Can you pro­tect the se­nate?

Sunday Express - - OPINION - So­fonea Shale

THE swear­ing in of Mem­bers of Se­nate this past week has not only marked a sig­nif­i­cant step to­wards the con­sum­ma­tion of the newly formed gov­ern­ment but also fa­cil­i­tated the loom­ing an­nounce­ment of cabi­net.

The nom­i­na­tion of Sen­a­tors this year like any other year has been ac­cepted with mixed re­ac­tions. Some peo­ple com­plain that the nom­i­na­tion has favoured cer­tain po­lit­i­cal par­ties to the detri­ment of oth­ers, while oth­ers cry foul that the new re­cruits with the same par­ties and there­fore do not de­serve ap­point­ment to the Se­nate when the party stal­warts re­main in the re­serve.

For an­other cat­e­gory, the nom­i­na­tion for the 11 mem­bers of Se­nate is just a process that has been fol­lowed as has al­ways been. This ar­ti­cle looks at con­text of the nom­i­na­tion and per­haps its rel­e­vance but also ex­pos­esits im­pli­ca­tions to the con­sti­tu­tion in spirit if not in let­ter, the net ef­fect on the House and the whole bi­cam­eral sys­tem and the best way of deal­ing with it.

First and fore­most, the 11 nom­i­nated Mem­bers of Se­nate should be con­grat­u­lated on the re­spon­si­bil­ity that is be­stowed upon them. Al­most none of the 11 Mem­bers of Se­nate is a new face in the public sphere, so ev­ery­one brings some con­tri­bu­tion in his or her own way.

The re­al­ity that Ba­sotho can dodge at their own risk is that the nom­i­na­tion of Sen­a­tors be­comes part of po­lit­i­cal feuds be­cause of the man­ner in which politi­cians han­dle it. The in­ten­tion of the ad­di­tional 11 to the 22 prin­ci­pal chiefs is to re­in­force chiefs in their ad­vi­sory role to the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

In the pre­vi­ous con­sti­tu­tion, the 11 were di­rectly nom­i­nated by the King but in the cur­rent one the King is ad­vised by the Coun­cil of State. As has been in­di­cated on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, the Coun­cil of State it­self re­places the Privy Coun­cil which was also ap­pointed by the King.

Th­ese changes were ef­fected to bal­ance the power that King has in a demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion. While the bal­ance of pow­ers of the con­sti­tu­tional monarch has been achieved, the ques­tion may be whether politi­cians are right to turn ad­di­tional seats of Se­nate into a po­lit­i­cal com­pen­sa­tion for the de­feated yet needed politi­cians or not?

This and the sis­ter col­umn in the sis­ter news­pa­per has be­fore elec­tions ar­gued against politi­ci­sa­tion of the Se­nate. The ar­gu­ments pre­sented which are more than rel­e­vant to­day were that when politi­cians are nom­i­nated to the 11, ob­jec­tiv­ity con­tem­plated in the pur­pose of the House is eroded.

With the ex­cep­tion of the two area chiefs and two politi­cians, all the nom­i­nated Sen­a­tors are en­listed for the cabi­net. Th­ese Sen­a­tors who will be­come cabi­net mem­bers au­to­mat­i­cally be­come Mem­bers of two Houses.

This means that over and above their Min­is­te­rial du­ties which are highly de­mand­ing, th­ese Sen­a­tors have to be in both Houses, which is prac­ti­cally dif­fi­cult and log­i­cally in­ept.

When a Min­is­ter is said to be at par­lia­ment for any busi­ness other than ques­tion an­swer­ing, there are more chances that he or she will be in the Na­tional As­sem­bly than in the Se­nate ei­ther sup­port­ing col­leagues mov­ing Bills or at­tend­ing par­lia­men­tary de­bate to hear con­cerns and is­sues raised by the Mem­bers about their Min­istries.

The ten­dency is to at­tend the Na­tional As­sem­bly due to the pri­macy of the House in the key func­tions of the House.

Fol­lowed to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion, it would be re­alised that of 11 an­tic­i­pated ad­di­tional to the 22 prin­ci­pal chiefs, only four will have po­ten­tial to play the role that con­sti­tu­tion ex­pects from the Sen­a­tors.

In fact, the House will be seven short of the con­sti­tu­tion­ally in­tended num­ber and in­her­ent in­put. On the one hand this means that peo­ple nom­i­nated are a cabi­net ma­te­rial which at that level may be a pos­i­tive but not for the di­rect in­ten­tion of the House.

On the other, it may be seen as prob­lem­atic any­way so long as it amends the in­tended ap­pli­ca­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion. But is there a bad po­lit­i­cal in­ten­tion? While politi­cians may be bet­ter po­si­tioned to re­spond, the usual en­gage­ment of is­sues from a dis­tance can still be ap­plied on this one as well.

Politi­cians are clearly com­mu­ni­cat­ing a mes­sage that elec­tions mech­a­nism is not ad­e­quate to suf­fi­ciently pro­duce cabi­net ma­te­rial.

Some cabi­net ma­te­rial politi­cians may not be able to win ei­ther pri­mary or ac­tual elec­tions but since Sec­tion 87(4) of the con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides that one can only be a Min­is­ter if he or she is a par­lia­men­tar­ian, politi­cians find Se­nate as a soft way through which to make peo­ple par­lia­men­tar­i­ans for them to be Min­is­ters.

There is no doubt that par­lia­ment can­not house all the wis­dom that this na­tion has for cabi­net ma­te­rial. But why should ac­cess­ing such wis­dom at least through the po­lit­i­cal lens be achieved at the ex­pense of Se­nate?

The re­al­ity is that with­out full at­ten­tion of the seven Sen­a­tors, the 22 Prin­ci­pal Chiefs will not be able to ef­fec­tively do the work that Ba­sotho through the con­sti­tu­tion ex­pect of them. Why does Coun­cil of State not stop politi­cians from do­ing this? Is it not the pur­pose of the Coun­cil to ad­vise the King in a man­ner that power is well used?

Per­haps the next log­i­cal ques­tion could be, how can the bal­ance be­tween con­ser­va­tion of Se­nate role and ac­cess­ing cabi­net ma­te­rial be­yond par­lia­ment be achieved with­out un­der­min­ing the spirit of con­sti­tu­tion?

Politi­cians should re­move Sec­tion 87(4) from the con­sti­tu­tion so that any Mosotho who in the view of Prime Min­is­ter is a cabi­net ma­te­rial can be ac­cessed with­out hav­ing to go through par­lia­ment.

Per­haps it would be nec­es­sary for Ba­sotho to re­flect deeply on why MPs should be Min­is­ters in the first place. It is taught and preached that par­lia­ment plays an over­sight role over ex­ec­u­tive.

How does an MP who be­comes a min­is­ter ful­fil this role? While this sub­ject is for the deeper and wider de­bate to come in this and sis­ter col­umn in the sis­ter news­pa­per, it is bet­ter for those who hold power in this era, not only to ac­cu­rately read the chang­ing po­lit­i­cal at­ti­tude of the po­lit­i­cal so­ci­ety they lead but also ad­just theirs and adapt.

Why should ap­point­ments to the Se­nate cause dis­con­tent within po­lit­i­cal par­ties? Is it not be­cause it has been turned into an ex­ten­sion of a domain for rul­ing party or par­ties in par­lia­ment and con­se­quen­tially in cabi­net?

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