- “If there’s a real commitment to having a robust and effective shadow cabinet, which can be expected to give a workable feedback, then enough resources would have been allocation to enable it to function in consonance with its responsibilities,” the Malindi MP (CUF) and shadow minister of State in the Vice-President’s Office (Union Affairs and Environment), Mr Ally Saleh.
Dar es Salaam. Given the pivotal role of the political opposition in any parliament as the ‘watchdog of the watchdogs’, shadow ministers and analysts in Tanzania are agreed that it is important for the country’s development partners and the government to consider rendering some support, specifically earmarked for the shadow cabinet to make sure it carries out its functions smoothly – and make an impact.
“If there’s a real commitment to having a robust and effective shadow cabinet, which can be expected to give a workable feedback, then enough resources would have been allocation to enable it to function in consonance with its responsibilities,” the Malindi MP (CUF) and shadow minister of State in the Vice-President’s Office (Union Affairs and Environment), Mr Ally Saleh.
A shadow cabinet is a team of senior spokespeople chosen by the Leader of the Opposition to mirror the cabinet in Government. As an important feature of the Westminster system of government – which the Tanzanian parliament follows – the shadow cabinet’s key responsibility is to criticise the policies and actions of the government of the day, as well to offer an alternative governance program. Each member of a shadow cabinet is appointed to lead in a specific policy area for the opposition party, and to question and challenge their counterparts in the cabinet. In this way, the official opposition seeks to present itself as an ‘alternative government-in-waiting.’
Section 15 (2) of the Standing Orders of the Union National Assembly is where the shadow cabinet draws its mandate. The section outlines in so many words that the leader of the opposition in the parliament will appoint members from his/her party, or from the official opposition camp in the House who will be chief spokespersons of the opposition camp regarding the relevant government ministries.
Yet, despite this recognition, the Standing Orders do not assign any privileges to shadow ministers; nor do they state specifically what will be the roles of the shadows ministers so appointed.
It’s this incoherence, and others like that – which experts in the ‘Bunge’ business have identified to be worked on so that the current state of affairs (whereby we have a shadow cabinet whose contribution is very minimal and less impactful) – that needs to change.
Bunda-Urban MP Esther Bulaya is the shadow minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (Policy, Parliament, Work, Youth, Employment and Disabled). Speaking during an interview with the Political Platform, Bulaya said that – despite the existing challenges – they always strive to look for a space to fit in while crying of being deprived of sufficient funding.
“I’m talking about subsidies like allowances that would enable us to carry out even simple researches in keeping with our roles as ‘watchdogs’ of the government,” she elaborated.
She lamented that the low status to which they have been assigned in the National Assembly, as well as being ignored, do not constitute the excuses of abating their designated roles – and stop serving the best interests of the country!
“As my title requires, I always make sure that the Standing Orders – and other policy issues related to the ministry that I monitor – are adhered to and properly implemented… I well understand that this comes with consequences including being expulsed from the august House proceedings,” she said.
She says it’s not true that shadow ministers derail the government’s development drive – as the government seems to perceive them. Shadow ministers just do what is expected of them: to critique government policies and present alternatives.
If this sounds unacceptable, she argues, then the government should not have adopted the Westminster model of Parliament in the first place.
Ms Bulaya seems irritated by the Parliament editing their speeches intended for the National Assembly. This denies the public the opportunity to hear both sides of an argument.
Malindi MP Ally Saleh has identified the structural weaknesses where shadow cabinet appointments sometimes clash with the Steering Committees memberships. This is among the several factors that impede diligent performance of the roles of shadow ministers.
Working space is another issue. Drawing examples from other Commonwealth parliaments – for example, the UK parliament – where, apart from having the office of the Leader of Opposition, members of the shadow cabinet are accommodated, being provided with working space of their own. This enables them to function smoothly.
“On the list is also the apparent lack of an express will of the government to work in close co-operation with the shadow cabinet,” Ally Saleh says.
“I personally don’t feel specially privileged to be a shadow minister. Having that title doesn’t make any difference to me – and you know how psychological impediments affect the roles that I ideally am supposed to perform,” he states.
He thinks that the concept of shadow cabinet functions cannot materially pay in a country like Tanzania – largely because not only is the government unable, unwilling or unready to fund shadow cabinet activities… It also fails to take for implementation even a one per cent of the recommendations put forward by the Opposition.
“In reality, the shadow cabinet system just exists in theory, not in practice on the ground,” the opposition MP from Zanzibar philosophizes.
Perhaps most surprising is that these complaints by some shadow ministers are not known to the Bunge administration, as not a single shadow minister has filed even a single complaint with the Bunge administrative offices!
Commenting on the matter, the recently-installed Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr Stephen Kigaigai, said “we are certain that they (shadow ministers) are satisfied with the way they run their business – as I have never heard of such complaints; neither as an individual, nor as the office holder!”
Explaining that the shadow cabinet system is in place in terms of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, with the object of giving space to the political opposition in parliamentary democracy, the clerk to the National Assembly nonetheless stated that “the truth is that the National Assembly cannot intervene in its day-to-day activities – and, for it to function properly, it all depends on the co-ordination of the political opposition themselves.
“In reality, there’s not a fund that is especially designated by the National Assembly or the government to finance shadow cabinet activities. What we have is facilitation by the Parliament Secretariat across a number of activities like report-writing and compilation, stationaries and researches,” Mr Kigaigai stated – adding that the financing is done within the budget of the National Assembly, but not as a specific budget for the political opposition as such.
A 2010 report by the Norway-based Christian Michelsen (Research) Institute (CMI) titled ‘Support for Parliaments: Tanzania and Beyond’ identified that “the best way that the (political) opposition can be helped is by rendering support – financial and/or technical support – to the Leader of the Opposition, and to the Shadow Government.”
Based on a study commissioned by the Embassy of Sweden in Tanzania, and carried out by Inge Amundsen, the reported further stated that the foregoing “can be done by, for instance, the same mechanism as in Uganda – a Shadow Cabinet Research Fund – or as direct support to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow government… Although it will have to be formally approved by the Speaker’s Office; but it should be possible.”
While the CMI report calls for support of such political opposition activities, it also identifies two challenges that it considers particularly important when considering support for the Union Parliament.
One is the increasing dominance of the ruling party (CCM). This definitively calls for support for the political opposition in Tanzania.
The second is that Tanzania may become an oil exporter soon – and that corruption pressures will intensify. This calls for specific measures to prevent the ‘oil (resource) curse’ in particular, as well as good parliamentary budget processes, and strong oversight and control mechanisms.
Despite being convinced by the works done by the shadow cabinet in Tanzania, a political science lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, Mr Richard Mbunda, says there is a tendency of ignoring the contributions and opinions from their government counterparts – something that he wishes to see it stopped.
Protesting that “views from the shadow cabinet are in most cases assigned low weight – and are not taken seriously – Mr Mbunda warned that “this does not augur well for ordinary citizens. If a shadow minister makes a suggestion on the best approach that could help peasant farmers in the village, and their government counterpart ignores it, the effects flow down to the same village peasants – and the their problems are exacerbated.”
According to him, the shadow cabinet concept in Tanzania exists just as a mere symbol – and that it will take some time for it to take solid shape and function in consonance with its ideal responsibilities.
For that to happen, Mr Mbunda offers a simple suggestion.
“There should be dedicated and continuous efforts designed to correct the current legal and procedural weaknesses that seriously impede a strong functioning Shadow Cabinet in the country, period!”