments. Those Houses may have learnt through for­mal re­ports to par­lia­ment and wish to ver­ify the in­for­ma­tion.

Ex­er­cise of over­sight re­quires that facts be con­firmed be­fore a fi­nal con­clu­sion. For ex­am­ple, a Chief Ac­count­ing Of­fi­cer ( CAO) in the case of Le­sotho de­serves to con­firm de­tails as they re­late to his/her de­part­ment.

A CAO may even have to ap­proach a Port­fo­lio or Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee to get the record straight be­fore the fi­nal re­port.

The Le­sotho 6th Par­lia­ment PAC rec­om­men­da­tions, on the Au­di­tor Gen­eral's find­ings, to sanc­tion Se­nate of­fi­cials failed to be im­ple­mented be­cause the fi­nal re­port used a wrong des­ig­na­tion which par­lia­ment did not have.

The re­port pinned the blame on a non-ex­is­tent Se­nate of­fice. That was em­bar­rass­ing for the PAC, and it sur­faced that the re­port had been hastily au­thored by an op­po­si­tion MP (now late).

Facts had not been ver­i­fied, prob­a­bly be­cause of lim­ited fa­cil­i­ties: com­pelling MPS to en­gage in purely clerkly un­der­tak­ings.

An­other area of in­ter­est is the use of whis­tle blow­ers which other African par­lia­ments al­ready use. Such par­lia­ments may even task the Au­di­tor Gen­eral to un­der­take a spe­cial au­dit in a mat­ter raised through whis­tle blow­ing. This is an­other new de­vel­op­ment in the ex­er­cise of par­lia­men­tary over­sight.

In this Nige­rian case study, both Houses un­der­take an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the same mat­ter separately and si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

One good fea­ture of their 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion is its clar­ity in giv­ing equal over­sight pow­ers to its two Houses. Could such be pos­si­ble for Le­sotho? Most prob­a­bly no; at least not now.

Does this par­al­lel ap­proach not ren­der a House which ini­ti­ates ac­tion later su­per­flu­ous or re­dun­dant? That could as well mat­ter less where the pri­mary in­ten­tion has pub­lic in­ter­est at heart: where wish is to en­sure that no sin­gle link or lead is missed.

An­other dilemma of bi­cam­eral par­lia­ments in Africa is lev­els of staff pro­fes­sion­al­ism to sup­port over­sight com­mit­tees. Are both Houses ad­e­quately staffed to ef­fec­tively as­sist MPS?

Do these in­ves­ti­ga­tions tar­get the same wit­nesses? Does a con­cerned de­part­ment have to re­spond to both Houses separately or a mech­a­nism for a syn­the­sized/joint re­sponse and Ac­tion Taken Re­ports has to exist?

The 1999 con­sti­tu­tion also wisely pro­vides for joint sit­tings and meet- ings of both Houses and their Com­mit­tees. That is ac­tu­ally what has to hap­pen in a democ­racy. Bi­cam­eral par­lia­ments have to have joint Stand­ing Or­ders to fa­cil­i­tate their joint ven­ture.

Ev­ery par­lia­ment has to be of a kind pre­scribed by the con­sti­tu­tion. That of Nige­ria (1999) and that of Le­sotho (1993) are both post mil­i­tary rule prod­ucts which dif­fer con­sid­er­ably on the kinds of par­lia­ments they cre­ate.

A good con­sti­tu­tion ought to be seen to have a wish to de­liver democ­racy, and not to leave this at the mercy of trial and er­ror by the ever chang­ing ac­tors through statutes.

The Fed­eral par­lia­ment of Nige­ria has two PACS; and some other African par­lia­ments have more than two, with each as­signed a few port­fo­lios to over­see. This is de­signed to ease and ex­pe­dite over­sight duty.

This Nige­rian ex­pe­ri­ence re­flects the value at­tached to each House. Both are ex­pressly charged, through the con­sti­tu­tion, to “ex­pose cor­rup­tion…” and pro­cure ev­i­dence which each House con­sid­ers nec­es­sary. Does the word “cor­rup­tion” ap­pear any­where in the Le­sotho con­sti­tu­tion? One has not to won­der why the Nige­rian par­lia­ment has had oc­ca­sions to even is­sue im­peach­ment threats to the Pres­i­dent, meant to check ex­cesses of the Ex­ec­u­tive.

The above modes of par­lia­men­tary over­sight are cited to be a mat­ter of thought for those re­form­ers which the “re­formist” mill will de­ploy.

They will have to em­brace the prin­ci­ple of First Things First. Those things which mat­ter most must have prece­dence over those that are just to tinker or tem­po­rar­ily put out imag­ined fires. A new con­sti­tu­tion ought to come be­fore and be such that is likely to de­liver democ­racy. Any on­ward march has to start with a suit­able con­sti­tu­tion.

This could be why up to now Le­sotho has no Par­lia­men­tary Ser­vice. At­tempts to un­der­take many voy­ages con­cur­rently is not likely to re­ward this highly volatile so­ci­ety. No real democ­racy may be at­tained over a sin­gle par­lia­men­tary term as some seem to think. A suit­able con­sti­tu­tion is the ba­sis of ev­ery­thing else.

What could have been the cause of some of the Terms of Ref­er­ence of the 2004 par­lia­men­tary re­forms ef­fort to re­main pend­ing up to now (12 years lat­ter)?

The 1993 con­sti­tu­tion leaves dis­cre­tion to power re­la­tions of the ever chang­ing ac­tors. The con­sti­tu­tion de­serves to some­how be vo­cal enough and flag to the in-com­ing to start where the pre­de­ces­sor left off. Ten­dency is to al­ways start afresh.

A mech­a­nism of con­ti­nu­ity has to be de­vised e.g. ori­en­ta­tion of a new par­lia­ment must in­clude a brief on the per­for­mance of the pre­de­ces­sor, to en­able in­her­i­tance of is- sues which de­serve fur­ther at­ten­tion.

That how­ever, has not to make us for­get that an out-go­ing or pre­vi­ous par­lia­ment may not pre­scribe to the next par­lia­ment.

This is why in well oiled par­lia­ments; the first duty to per­form is adoption of Stand­ing Or­ders. It has be­come a con­ven­tion in Kenya to con­sider SOS at the end of ev­ery par­lia­ment to en­sure that the suc­ces­sor finds them ready.

An­other miss­ing but im­por­tant agency to in­ject some vi­tal­ity in the Ex­ec­u­tive re­sponse to par­lia­ment is a func­tional port­fo­lio of Par­lia­men­tary Af­fairs.

Over­sight is a two-way process like a ten­nis game where one has to re­turn balls to the

server; the ex­pec­ta­tion is for good balls to be re­turned, to make the game in­ter­est­ing.

Presently, Le­sotho is po­lit­i­cally sick due to its very many po­lit­i­cal par­ties and the ease with which their num­ber in­creases.

The Nige­ria con­sti­tu­tion makes an in­ter­est­ing men­tion about re­stric­tion of for­ma­tion of po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Is the im­pend­ing re­form not the op­por­tu­nity for the new con­sti­tu­tion of Le­sotho to come out more clearly in ad­dress­ing this source of po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, among other es­sen­tial im­prove­ments?

The MMP elec­toral model was adopted with a wish to achieve in­clu­siv­ity in par­lia­ment.

That has give rise to its abuse/mis­use through in­ci­dents of in­tra-party con­flicts which wrong­fully spill over into par­lia­ment and gov­ern­ment. The new con­sti­tu­tion has to pro­nounce on this dilemma.

Par­lia­ment of Le­sotho

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