Speaker Tulia Ackson opens up in lengthy interview

Speaker of the National Assembly of Tanzania. Dr Tulia speaks in the Parliament. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Dr Ackson recounts the highs and lows of her tenure as Speaker of the National Assembly in an interesting conservation

Dar es Salaam. Speaker of the National Assembly Tulia Ackson stated yesterday that there is no loss to the public as a result of the decline in opposition representation in Parliament.

In a wide-ranging interview, Dr Ackson, who is also the Mbeya Urban Member of Parliament (MP), recalled that an urgent debate on higher education student loans held in Parliament in 2016 was one of the things that made the House hot for her.

The former deputy Attorney General (AG) was speaking at the Speaker’s residence in Dodoma, where she responded to different issues.

Speaking during a live televised interview, Dr Ackson said there is nothing important citizens are missing from the declining number of opposition legislators except the show-offs.

“The first day I assumed my role as Deputy Speaker, Parliament was hosting the President for the August House inauguration,” she narrated.

“Whenever there is such an occasion, the President becomes part of Parliament. Since the Head of State is accompanied by different leaders, regulations have to be revoked to accommodate the guests,” she added.

However, she said the packed opposition MPs planned to bar the then Zanzibar President, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein, from attending the event due to the adjournment of elections in Zanzibar until March 2016.

Dr Ackson said the president arrived in November, just a month after the adjournment of the Zanzibar elections.

However, the opposition had prepared Mr Tundu Lissu to challenge regulation changes that could allow Dr Shein to sit in Parliament. “Mr Lissu asked for Speaker guidance, citing one of the articles in the Zanzibar Constitution. He said Zanzibar had no president; why were regulations being revoked to Dr Shein in?” she said.

“They sat down amidst rounds of applause from the opposition camp. The house was full in the debating chamber, and the place was filled with guests. But I knew the opposition wanted to use the atmosphere to stage a walkout,” she added.

According to her, Mr Lissu used sub-article (b), leaving aside sub-article (a), which clearly states that the President of Zanzibar will cease his or her power after the swearing-in of the successor.

Dr Ackson said she questioned the person who had taken an oath to succeed Dr Shein, something that left most opposition MPs puzzled.

Therefore, Dr Ackson said she suspended parliamentary activities to allow the guests in, but opposition MPs remained inside the debating chamber.

“Usually, power transfers take place in the presence of the incumbent and the successor. The constitution cannot leave some vacuum in the process of power transfer,” she added.

“Therefore, citizens can miss such environments and moments. Where people with piles of documents appear in Parliament thinking things will be tense, “instead, there is nothing tense happening in the House.”

Regarding hot moments during her stewardship so far, Dr Ackson said there was a time in 2016 when the debate over higher education student loans was staged in Parliament under a state of urgency.

“As a leader, the issue caught me unaware and with surprise. However, answers had to be given to the opposition and CCM lawmakers who had united over the issue,” she said.

“MPs from both camps wanted the issue debated. Noises from different corners denied me the appropriate moment to make proper decisions. I was forced to suspend the session for two hours and convene a meeting of the leadership committee to separately debate on the matter,” she added, admitting that was the day she remembers having faced a hot moment in Parliament.

Though she defended the present system that makes the August House Speaker a member of a political party, Dr Ackson agreed that in future procedures it should be considered to recruit a neutral person for the position.