The art of lobbying

According to Wikipedia, lobbying or to lobby is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in government, parliamentarians or members of regulatory agencies. Groups or individuals can do lobbying.

It may be the private sector, corporations and advocacy groups. Lobbyists can be professional, that is attempting to influence opinion leaders on behalf of others. Marketers are another good example of lobbyists. This can be done by way of introducing a new product or rejuvenating an agency product.

In a multi-party parliament, legislators from different parties can lobby each other when faced with an item that needs majority support to sail through.

Issues of ethics and morality come to the fore. Where does one draw a line between lobbying disinterestedly and bribing one’s way to his/her desired goal? Are people being lobbied to support a selfish agenda? Is the law being corrupted for purposes of serving the lobbyist’s own conflicted interest. The other side of the coin would be lobbying in order to champion others’ interests. Minority or ethnic interest are also trodden under foot. True lobbyists should be forerunners in standing in the face of tyranny by the majority.

Oppressive states usually have a bad record on lobbying. Voters are not consulted or persuaded to see things from the country’s view. A good example is the current wrangle over the proposed installation of prepaid water meters. Proponents for the installation of such meters argue that the project will see reduced water consumption, as consumers will use water sparingly. On the other hand, protagonists view water as a human right, which must be accessible to everyone. Another dimension is that of health considerations.

Inadequate household water leads to poor hygienic conditions, resulting in disease outbreak.

Instead of trying to understand the protagonist’s view or persuading them, the most likely option will be rail-roading the installation of prepaid water meters with stakeholder appreciation. The cost of maintaining the said meters will be high, as residents may resort to wilfully damaging, stealing or bypassing the meters.

There is need for government to define and regulate lobbying groups in order to prevent political corruption, as well as establishing transparency.

In developed countries, lobbying has developed into a profession. Legal devices like amicus curiate, meaning “friend of the court” have been developed. These are write ups or submissions that are prepared by parties to the case as a means of influencing the outcome of the case. On the other hand, the amunes civial are briefs filed by people who are not parties to the suit. The purpose is still to try and influence the judge.

History is awash with enactment of laws that emerged from protracted resistance to a law that was perceived as bad. One of the benchmarks of identifying a bad law is the frequency with which its provisions are breached.

Most countries got independence after drawn out wars or revolutions. Workers around the world had to form trade unions to fight for their rights. Hence, the clarion call — an injury to one is an injury to all — and this unified is only possible when workers unite and become collective.

The lobbyists must be guided by three principles, namely, tools for lobbying, important things about lobbying and the how part of it.

Lobbying is persuading an individual or group to support what the lobbyist believes to be right. Lobbying is directed at people with power and influence for example:

Byo water meter protest

l Parents may lobby the school authorities to be proactive in dealing with delinquency;

l Residents may lobby a local supermarket owner to consider hiring locals;

l Ratepayers may ask a local authority to build an additional body of water, a dam.

Voters may petition government to write off or assume hospital bills owed by the poor.

In lobbying, nothing must be left to chance. All that needs to be done preliminarily, must be done. The support base must be strong and influential. Effective methods like the support base, letters, submissions, meetings, phone calls, publicity and petitions have proved to be effective.

Nothing is too big or small to be lobbied for. However, the lobbyist needs to be guided by ethical and moral tenets in his/her endeavour to be the voice of the voiceless.

l Moses Tsimukeni Mahlangu writes in his own capacity and can be reached on zucwuhq@gmail.com for comments.

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