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Friday, 14 January 2011

Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010 : Part IV

Composition of National Assembly

Article 56 seeks to increase the number of MPs substantially :  
(1) The National Assembly shall consist of—
  • (a) two hundred and twenty-five members (225) directly elected on the basis of a simple majority under the first past the post segment of the mixed member representation system provided for by this Constitution and as may be provided by, or under, an Act of Parliament;
  • (b) thirty seats (30) on the basis of the proportional representation segment of the mixed member representation system from a list of candidates submitted to the Electoral Commission by each political party contesting the elections, as provided by this Constitution and by, or under, an Act of Parliament;
  • (c) not more than ten members (10) nominated by the President under Article 68; 
  • (d) the Speaker.
(2) Clause (1) (a) and (b) shall be subject to clause (3) of Article 184.
(3) Clause (1) (b) shall come into operation on the date prescribed by, or under, an Act of Parliament.
Clause (3) of Article 184 referenced above denotes that Parliament may enact legislation prescribing a different electoral system for the election of members of the National Assembly, subject to a Bill supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds of all the members of the National Assembly. In short, the electoral system presented in the Bill is not set in stone. Its quite possible to move to more members elected through Proportion Representation or fewer than suggested! It will be up to parliamentarians to decide!  In general I think all systems have their pros and cons and the evidence on how such systems affect economic growth is unclear. I may do a quick summary on this as a separate post later.

That aside, there are two key problems I have with these provisions.

First, we plan to have a costly increase in the number of MPs from 158 to 265. This is a significant increase! The basic argument again this is that it is costly.  Henry Kyambalesa has helpfully provided the underlying assumptions that we can use to calculate the cost of the 107 additional MPs. In these calculations it assumed that the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Chief Whip, and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament are remunerated the same as a Private Member in terms of salary, special allowance and utility; He also assumed that the constituency allowance available to each MP is equivalent to that paid to a Nominated member in Zambian Kwacha (K) per year, and that there are no costs associated with personal-to-holder cars and other fringe benefits :

61,009,773 Salary
16,665,752 Special allowance
23,200,000 Utility
11,600,000 Constituency allowance
K112, 475,525 per MP x 107MPs = K12,034,881,175 annually

Now for a typical parliamentary cycle. This translates into : K60.2bn (or $13.4m - assuming $1 = K4500). This is a lot of money to spend for a nation where two thirds live under less than $2 a day. A lot of mouths can be fed with that! And remember this is an underestimate! Also we have not even looked at welfare losses e.g. many MPs getting two jobs or double allowances etc.

Secondly,we plan to keep the shameful practice of nominated MPs. The decision to have nominated MPs is scandalous because we need to ask ourselves what MPs are there for. What is the role of the legislature? 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").  In short, the MP's role is simply to ensure that local preferences are fully reflected in national decisions. Now can you tell me how a nominated MP without any local or regional mandate fulfils the "legislative" function? On whose behalf does he or she agitate? The President?  Who does the nominated MP advocate for? They have no legitimacy within the legislative framework.

Now I know some have argued for MPs to be nominated to allow the President to "bring in talent", but that is missing the point! Those whom the President brings in under such a system are not legitimate MPs and should not be called such. It seems to me that in our failure to address fundamental issues of how Ministers are elected or failure to have a proper second chamber we have resorted to distorting the Legislature. We now have political cadres who would never win an election into people earning vast sums of money.  We must abandon the system of nominated MPs. If that fails then we need to make it clear that nominated MPs cannot vote on legislation, their role is merely to prepare for a Ministerial job or whatever else the president has in mind. It is absolutely scandalous to have these unelected folks influencing the legislature!

The Zambian Economist is currently reviewing the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010 before it formally responds to the Legislature. All posts in this ongoing review can be found at the Constitution of Zambia page.

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