The role Parliament in a Democracy

FUNCTIONS OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT AND ATTRIBUTES OF IDEAL MPs: BY CHARLES STAR KUNGWENGWE STAR CHARLES   Every society desire...


FUNCTIONS OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT AND ATTRIBUTES OF IDEAL MPs:

BY CHARLES STAR KUNGWENGWE STAR CHARLES

 

Every society desires to have a leader and it is precisely  for this reason that the Jews ,who had earlier on been devoid of a central leader, in the form of a King ,demanded to have one(1 Samuel 8:11ff). But what attributes entitle one to be in a leadership position?

 

As the country's time ticks   towards the soon- to- be held harmonized elections, we should be asking what traits to consider in the prospective MP. As a guide to these praiseworthy qualities, we need to know the duties and or functions of legislators.

 

And this takes us to the qualities and functions of an ideal MP, in particular, and the legislature's duties, in general.

 

Duties \Functions of members of Parliament\Legislators:

 

The term 'Legislator' is derived from the Common noun 'legislature', meaning Parliament. There are different types of Legislatures eg Uni-cameral(single Chamber or House);Bi-cameral(twin Houses eg Assembly and Senate);Tri-cameral(3 Houses); Quadra-cameral(4 Houses);Octo-cameral(8 Chambers) etc. Legislators are therefore members of Parliament and their main duty, is to make ,amend and repeal the law. And this is in line with the trios politicas doctrine ,in terms of function: the legislature makes the law ,which the judiciary 'interprets'  and  which the  Executive applies and enforce.

 

From the above ,we can also  draw the conclusion that one of the functions of the legislature is to make a Government ,together with both  the Judiciary and the Executive. For the avoidance of repetition ,this writer will not remind the reader that in Parliamentary Systems of Democracy ,as contrasted to Presidential Systems ,there is no clear separation of powers in terms of personnel. For example ,both the Presidium and Ministers ,who belong to  the Executive,  are also Members of Parliament.   

 

This paper will look at individual members of the August House as ,Natural Persons ,at Constituency  and party level ,and then cumulatively as a body in Government.

 

Yes members of Parliament  ,as a body, do 'make the law' or unmake the law ,in principle,  but ,according to this writer ,it is not their main preoccupation!.

 

Their main function ,as  I see it , is inferred from the former American President, Abraham Lincoln (1809-65'),s definition of democracy

 

'rule of the people by the people  for the people'

( there is no punctuation mark in between)

 

In other words ,in that arrangement people are self governing ,albeit  indirectly ,through their elected representatives. Members of Parliament thus make democracy work. They are indeed the mouthpiece and earpiece of the electorate in their respective Constituencies. Through the MP ,for example ,we hear the people 's voice in Parliament . For this reason ,Parliament has Privileges and immunities to be enjoyed ,and in this context ,by individual members ,while plenary is in session. It is the people who determine the leadership style to be employed on them ,what is to be done ,why ,by whom ,when and how?. From this , we  can conclude that a dictatorial ,all –knowing leader , is not  desirable but ,instead , someone who constantly consults people on the best way-forward. However, to check anarchy ,the Legislator must be a co-coordinator or regulatory figure in the art of governance. 

Should  he suspect that people are 'lost' ,he may  thought -provoke, stimulate and steer their imagination towards the desired goal.

 

It is in this context that Rousseau (1712-78) 's comment becomes handy

 

'that Government is best that governs least'

 

When people have encountered problems this 'louder-speaker ' articulates the problems  among his counterparts in the August House with the view to bettering  people 's plight. It is from these deliberations that a remedy or corrective measure to the problem may be found .Oftentimes that problem may need financial resources and ,through the responsible Minister ,the M.P may  be granted financial support by the Government. If the concerned Legislator is initiative enough ,he\she can even source a donor to extend a helping hand in that regard.

As can be seen, the Member of Parliament is to represent the electorate diligently ,and exceptionally ,if possible . ----And to their maximum satisfaction!. And this is his other duty and this can only work if : there is dialogue , and not monologue ,between the leader and the populace; there is rapport or a conducive working relationship between the two ; the leader is not a boss or commander but ,instead ,a servant who rests his head on a pillow of humility; the leader is gender-sensitive ,non racial ,non ethnic  or non regional etc; a morale booster , approachable and amenable to criticism wherever he defaults  and learns in the process(Mark 10:35-45;Matthew 20:20-28)How about traits on self-denial?

 

In order to persuade the Government or well-wishers to assist ,the leader must have good   communication skills(listening and articulatory abilities) ,the latter of which  includes the power of persuasion. In order to achieve precision ,one must be articulate and ,if possible, eloquent as well. He must also be highly imaginative and focused.  In addition , he must also have a thorough knowledge of his own area in order to remember areas needing improvement.

 

Which is why in a bygone era it used to be a cardinal requirement or just common practice to choose leaders from among  either those  born and bred in that area or had stayed long enough  in that constituency to \or  in such a way that  they had gained knowledge of the area in and out and were thus closely bonded to the community .As such ,these people could thus easily network with the populace. However ,given the cosmopolitan nature of most current societies and the drive towards Globalization ,this aspect is no longer a requirement but just an added advantage .

Though an added advantage, the leader does not need to have  all the experience ,the knowledge ,the charisma and intelligence. He/She merely needs to be wise enough to make use of people endowed with these attributes to further both his/her own and people's vision. 

Perhaps the other key function of the said member is to spearhead development in his own  jurisdiction.

Contrary to common belief the leader is not required to draw money from his own pocket in order to achieve that duty . What is key is that he/she must not promote a donor syndrome among the people .Instead ,he/she must encourage self reliance  and therefore line up various development projects, projects which are  sustainable .The  main reason why people need a leader is to see development taking root in their geographical areas. As people take stock of the leader 's achievements ,they would use the above expectation as a yardstick. People must see the fruits of his/her efforts.

 

Impliedly ,the leader must be watchful enough to identify areas needing development  or  may have to probe people into identifying those areas. Development that is a product of people's own initiative is enduring.  It is so because people believe they  own it and would want to make sure it succeeds. And should that project fail ,there is joint responsibility and hence no pointing of accusing fingers at each other. This project must result from people 's needs.

 

It would not be wrong to add that an MP must listen to people's proposed solutions with a closed mouth and open mind and not the reverse.

Over and above that ,in his/her constituency, the MP must be able to  identify and mould talent.

Against this background ,one can argue that an ideal leader must also be a teacher  and hence a role-model in every sense of the word eg  through decorous behavior and also as  a source of information to the 'masters', the electorate .

As an illustration ,the MP should enlighten people not only on development issues ,but the political side as well eg on the significance of voting . An ill-informed voter is worse than a non voter.

 

Accordingly, the MP should  be endowed with both the brains(matter or meat contained in the skull) and the  mind(the entire thinking process emanating from the brains)

Unlike bad politicians, good ones are assertive and principled, but  adaptable as well. Other qualities include generosity, honesty, empathy,  being helpful, genuine ,rational ,diplomatic and reliabale.   

Still on the democratic participation of the populace, Members of Parliament must ,through Committees ,such as  portfolio committees , one of the Investigative Committees of Parliament ,give people the forum to thoroughly deliberate on or debate on public issues affecting them.

Portfolio Committees are those which deal with different Ministries  in order to scrutinize legislation ,oversee government action and facilitate public participation either by way of requesting a briefing from the responsible Department or undertaking a site visit. This stance helps to ensure efficiency ,transparency and accountability in expenditure, administration ,policy development or implementation and other matters falling under each Ministry.  

 

As can be seen , the above and  other similar Parliamentary mechanisms,  help monitor the activities of Ministers and members of the public are given an opportunity to air out their views on an issue for the betterment of that Ministry ,their own Constituency and the Nation ,at large.  

 

Some of the Committees are ad-hoc while others are   permanent. Ad-hoc are temporary and  constituted for a particular purpose ,after which they are disbanded, while permanent committees ' lifespan is equivalent to that of Parliament.

 

Apart from the afore-discussed arrangement, the Constituency leader, in his individual capacity, also helps in enhancing national developments.

How ?

 First we need to know that while MPs represent specific geographical locations, Ministers stand for National interests. While Mps are merely political electives, Ministers are both politicians and administrators ,though in a limited sense, and are usually educated , depending on whether they are drawn from Parliament or are independently chosen for their professional prowess   These are people appointed by the President to stand for different Ministries or Government Departments known as Portfolios eg Education and Finance .These areas affect every national and not just a particular constituency.

 

-----What is the MP's entry point?. Ministers are made to account for what is happening in their different  Ministries ,not only at an individual level(Individual Ministerial Responsibility ) but also as a body(Collective Ministerial Responsibility) on matters jointly affecting them. How? .As a monitoring mechanism, Parliament checks the activities of the Executive.

 There are times when MPs ,through question and answer sessions ,quiz Ministers on how they are running their Ministries. Non performing Ministers may be forced to resign. In so doing, Ministers are forced to be on their toes. If there are areas needing improvement, Ministers can then formulate a policy or modify or change an existing one. Similarly, this may call for the crafting  of a new law ,amendment or even repeal of the existing law in favor of a good one. And it is mostly Ministers who initiate the Bill affecting their portfolios in Parliament.

 

There is need to proffer illustrative examples: In the case of Zimbabwe,  the Minister of Health was taken to task  on what steps he has taken to provide condoms which are specifically designed for the blind.

 In order for this exercise  to work, Ministers must be compelled to attend Parliamentary business and not just  do so out of good-will.

 

If there is  poor perfomance on the part of  the entire Cabinet ,MPs may also pass a vote of no confidence in it and it must dissolve.

Which is why ,given the preceding  observation ,this writer opines that the making of the law is not the main duty of Parliament. Neither is the law –making process an end in itself  but ,instead ,a means to an end ,as noted above

 

It is within this context that one can argue that we need Members of Parliament who are well read and intelligent enough: to be appointed Ministers by the President , and Ministers are the Incumbent 's right hand men!(the implications are therefore  obvious); to  make sensible contributions in the August House. In the absence of these virtues, the law will always be the Ministers ' laws and Ministers can easily use this as a golden opportunity to   entrench the ruling party 's ideology.

This line of reasoning results from the fact  that the latter are usually ,but not always ,educated  and get sound advice from their Permanent Secretaries ,who are technocrats .And Ministers also usually have a wealth of experience in terms of  time framework in politics and or  tenure in office in that particular portfolio and hence are experts.

In a similar fashion ,judges would end up interpreting the law after their own fashion if it is vague or nonsensical. Of course, this would not be a misinterpretation, since there is no wrong opinion, but it's simply an interpretation that  may not be  in harmony with what Legislators meant or intended or is an opinion that strays from the purpose of the Statute.

 

   If not that gifted enough , MPs must make use of talented  people in their respective Constituencies. We call this wisdom.  In order to make a law the Mp needs to know what law is ;in order to amend or repeal a bad law he/she needs to know what a good law is. Equally so, the Member of Parliament can only develop an area or engineer development if he is aware what development is. He needs to have a holistic approach to development, ie economic ,political ,social ,intellectual ,physical etc.

 

The ideal Mp must have an objective that is national , not partisan , political orientation. An MP's mindset should transcend beyond party lines. As an illustration, if a Minister from the opposition party has registered successes ,our MPs must commend him while a non performing same-party Minister must be castigated in the strongest possible terms .

An ideal leader should also be able to' run with the hare as well as hunting with the hound' in the light of  the usually partisan and  or factional politics in most Countries. The MP should  equally try to bridge that gap. That's a development based mind!

In another sense ,however ,it could also be argued that the  making of the law is the main preoccupation of Parliament. It is for the simple reason that before people talk of anything to do in a State they must know what is to be done ,when and how eg what type of President do we need ,Executive or Ceremonial?; Do we need a democracy or monarchy? etc. A Constitution is one classic example of this law ,from which we draw guidelines , but we have others such as legislation or statutes .All this is a summarized version of what law stands for.

 

Yes Members of Parliament are the primary law makers but they also give these law-making powers to or assign other bodies ,individuals and functionaries to make law on their behalf. Examples are the President to make Proclamations ,Ministers to craft Regulations and  Local Councils to formulate by-laws\municipal laws. The former type of law is called Primary Legislation while the latter is Subsidiary ,Delegated ,Subordinate or Secondary legislation. Of course ,Parliament  provides a framework or guidelines within which this law must be made so that it does not stray  from the purpose of the statute.

 The advantage is that people with the experience\ expertise are empowered to make law affecting them eg the Minister of Education is assigned to make or amend law affecting that field .Also, Councilors are thus ,through the Council  , allowed to adapt National Law to suit Local Needs.

 

---As a protective shield against abuse of power by these functionaries, after crafting the law the delegated agents must take the law back to the August House for authentication  and or  fine-tuning so that it is in line with the Enabling Legislation. In like manner ,the law made by Parliament must be subjected to a rigorous vetting by the Judiciary to check both its substantive(substantive testing powers) and procedural(procedural testing powers) uprightness.

And if not, it can ,through a Judicial review ,be invalidated. If in the former case ,for example ,it transpires that the law so crafted is ulta-vires the Constitution , the Supreme Law of the Land in most jurisdictions ,it will be declared null and void to the extent of those inconsistencies. If also the substantive aspect is fine but the procedure followed was defective that law can also be invalidated .

 

Illustrative  examples of procedural flaws could be lack of a quorum and  if there was no required majority when a proposed Constitutional amendment was effected. Another check and balance on Parliament 's law-making process  is that the President ,the Head  of the Executive and the embodiment of the Constitution ,has powers to veto a 'faulty 'Bill(proposed law) before it graduates into law. Additionally, if these elected representatives are not living up to standard in their respective  areas ,the President has powers to dissolve Parliament. 

 

Needless to say ,Councilors represent the people at Ward Level and also act on behalf of  the MP at a local level. This is mostly important in unitary systems of democracy where 'Local  government is Central Government at a local level'. That being the case,  the Minister and Councilors 's duties are almost carbon copies of each other, though performed in different capacities. For example ,the latter also engineers development in his/her own ward, is part and parcel of the law-making mechanism  and monitors the activities of Council technocrats.  

 

 Parliament can also pass a vote of no confidence in the President and or  Executive \Cabinet ,in which case they must vacate office. This power can pressure the Incumbent, to discharge his duties well. However ,these powers are only more apparent than real in a country with an Executive President as he has powers to dissolve Parliament whenever  it  institutes that motion!.

This is even worse in a Parliamentary system of democracy where MPs would hardly have the nerve to pass a vote of no confidence in the President  in his presence. Over and above that ,in this kind of  arrangement ,the educated Ministers can easily outwit the usually semi-literate Legislators against the idea of that motion .We noted in Part One that MPs are protected from prosecution for speaking their minds  ,while Parliament is in session ,in order to promote the smooth functioning of their duties and a similar comment also applies for Presidential Immunity.

 

Last, but not least ,in Parliamentary systems of Democracy, Members of Parliament are responsible for electing the President. In such Countries Parliament becomes an Electoral College for the purposes of this election..

 

At a political level ,a Member of Parliament is there to sell his party 's ideology, through his conduct(words and deeds). If he/she misbehaves ,this can easily put a dent onto his party 's political fortunes. On the other hand ,if he brings about lots of development projects, he can easily market not only himself for next elections, but his party as well.

 

In a nutshell, these are some of the functions  and qualities of Members of Parliament and when deciding whom to elect   into that office  you need to be aware of  these functions or duties and ideal qualities.

 



Nkulumani Mlambo (0772 118 533/0715 505353)

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The Mirror: The role Parliament in a Democracy
The role Parliament in a Democracy
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