Don’t elect missing persons

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THE most successful MPs have been erroneously feted by many as those who distribute mealie-meal, computers and equipment in their constituencies.

No Holds Barred with Dumisani Nkomo

Newspapers have also joined in the band wagon measuring the effectiveness of legislators by the amount of humanitarian work that they do.

This has been accentuated by some MPs who when asked what they will do in their next term, have outlined plans to start relief projects and to dole out this food item or the other.

The economic crisis of the past 10 years has clouded and distorted the core function of MPs who by law and right should be primarily law makers and not project co-ordinators.

The fact that many MPs are going around donating ambulances, computers, kapenta fish and textbooks is indicative of the collapse of State institutions which are supposed to ensure that citizens have basic goods and services available to them.

Parliament which consists of the House of Assembly and Senate exists for three fundamental reasons which are enshrined in the Constitution namely:

To uphold and defend the constitution
To initiate, debate, scrutinise, consider or reject laws
To bring the Executive arm of the government to account
It is the Executive arm of government consisting of the President and

Cabinet which is supposed to ensure that schools, clinics and communities have adequate resources.

Parliament through parliamentarians is supposed to put in place laws and policies for the good governance of the country and it is assumed with good governance comes effective service delivery, allocation of resources and adequate social safety nets for vulnerable communities.

In a normal country, with a normal economy, normal MPs and a normal functional governance system and normal social security mechanisms, MPs do not have to use money from their pockets to develop constituencies as this is not their primary purpose and function.

However, the collapse of the economy and with it the collapse of service delivery to pre-1960 levels has forced some MPs to become mini relief agencies at the expense of crafting legislation for the good governance of the country.

Surely in a normal country with a normal health delivery system an MP does not have to use his or her resources to mobilise free medical services for a community since this would already be in place through a health delivery system, which meets the demands of the citizenry.

In our context, however, and in other contexts in Africa it is permissible and beneficial to engage in development projects as an MP even though this is not the primary function of legislators.

It is therefore tragic when one reads some State-controlled publications, which focus on the number of projects that an MP has done and not how they have contributed to the formulation of laws and policies for the good governance of the country.

This would then translate to investment, growth, greater economic opportunities and activities hopefully accompanied by sufficient state revenue to provide capital for community and infrastructural development.

Even non-governmental organisations are there to complement the development projects of government in as far as developmental projects are concerned especially infrastructural development.

The government, however, may be unable or unwilling or unable and unwilling to initiate such development projects resulting in individuals and organisations initiating such projects.

Currently the government is largely willing, but largely unable to engage in such massive development or social development projects, thus necessitating the interventions from opportunistic or enterprising MPs.

This has been worsened by the introduction of the Constituency Development Fund which has been used and abused in some cases by MPs.

I note though that the fund also exists in other countries such as Kenya.

However, if a country has an effective local, provincial and central governance framework with clearly defined revenue and development strategy through existing structures, agencies and organs there would be no need for such a fund as basic services would be delivered through those relevant organs and not members of parliament.

MPs are supposed to be then exercising an oversight role in the allocation of public funds, state resources, efficacy of governance or economic delivery systems and social security nets.

In the absence of such a system MPs and aspiring MPs will continue majoring on what should be a minor for them.

Legislators should focus on law making and citizens should be able to track the contribution of their representatives through parliamentary debates aired live on television and radio as once suggested by David Coltart.

Gone are the days of the legendary Sydney Malunga, Lazarus Nzarayebani, Micah Bhebhe, Ruth Chinamano, Byron Hove, Steven Jeqe Nkomo who gave Cabinet ministers a torrid time in their hey days in the early ’80s.

We need more such MPs who are able to articulate the need and concerns of constituents linking this with legislative, policy-making processes.

A robust Parliament should keep the executive in check and not be obsessed with allowances. This is part of the problem of electing unemployed and unemployable legislators in the words of David Lloyd George “accidentally chosen from the ranks of the unemployed”.

We are also tired of sleeping MPs some of whom waffle in their sleep as well as missing persons masquerading as MPs who vanish for five years and reappear during election time. They should be given the boot.

Dumisani Nkomo is an activist and opinion leader