Article by Pius Msekwa "Eleventh Bunge - Protests and Punishments: I Wish I Were the Deputy Speaker of the Eleventh Parliament"

By Pius Msekwa

There is a well known English proverb which says that: "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride". Now, I am not a beggar, nor do I have any wishes of riding a horse, for I would quickly fall off, if I did.

But I do have a different wish, which is that I wish I was the Deputy Speaker of the Eleventh Parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania. Why? Because if I was the Deputy Speaker, I would have allowed the House to proceed to hold the emergency debate which was requested by the Opposition Legislator, regarding the abrupt suspension of students of the University of Dodoma.

And, why would I have done that? Simply because that would have prevented the seemingly endless drama and commotion which is now taking place every day in the National Assembly. We, the voters of Tanzania, in our individual and collective capacities, are used to witnessing some occasional, single- occasion walk out events taking place in our august House, in protest against this or that decision made by the Speaker which they didn't like.

This actually happened during the first budget session of President Mkapa's administration, the 1996/97 Budget, I was Speaker of the House at the material time, and was actually presiding over the particular session when this event took place. We have no problem with such occasional walk-outs in protest against some decision by the Speaker. Here is the story relating to the 1996/97 Opposition protest walk out.

The debate on the budget proposals had been completed, and the time of voting to approve the Government Budget for that fiscal year had arrived. The established practice in approving the government is that members are required to vote by way of a roll call of their names individually.

The reason for this procedure is the need to establish beyond reasonable doubt, that the budget was truly approved by Parliament, in order to satisfy the requirement of article 90(2) (b) of the Constitution of the United republic of Tanzania, 1977; which provides for the immediate dissolution of Parliament in the event of Parliament refusing to approve the Government budget proposals.

Thus it is absolutely necessary to have concrete evidence to show that the budget was indeed approved, and that the decision was made when there was a quorum in the House, which is necessary for the making of valid decisions.

Thus, when the Speaker called upon the Clerk of the National Assembly to conduct the roll call exercise, the Opposition camp immediately objected, on the ground that the decision to approve the Budget should be made following the normal 'voice vote' method, which is regularly used by the House in approving all other motions.

When the Speaker overruled their request, carefully explaining that it would violate the established rules of procedure, they all marched out of the House in protest. However, this action by the Opposition MPs did not prevent the remaining Members (from the ruling party) to proceed with the roll call exercise, in order to approve the Government budget for that financial year.

This is because they constituted the require quorum, which is necessary for any decision made to be valid. This shows that the walk-out protests started taking place in our parliament more than fifteen years ago, soon after the re-introduction of multi-party politics in 1992, followed by the first multi-party elections, and the convening of the first multi-party Parliament (the Seventh Parliament) in 1995.

Such occasional walk-outs have continued to take place on an 'on-and-off' basis thereafter. But because they have created no disturbances in the House itself, such actions have generally been tolerated by the electorate.

There are two basic reasons for this tolerance. One, everyone recognises that it is the protesting MPs' constitutional right to demonstrate their disapproval of a decision with which they disagree; and two, Parliamentary tradition worldwide accepts 'protest walk-outs' from the House as a valid and acceptable mode of showing protest when there is genuine dissatisfaction; provided, of course, that they cause no disturbance to the proceedings of the House through any disorderly conduct. Walking out on a daily basis is a new phenomenon.

However, the mode of protest which we are witnessing now, namely, the protesting MPs attending Parliament only for the morning opening prayers, and walking out immediately thereafter, and this being done repeatedly for such a prolonged period; is an entirely new phenomenon, whose objectives, and its expected benefits, cannot be readily discerned by the electorate.

That was, initially, my reason why I wished I was the Deputy Speaker, for I would have allowed the motion whose rejection has seemingly brought about all this unprecedented commotion and chaos. But is it really chaos?

The answer is 'no'. The UKAWA action has actually caused no chaos at all! Instead, it has precipitated a welcome revelation of the weaknesses and fault lines which are currently present in our operations of the multi-party political system, which therefore ought to be addressed for the beneficial sustenance of Parliamentary democracy in our jurisdiction. That being the case, I was totally mistaken in my judgment of this event.

For it is now clear that what I had initially considered to be a controversial decision (which I thought had produced chaos in the House); was in fact a very valuable decision, whose outcome has now enabled us to identify the various weaknesses and fault lines which are currently present in our operation of the multi-party political system at the level of parliament. In these changed circumstances.

Consequently, my wish now is that I wish I were that Deputy Speaker who made this valuable, eye-opener decision, which has enabled us to identify the weaknesses and fault lines which have now been exposed.

These may be quickly summarized as follows: (i) The abandonment, and for such a prolonged period by the said MPs, of their constitutional obligation to properly represent their constituents in the debates which are taking place in the House.

This abandonment of their responsibility and obligation, which in the prevailing circumstances can be described as unwarranted, is clearly a major weakness in operating the multi-party political system, which ought to be corrected.

It is unwarranted because it has created several other problems which are listed below, when these could have been avoided. (ii) The equally serious abandonment by the said MPs, of their constitutional role and function, which is "to prod, to probe, and to criticise the Government of the day in the performance of its functions".

This is serious because in the multi-party parliamentary system of governance, one of the major responsibilities of the Opposition in Parliament is to ensure that the policies and the actions of the government, are constantly subjected to scrutiny (and challenge where necessary), so that those who are in authority are made to account for their stewardship. It is also important to note that the Opposition in Parliament is expected to act as 'the alternative government in waiting'.

This means that if, for any reason, the government, which is in office, is defeated at the next general elections, what was the Opposition party or coalition of parties in the previous Parliament will now become the Government.

Hence, in consideration of this factor, the Opposition's actions and behaviour in the House must satisfy the electorate, that they can indeed form a viable alternative government, as this is what will persuade the voters to give them a chance at the next general election.

Thus, in order for them to be able to achieve that desirable objective, they have an obligation to actively participate in the House debates in order to make a critical examination of the government's proposals, especially the annual Budget proposals, to enable them to expose the weaknesses(if any), in these proposals. But their active participation also affords the Government of the day the opportunity to justify its stewardship in the most transparent and convincing manner.

This parliamentary interplay between the Government and the Opposition is what constitutes the life-blood of parliamentary democracy. Hence, the current deliberate abandonment by the UKAWA Opposition of this interplay obviously creates a major fault line in our operation of the multi-party parliamentary system. (iii) The self-inflicted injury, and the injury inflicted on the interests of the people whom they represent in the august House.

This is because at the national level, our governance system operates entirely on the basis of representation. Since the entire adult population of Tanzania cannot possibly be assembled together for the purpose of making decisions which affect their lives and well-being, such decision-making can only be made by their elected representatives duly assembled in Parliament for that purpose, and participating fully in the discussions which routinely take place before the relevant decisions are made.

Thus, the current boycott of the budget discussions by the UKAWA Opposition has, in its effect, created two avoidable injuries; one, a self-inflicted injury in the form of a financial punishment which was inevitably imposed upon them. But two, which is of much greater importance and significance, is the injury they have caused on the valid interests of those people who elected them to represent them in Parliament.

By their boycott action, the said MPs have deliberately ceased to act as such representatives. This is another fault line which requires to be corrected, because the valid interests of the people ought not, and must not, be trampled upon, and certainly not in such unorthodox ways. (iv) The objectives, as well as the desired results of their action are obviously and clearly unattainable.

The action of any person, who embarks on a task which he knows he cannot accomplish, is usually a demonstrate of a serious weakness in the judgment capacity of that person. Similarly, the instant action taken by the UKAWA MPs appears to demonstrate similar weaknesses of judgment.

Members of the public were informed, through their public statement, that their action had two objectives: One was to express their dissatisfaction over the manner in which the Deputy Speaker was conducting the deliberations of the House and the other was to seek the ouster of the Deputy Speaker from office.

There is certainly no problem regarding their first objective of expressing dissatisfaction. This is their constitutional right, except that could have been fully achieved through a single walk out as has been done on several occasions in the past.

Thus, for the rather limited purpose of expressing dissatisfaction, their current prolonged daily walk outs of the House are completely unnecessary. But their second objective of seeking to remove the Deputy Speaker from office, is not only unattainable, but is also totally misguided.

This is because the UKAWA MPs are fully aware of the relevant provisions of the Standing orders of the National Assembly concerning the matter of removing the Deputy Speaker from office.

This awareness is evidenced by their action of submitting notice of a motion for the achievement of that objective. The relevant rule is no. 138(4), which provides as follows: - "NaibuSpika atakuwa ameondolewa kwenye madaraka endapo zitapigwa kura za kuunga mkono hoja hiyo, zisizopungua theluthi mbili ya Wabunge wote, na uamuzi huu utafanywa kwa kura za siri".

The UKAWA MPs surely know, or ought to know, that under this rule, their second objective cannot possibly be achieved. This is because the UKAWA Opposition does not have the numbers required for their motion to be adopted; and It would be naïve for them to expect that any of the CCM MPs will support them in this vote, for they surely know, or ought to know, that the ruling party's whip will inevitably be applied in this case, strictly in accordance with the rules of competition under the multi-party system of governance.

If this may appear to be unorthodox to people who are 'uninitiated' in matters of Parliamentary procedure and practice, together with the applicable rules; they should take note that the said 'rules of competition' are founded on the original version which is commonly attributed to former Chairman Mao dze Dong, that famous revolutionary leader of China, who reportedly laid down the following 'rule of thumb', that "Party cadres should oppose whatever your enemy supports, and support whatever your enemy opposes".

Failure to recognise the parliamentary rules of political competition, which operate in varying degrees of intensity in almost all parliaments under the multi-party system, is a weakness which needs to be corrected, primarily through efforts to acquire the relevant information and knowledge.