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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A Failure of Reason

An interesting development in Msanzala :
Msanzala independent member of parliament Colonel Joseph Lungu has allegedly resigned and has immediately joined the ruling Patriotic Front. Col Lungu said he had decided to join the ruling party in order to ensure development of Msanzala which had lagged behind for some time. Col Lungu said he felt he could not take development to the area as an independent parliamentarian. He hoped to be adopted by the PF and promised that he would continue with development projects for the area.
It is not often one comes across a complete failure of reason, but this is a good candidate. This appears foolish at many levels. There's much that can be said for the costly nature of his decision and the possibility of better alternative arrangements. For example, someone might rightly ask, why not just enter an arrangement with PF? Surely that would deliver the same results! It can't be job seeking because MMD MPs are already in government without switching sides!

But what I wanted to comment on is the report that "Col Lungu said he felt he could not take development to the area as an independent parliamentarian". There are two problems with this idea. The immediate one is that it promotes corruption among parliamentarians. There's a view being espoused here that one must have a strong relationship (nepotistic) with the current administration in order for your area to be developed. This is very divisive. Government exists to serve all people regardless of political affiliation. Unfortunately this is one of those cancerous vices introduced by the failed MMD regime with its promotion of regionalism (Lambaland, Bembaland, etc) and corruption based politics. George Kunda and Dora Siliya were notorious for suggesting that only by having an MP from the ruling party was development possible. 

A related and more serious problem is that it perpetuates the misguided view that the legislature only matters when the representatives in question are members of the current administration. This reinforces the huge misconceptions people have about MPs. The role of the MP is poorly understood, and  Col Lungu sadly does not get it. In fact neither does Silvia Masebo when she claimed she is now poised to "deliver development" to Chongwe. Unless Ms Masebo is relying on corrupt favours, she is incapable of delivering development. In fact it is not her primary job to deliver development to Chongwe. 

The primary role of an MP is to vote on legislation and make laws on behalf of their constituency (the "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. 

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 Proportional 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". A monthly essay is coming on in the new year. 


  1. This is why I say that budgets and hiring must be decentralized to the local council level. That way, everyone knows where the money is, and what anyone's responsibility is.

    50% of national revenues (including $1.3 billion or more from the mines) is redistributed to all local councils, irrespective of who their MP is or who the people voted for.

    MPs can then focus on their job to represent their constituents in the national legislature, and keep an eye on the impact of national legislation on local people.

  2. Mr Cho,

    A failure of reason indeed. Any article or brief comment on 'failure of emotional intelligence' soon?

  3. On second thoughts nay, no need for that discussion, too late for that. We are stocking up, piling up, reserving food stock, money, dry foods, whatever could resist short term decomposition.

    Thus I suggest the topic : 'The best preservative methods'. It would be most useful considering where we are heading to.


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