A Par­lia­ment of stale­mates

Sunday Observer - - FEATURES - BY MBONGENI MBINGO

....Let us be hon­est, it is crunch time in Par­lia­ment, and the stakes, as I pointed out last week, are way too high. And, given the way that things are go­ing on—and Cabi­net not be­ing saints—there will be an­other in­ci­dent for which there will be a mo­tion to kick a min­is­ter, if not the en­tire Cabi­net, out of Par­lia­ment un­til what­ever de­ci­sion has been im­ple­mented. When will this be, next week be­fore the house ad­journs for the pe­riod of Incwala, or next year when it gets un­der­way?

In a cou­ple of weeks or so, Par­lia­ment will take a break— for a few months, un­til the Incwala pe­riod is over. This means that Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment will be on an ex­tended leave, and will hope­fully go back to their con­stituen­cies to fo­cus on the job at hand.

At most, this job at hand is plot­ting their come­back in next year’s na­tional elec­tions, and how that will be won. They will be hold­ing sev­eral cam­paign ac­tiv­i­ties, even if this is not yet the time. They will go around their tin­khundla mak­ing friends, if not buy­ing them. They will spend the fes­tive sea­son throw­ing cel­e­bra­tions that can only be aimed at woo­ing over the elec­torate, and stag­ing some sort of soc­cer ac­tiv­i­ties de­signed to bring peo­ple to their side. In short, the elec­torate will be go­ing on a charm of­fen­sive, of­ten spend­ing money they do not have.

That is sig­nif­i­cant, for it shows us how lu­cra­tive a par­lia­men­tary seat is, and that it has ob­vi­ously be­come com­mer­cialised. The ide­al­ist in us will tell you that peo­ple with a burn­ing am­bi­tion for pol­i­tics should do so be­cause they are self­less, and want to serve the pub­lic. Peo­ple in pol­i­tics, or who want to be in pol­i­tics, should do so be­cause they want to ef­fect the change that the peo­ple will want. It should never be about money.

But, even for a small coun­try like ours, pol­i­tics have be­come a dan­ger­ous game, where those in power now want to stay longer, and will do any­thing to do so.

This is the nar­ra­tive for our politi­cians—the MPs who have spent the ma­jor­ity of this year be­ing at log­ger­heads with gov­ern­ment— their coun­ter­parts at Hospi­tal Hill, who they look at with envy. They have squared up for mean­ing­less things and some­thing for the right rea­sons.

Of course it is ex­pected that they square up, but only if it is to the ben­e­fit of the pub­lic—not for their own ben­e­fit; not to show off; not for ego; not to co­erce the pub­lic into think­ing they mean any­thing with it. More im­por­tantly, not be­cause they are en­vi­ous of the front bench.

But, this sense that MPs are only in­ter­ested in them­selves more than the peo­ple re­fuses to leave one’s mind—even when the MPs speak till they froth for the peo­ple we of­ten re­fer to as bo­gogo. It is with­out ques­tion that we should back the leg­is­la­ture on an is­sue that in­volves the pay­ing of so­cial grants for the el­derly. How­ever, I per­son­ally have a prob­lem with how this has come out. As I wrote last week, I have a prob­lem with how MPs just want to shout or­ders for Cabi­net to go and find the money as if the money is tucked some­where. I ex­pect that Par­lia­ment ap­pre­ci­ates our eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion, or fis­cal prob­lem. I ex­pect that they share as much the con­cern of where the money will come from. I there­fore want to be­lieve that they can’t keep say­ing spend here, spend there, with­out ask­ing the ques­tion of how the money can be made avail­able.

I ba­si­cally ex­pect bet­ter from them, even if it is ex­pected that they will jump at the first op­por­tu­nity to cam­paign for re-elec­tion by pre­tend­ing to care about the peo­ple who have noth­ing and now de­pend on gov­ern­ment for hand­out.So, to me, it makes sense that we re­flect on our sit­u­a­tion with ma­tu­rity, hence Ia min to­tal dis­agree­ment with MP Jo­hane Shongwe’s be­hav­iour a fort­night ago. In this re­gard, I am forced to agree with the stance the Prime Min­is­ter took to put his foot down and de­mand that this sit­u­a­tion be han­dled by the Speaker of the House of Assem­bly. For me, this was way out of line, and MPs are be­gin­ning to take things too far.

I have no prob­lem with the grand­stand­ing to be hon­est. I ac­cept that where we are, this is to be ex­pected. But per­haps, that is the be­gin­ning of the end too. I thought, as a re­sult of the po­si­tion Cabi­net took this week to say that Cabi­net would no longer be go­ing to Par­lia­ment un­less, and un­til Par­lia­ment had dealt with MP Jo­hane, this was the point at which we need to cut our losses.

They have been at it for far too long now it is be­com­ing not just both­er­some, but an ex­pen­sive ar­ro­gance of power. We can’t carry this strain as a coun­try and some­thing needs to be done. Per­haps there is a point to be made as a re­sult of this lat­est stand­off. Fair enough, they have re­solved the is­sue, and ap­par­ently the MP has apol­o­gised for his con­duct. But, what next—and who is to say there won’t be a re­peat, if not a sim­i­lar stunt?

Let us be hon­est, it is crunch time in Par­lia­ment, and the stakes, as I pointed out last week, are way too high. And, given the way that things are go­ing on—and Cabi­net not be­ing saints—there will be an­other in­ci­dent for which there will be a mo­tion to kick a min­is­ter, if not the en­tire Cabi­net, out of Par­lia­ment un­til what­ever de­ci­sion has been im­ple­mented. When will this be, next week be­fore the house ad­journs for the pe­riod of Incwala, or next year when it gets un­der­way?

While we do not have the date, we can bank on it hap­pen­ing again; not while we still have Phila Buthelezi, Sikhum­buzo Dlamini, and Jo­hane Shongwe. Not while ev­ery­one thinks that peo­ple vote on the ba­sis that one must scream loud­est in Par­lia­ment, or be seen to be un­apolo­getic to the prime min­is­ter and def­i­nitely Cabi­net! Not while peo­ple want to puff their chests nje!

So, if that is the sit­u­a­tion, then what gives? In fact, I was shocked to read that MPs sab­o­taged the spe­cial sit­ting on Fri­day, by ad­journ­ing for a break so that some of them would not re­turn for the sit­ting af­ter the break. This meant that the House did not form a quo­rum, and the busi­ness of the day was sus­pended. That is the kind of self­ish­ness we are deal­ing with here. That is the level of ma­tu­rity we have in our politi­cians—that they must boy­cott a sit­ting more than they have to en­dure it so that things are de­lib­er­ated to their con­clu­sion.

I mean, quite hon­estly, isn’t that just a lit­tle child­ish? But who are we? So long as we the elec­torate are forced to pay for their sit­ting al­lowances, and in this case de­spite that they did not fin­ish the work! Fraud—that’s what they are!

But, let me not get emo­tional. The point is that, based on this con­stant bick­er­ing and de­fraud­ing of the peo­ple through the pre­tence that any­one cares, or that they can bark in­struc­tions and things will hap­pen, even when we know they are just ly­ing to them­selves, isn’t it time we re­con­sider our op­tions?

Per­haps the point can now be ar­gued that par­lia­men­tar­i­ans are an ex­pense— ngci. Per­haps ac­tu­ally, we can reach the con­clu­sion that there is no value in their sit­tings in the next few months un­til the house is dis­banded. In which case, wouldn’t it save us money— and we could use this to pay the same el­derly grants— t o have Par­lia­ment dis­banded in Novem­ber to al­low for them to pre­pare for the elec­tions?

Let’s face it, what will we gain from them in the com­ing three months? In fact, un­til Au­gust or Septem­ber next year?

When MPs re­turn from the break, they will be pre­par­ing for the of­fi­cial open­ing of the par­lia­ment busi­ness. Then they will de­bate the bud­get, which is an open se­cret they have noth­ing to do with, by the way. Then they will go into the PAC where MP Thuli Dladla takes charge. Then there will be more bick­er­ing and squab­bling over this, that or the other. They will sus­pend one min­is­ter or the other.

In the pe­riod, they will pass one or two Bills, nakhona with some sort of ca­jol­ing and in­struc­tion. And then Par­lia­ment will be dis­banded.

Gosh, what an ex­pen­sive mis­take! And yet, here they are, tear­ing into pieces min­is­te­rial state­ments! aba­hambe! Clearly, if the Prime Min­is­ter can be pre­pared to work with­out Par­lia­ment in­volve­ment then it means it is pos­si­ble. And don’t start telling me about the il­le­gal­ity or not of this, the point is, we are al­ready not get­ting our money’s worth.

And tell me what im­por­tant Bill Par­lia­ment has seen through with­out any out­side in­ter­ven­tion— not even the Sex­ual Of­fences Bill!

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