‘Fear’ of debates stops live coverage of Bunge

Tuesday February 02 2016
PIC DEBATE

The debate chamber was temporarily turned into a theatre room recently, where action-packed movies, this time of the war of words pitting the two rival political outfits, were witnessed.

Dar es Salaam. A cold war for political legitimacy between the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and Coalition of the Defenders of the People’s Constitution, popularly known as Ukawa in its Kiswahili acronym, has now been transffered to Parliament.

The debate chamber was temporarily turned into a theatre room recently, where action-packed movies, this time of the war of words pitting the two rival political outfits, were witnessed.

Some observers predicted during last year’s hotly-contested General Election that Parliament would come with major changes, while others cautioned that the House would be weak.

Chaos erupted seven days ago in Bunge after the minister for Information, Culture, Arts, and Sports, Mr Nape Nnauye, announced that the state-owned Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) would stop live coverage of House debates, save for a question-answer morning session.

Mr Nnauye’s explanation that TBC would instead record the debates and air them during a special programmes at around 10pm sparked an instant backlash.

National Assembly management had to call in anti-riot police officers to restore order to the august House.

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Opposition MPs, including the ACT-Wazalendo’s Zitto Kabwe, strongly protested  the announcement, leading the House session to be adjourned.

This is the second time the government has attempted to stop live coverage of Parliament debates. The government unsuccessfully proposed in 2014 that the live coverage of the debates should be banned.

Political analysts say the government’s successful attempt to stop live coverage of the Bunge debates this time is the Executive’s plan to suppress the  Opposition and to protect the President in the august House. Prof Mohammed Bakari of the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) Department of Political Science and Administration says running costs of live coverage was a smokescreen designed to hoodwink Tanzanians.

Prof Bakari says he saw the plot to weaken Parliament ever since the government succeeded to implant leaders it wanted in Standing Committees.

Behind the government’s plot, he says, is fear of the unknown phobia – xenophobia or irrational  sensation of fear about the Opposition in the House.

“It’s just inferiority complex, for those in power see this Parliament to be too strong to control as a result of the increased number of the youth who are competent enough to defend their motions,” he says.

Prof Bakari says neither CCM nor Ukwaw will benefit from the ongoing cold war in the House, but Tanzanians would be the losers, as they would continue to be oppressed.

Stopping live coverage of debates in Parliament explains the government’s fear to respond to motions to be tabled by the Opposition in the House,he says.

Prof Bakari says the credibility and respect Parliament earned from revealing scandals and taking the Executive to account in the past will this time not only be watered down, but also inhibit President’s John Magufuli’s pace.

“The UK and European parliaments’ debates are broadcast live despite having strong oppositions, why not under the Magufuli Administration,” queried Prof Bakari, concluding:

“The intention of the move is to suppress press freedom and weaken Parliament, for live coverage of the Bunge debates would assist President Magufuli as was the case with his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete.”

Cheap popularity

Dr Alexander Makulilo also from the UDSM Department of Political Science and Administration accuses individual lawmakers of lowering the Bunge credibility by using the House for seeking popularity.

He cites findings of a study conducted by Twaweza indicating CCM MPs leading in contributions in the House although their inputs left a lot to be desired.

“Bunge was laden with ridicule and fun at the expense of some important arguments. This could be the reason behind the government stopping live coverage of the debates by the TBC,” he says.

He, however, was curious to know the difference between the cost of broadcasting the Bunge debates live and recorded, if not edited, programmes.

Parliament is not only meant for an individual lawmaker’s popularity, but also for his voters to recognise his input in the House. A human rights activist from Tanzania Gender Network Programme Gemma Akilimali says the credibility of Parliament was reduced due to lack of political maturity, as the minority were denied the right of being heard.

“The decision to stop live coverage of the Bunge debates is partly compounded by insults and chaos regularly rocking the House,” she says. Ms Akilimali adds that the plot requiring TBC to air edited programmes will not only be a lasting solution, but was also unacceptable, stressing that disciplined in the House could only be reinforced by improving and fairly enforcing Standing Orders.

Mr Richard Mbunda also a lecturer from UDSM says empirical evidence indicated live broadcast of parliament debates worldwide reduced credibility of the executive arms of government and ruling parties.

“President John Magufuli’s first impression though is positive, it can be adversely affected by the on going debates in Parliament,” he says, adding: “Unfortunately, even leaders of the House seem to be paying back favours.