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Monday, 26 October 2009

The myth of a development parliamentarian..

"We have been told that opposition MPs from Southern Province have been boasting and telling people lies that they are bringing development to this province. Actually they come to our offices begging for help from us and when we help them they don't tell our people that it is government that is doing all these things"
Vice President George Kunda speaking in Southern Province earlier this month on why it is pointless to vote for the opposition. Obviously in Mr Kunda's mind "government" is all about the "executive" branch. The legistlature only matters when the representatives in question are members of the current administration. What he should have actually done is correct the misconception about MPs. The role of the MP is poorly understood, and it is certainly not as implied by Mr Kunda, to "deliver development".

The primary role of an MP is to vote on legislation and make laws on behalf of their constituency ("legislative function"). They also have an additional function of representing the views of their constituency to Parliament e.g. special problems they are facing which the executive branch has failed to address ("advocacy function"). It is not the role of an MP to bring economic development, since in a well functioning society such functions would be performed by an effective local government with appropriate support from central government. The MP's role is simply to ensure that the local preferences are fully reflected in national decisions. Once the MP brings the problem to the attention of the Executive, it is expected that they would follow through where they can. Mr Kunda (the Head of Government Business in Parliament) sees that as "begging".

Unfortunately in our country, the local government is non-existent, due to ineffective capacity and molestation by the Executive (e.g. through large unpaid debts). So the MP has assumed the de-facto role of a leader. MPs have absolutely zero levers to deliver development, besides the Constituency Development Fund, which has its own problems. In fact many spend their personal fortunes to appease their constituency ending up in bankruptcy.

I should also point that to the extent that voting systems define the extent to which MPs are "connected" to their constituency, we can expect that the balance between the "legislative function" and "advocacy" to vary from one system to the next. Under the current system we expect that MPs are significantly tied to local communities, but where you have a national Proportion Representation system, the "advocacy function" is slightly diminished. Incidentally, I have previously advocated a different system that supports greater role for chiefs (enhances their "advocacy function") within a stronger decentralised framework. Under that system the role of the MP would be purely "legislative". See A traditional approach to Zambia's development.

3 comments:

  1. Cho,

    A very good observation, and good recap on our civics education! Lol.

    However, this is a very serious and fundamental point. Lack of understanding of fundamental institutions and functions of govt is costing us progress. Judging by the way people react to such statements from George Kunda and others like him, it appears the vast majority of people are not aware of what to expect and from whom. That tends to perpetuate the status quo, much to the delight of those at the helm and thriving on people's misinformation.

    Instead of clearing the misconception, GK went and stirred the already muddy waters, attempting to replace a myth in people's minds with another myth.

    Exposure like this will certainly help, though these things are often missed by the mainstream media, to whom the local people usually subscribe.

    Interesting that you mentioned the role of chiefs, as I have a question on that. What's your take on Chief Chitimukulu's breaking (current) tradition and openly condeming opposition parties, namely PF, while siding with the ruling party during the recent parliamentary by-election in N.Province? I have not yet read your article on "A traditional approach to Zambia's development", which probably addresses this, for the future.

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  2. Zedian,

    Thanks. Good question on Chitimukulu.

    The reference post sort of touches on the issue but not to the level I would like. This will be remedied in due course. I am currently taking forward a blog specials on traditional authorities , where I hope to lay out in more detail the holistic governance reforms I see in this area. I have done the first five posts that deal with the historical and political parts, the economic aspects are next (land, entreprenuership, etc) are next then the social aspects (women, education, sanitation) and finally governance reform. Its a bit of journey!

    On Chitimukulu my view is that he is not unique e.g. Puta, Nalubamba and others have routinely switched sides and insulted politicians. Their antics are heavily catalogued on House of Chiefs.

    I see the fundamental problem as one of weak institutional framework for chiefs to express themselves. The House of Chiefs is basically a talking shop which has led many chiefs to be frustrated. Equally at the local level chiefs have minimal powers. This has put them at the hands of predatory political elites led by HERB.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Cho,

    Unfortunately in our country, the local government is non-existent, due to ineffective capacity and molestation by the Executive (e.g. through large unpaid debts).

    I have said it before, but there has to be a clear wall between the state (civil service, parastatals) and the government (president, cabinet, MPs).

    Also, these parastatals seem to be run down on purpose, so they can be easily privatised at a low price.

    So the MP has assumed the de-facto role of a leader. MPs have absolutely zero levers to deliver development, besides the Constituency Development Fund, which has its own problems. In fact many spend their personal fortunes to appease their constituency ending up in bankruptcy.

    All the more reason to guarantee to local governments their share of 50% of national revenues.

    And the only way to do so is through the constitution. Local Government is the vehicle through which the state can efficiently deliver services to the people, so with the non-funding of local government, it is no surprise that people do not get service delivery. I know people who live in a street that has no name, with houses that have no numbers. How are they going to get a bank account, or mail delivery under those conditions? This is why the local council has no money or inclination to even name their streets or number their houses.

    Right now, income tax going straight to central government is money that is being stolen from the Zambian people.

    In fact I view the paying of income tax and the paying of local taxes as double taxation, which is reducing people's disposable income, which again reduces economic activity.

    ReplyDelete

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