Absenteeism of lawmakers in House comes in many colours

Sunday November 4 2018

CCM’s secretary general Dr Bashiru Ally

CCM’s secretary general Dr Bashiru Ally 

By Erick Mwakibete

Of recent, CCM’s secretary general Dr Bashiru Ally has been waging a campaign against absentee MPs, those who do not attend parliamentary sessions in Dodoma without good reasons or those whose attendance is infrequent. That they are not seen in Dodoma, and cannot be found in their constituencies.

To show how grave a matter this is, at one public rally he talked of a CCM MP whom, he said he had not seen him in his constituency or in Dodoma and had no idea where that MP had disappeared to. At one point, he was quoted as saying that the ruling party would write warning letters to its absentee MPs.

This is nothing new.

Back in 2015, it was reported that only fifteen MPs had permissions for their absences, and during one session, up to a dizzying 250 MPs were not in the chamber for discussions. And media reports showed that at another session only 29 MPs were in the chamber during another important session about a bill dealing with weapons and bullets.

That some MPs might be around but not in the chamber of the august House for discussions.

During the constituent assembly meetings in Dodoma, its members contemplated on better ways to deal with absentee members with the most severe punishment put forward being to cut their sitting allowances.

In many ways this is a measure that does not go anywhere far enough. After all, our MPs are wealthy individuals. This country’s taxpayers pay them very well.

And certainly, we are not the only country in the region.

There are many reports of absentee MPs from the august House or from committee meetings from Kenya to Uganda.

Parliament as an institution and an idea is based on the concept of democratic representation, that is, those eligible to cast their votes to elect people who will represent whatever it is that they (voters) think are matters dear to them from healthcare, education to infrastructures.

It goes without saying, when an MP is absent without any good reason in parliament or in their constituencies, then there is no representation of those who elected them in the first place. Our MPs are famous for visiting their constituencies when they are accompanying visiting national leaders or when they hear of individuals interested in replacing them at the next round of elections making their rounds in constituencies they claim to be “theirs”.

However, this absenteeism can manifest itself in other ways as well.

Think of an MP who rarely speaks in the august House, and equally makes few (or none at all) written contributions. And during those few times such MP makes her contributions, much of what is said might not be what her voters wanted to hear from their representative in Dodoma.

Or consider an MP who is vocal about matters of national interests but is rarely heard mentioning matters relevant to her voters. While it is all well and good for MPs to speak about a range of issues concerning this country, but addressing the issues which sent them to Dodoma in the first place should be their first priority.

And of course, there is the role of the political party to which a particular member of parliament belongs to. This has resulted in MPs passing/rejecting proposed financial budgets based on party directives. Even after a long list of complaints about the proposed budget, an MP goes on to vote in favour of that very same budget. Even after praising key aspects of a proposed budget an MP goes on to vote against that budget.

The interests of their political parties masked as the country’s interests come first. So, even if the MP is present in Dodoma, and attends her committee meetings well, and is regularly seen in the constituency she represents, her voice is synchronised to that of her party.

For a diverse collection of individuals like MPs, and coming from different political parties and with very diverse and at times conflicting interests, no issue unites them like a pay rise. That too, regardless of their performance in office.

After all, politics is rarely about service in Africa.

Absenteeism comes in many colours.