Gauging the transformation of Tanzania’s parliament

Wednesday May 13 2020

 

By Abdullah Mwinyi

I have been a keen observer of the evolution of the role and function of Parliament in Tanzania since the advent of multi-party democracy and without doubt, it was most effective in the ninth Parliament under the speakership of the late Samuel Sitta.
 Under Sitta’s leadership Parliament was vibrant, competitive, was live on public television, and galvanized the entire nation by demystifying the process of account-ability.
Every Tanzanian could see how their government is being held accountable whilst seated in their living room. We saw a sitting Prime Minister resign due to serious allegations centred on procurement of emergency power.
 In spite of CCM’s dominance in terms of the number of representatives in the House the opposition was afforded ample opportunity to contribute and it did so effectively.
 Our system of government is predicated on the principle of ‘separation of powers’.
This principle was first articulated by a French philosopher, Montesquieu in his great work De L’Esprit des Loix (On the spirit of the laws) published in 1748.
It speaks on the primacy of ‘accountability of, and the relationship between, the three branches of government’, and stressed the independence of those bodies: the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.
That said, power is difficult to separate completely. To this end, major reform was instituted starting from the Eighth Parliament but was completed and consolidated in the Ninth Parliament.
What is meant by independence as far as a parliament is concerned is “financial and administrative autonomy”.
That is the ability to use its funds once appropriated under the budget without external direction and the ability to recruit, discipline, train and set an organisational structure without external interference.
In Tanzania, this to a great extent has been achieved. The exception is the principal accounting officer of Parliament, the Clerk.
The Parliamentary Service Commission selects three candidates for the role, these names are sent to the President of the United Republic to pick one of those, thereafter the selected individual gets endorsed by the Parliament.
A compromise reached to satisfy both the Legislature and the Executive. Further, key institutions of accountability were established and were empowered to execute their functions.
Scrutiny bodies were strengthened or established to make the work of Parliament much more efficient.

Public Accounts Commit-tee was strengthened and was led by strong opposition members, the office of Controller and Auditor General was strengthened, Human Rights Commission, Ombudsman, Anti-corruption Commissions were all strengthened to enable Parliament effectively oversee government.

 As a result, many government scandals were unearthed. The question that comes to mind is, was government corruption more endemic then or were the institutions of over-sight more effective?
Fast-forward ten years, and the landscape is completely different. There have been many changes, few legislative but mostly administrative that have made the institution of Parliament less effective.
The very first change was the removal of live Bunge coverage, occasioned by the high cost of broadcasting as well as government policy.
Next was selection of members of Parliament into their preferred committees and those oversight committees chaired by the opposition.
If I were to ask today even well informed Tanzanians who is the current chair of the Public Accounts Committee, very few would know.
Prior to this Parliament, everyone would have named Zitto Kabwe, who transformed himself into a national leader due to his effectiveness in that role 10 years ago. The process of selection is the discretion of the Speaker.
 Normally, the Speaker would consult the leadership of the opposition in the Assembly, take into account the preference of members, seniority, experience and demonstrated ability into consideration before making a decision on which member sits where.
This process has to be embarked upon in good faith and with the view of creating an effective organ of state.
Unfortunately based on what we have seen in the last five years, the selection of chairs of committees and members have been hugely detrimental to the output of the Assembly.
Furthermore, the in-fighting between the Speaker and the Con-troller and Auditor General for what outwardly appeared to be a matter that could be easily resolved behind closed doors greatly weak-ened the Parliament’s oversight duties and its image.
 We are used to the opposition having major issues with the leadership of the Assem-bly, but rarely has there been open infighting we are seeing currently between members of the same par-ty. The public squabble between the Speaker Hon Ndugai and Hon Masele of the Pan-African Parlia-ment comes to mind.
 As Parliament is a rules-based body, and the role of the Speaker as an arbiter, it is imperative that the Speaker exer-cises his powers fairly, judiciously and in accordance to the laid down procedures and rules.
 The incum-bent’s recent decisions and utter-ances have been baffling, to say the least.
What is clear is the effectiveness of Parliament rests greatly on the abil-ity and personality of its leader, the Speaker.
 As the key oversight body of the executive, it is not unusual for friction to occur between the two organs. As the late Samuel Sitta found out, despite being the most effective Speaker of the House in the history of our country  or may be because of it he was not re-elected.

 Abdullah Mwinyi is an experienced corporate lawyer. He was also a member of the East African Legislative Assembly for 10 years