Friday, April 26, 2019

What to Make of the Weak Parliament?

What to make of Ndugai-led Parliament?

By Frank Khelef

When the former secretary of the National Assembly Dr Thomas Kashilillah announced in November 2015 that Mr Job Ndugai was going to be the seventh Speaker of the eleventh Parliament, a burst of applause from lawmakers and other guests in the house floor accompanied the announcement.

Mr Ndugai had garnered 254 votes out of a total 365 votes cast, beating his closest opponent Mr Goodluck Ole-Medeye then from the opposition Chadema by votes. Mr Ole-Medeye got 109 votes. Two votes were rejected.
 Mr Ndugai, the Kongwa MP (CCM) who had served as the deputy speaker in the previous Parliament, was very brief in his plea for votes. He had, after all, laid his own bed. A question by a special seat MP on whether Mr Ndugai would repeat his “authoritarianism” that he applied when serving as deputy speaker was curtly dismissed then.

And yet, Mr Ndugai was very calm and composed during his acceptance speech, saying that he understood the power entrusted to him. “I know the conditions of most Tanzanians. I know their needs. I know their expectations,” he said. “I know the position that this body holds in helping Tanzanians get rid of their present conditions. I know that we are supposed to be as a good advisor of the fifth phase government as its supervisor,” he stressed.
But four years into the position, how has Mr Ndugai fared on his office assumption pledges?
At the time of writing, Mr Ndugai is involved in an uncalled for wrangle with the Controller and Auditor General (CAG), Prof Mussa Assad, over the latter’s “weak Parliament” remarks. The statement brought Prof Assad before the Parliamentary Privileges, Ethics and Powers Committee whose findings saw the Parliament pass a resolution not to work with him indefinitely.

Mr Ndugai was angered that the CAG told a journalist during a UN conference in New York that the Parliament had failed to enforce the government’s accountability. His remarks were mainly on how the House has responded to the annual CAG recommendations. Mr Ndugai interpreted the CAG’s remarks as an assault on the integrity of the House that he leads. He has gone far and even demanded that Prof Assad resigns.
The unfolding situation raises a number of issues that brings to question not just Mr Ndugai’s capabilities as a Speaker, but also his integrity as a leader. While Prof Assad has explained that his remarks were ordinary accounting terminology, the Speaker remains insistence that the CAG acted in bad faith and brought the Parliament into disrepute. He dragged in the name of the President from whom he told the CAG to seek forgiveness.
When all is said and done, it appears that the CAG won the battle on the court of public onion, with netizens even signing an online petition against the Parliament’s resolution.
And the focus on Parliament could not have come at the worst time – the release of the 2017/18 CAG report, with findings appearing to bolster the stance by Prof Assad that the House has lagged behind in demanding accountability on the gaps identified in past reports.
In my assessment, Mr Ndugai’s weakness did not start to show with the CAG’s report. It started when the government banned live coverage of Parliament on account of time spent by the public to watch the debates by. MPs. Despite the uproar and stiff opposition from almost every corner of the country, the ban was endorsed under the watch of Mr Ndugai. The implications of this selfish move are a topic for another discussion but suffice it to say that it has contributed a great deal in leaving Tanzanians in the darkness, knowing little about how their representatives are doing.
It is also under Mr Ndugai that Parliament has enacted several laws that have roundly been condemned as being detrimental to the country’s nascent democracy. From the Statistics Act that makes it a crime to publish statistical evidence that is not government-approved, the Media Services Act which also criminalises the work of journalists to the Orwellian Political Parties Act, the House does not lack in obvious shortcomings. In fact, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) has roundly rejected key provisions of the new media law.
But, on the other hand, how did Parliament respond in instances of national crises, for example when innocent individuals were being shot dead in the Mkuranga, Kibiti and Rufiji (MKIRU) area along the coast? Didn’t Ndugai-led House rejects a call by Kigoma Urban MP Zitto Kabwe to debate the matter? What of the rejection of CCM’s Hussein Bashe call to probe a shadowy security team that had been linked to a spate of abductions and threats to people seen as critics of the government?
My take is Mr Ndugai’s parliament has performed poorly and continue to act to only perpetuate selfish political interests against what would be the larger public interest. He has not hesitated to demonstrate that he would stop at nothing to protect the government which he promised to hold to account.
More than once the opposition in the parliament has failed to table an alternative budget in the house after having its original report edited to the extent of alteration of its main points and issues that it tries to raise. This situation plays a big role in leaving Tanzanians on the darkness and deprive them of their rights to hear what the alternatives are and thus make informed decisions.
It is, therefore, no wonder that the public largely and readily sided with Prof Assad when it came to weighing on whose interest the standoff with Mr Ndugai was primed.  


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