Can you protect the senate?
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?