The Government's Chief Whip Yamfwa Mukanga MP (Minister of Mines and Energy) recently warned MPs against poor attendance in Parliament. In a letter to all MPs he observes:
There has also been noted, a growing trend of honourable members of parliament coming to the House briefly, registering their presence and thereafter disappearing for the rest of the day, thereby missing out substantially from proceedings of the day. This is not only unbecoming, but smacks of dishonesty and is, therefore, unexpected of a member of parliament...This serves to inform you that henceforth, you are all reminded of the fact that you are all duty-bound to attend sittings of the House punctually and be present throughout
Interestingly, some MPs quoted anonymously have said, it is difficult for them to be in the House the whole time because of "the parliamentary by-elections that were taking place in different places...". That seems like a foolish excuse. It is not like all MPs need to campaign or bye-elections are held everyday. The MPs need to stop passing the blame and face up to their responsibility.
The Government Chief Whip's statement though raises a bigger question: How do we get MPs to take their jobs seriously?
Aside from the Government Chief Whip's letter, is there really anything more that can be done to get MPs to take parliamentary process serious? The problem is that ordinary citizens are not really able to determine whether an MP is performing or not. It is what economists call the "principal agent" problem. The nature of the MP's job is such that only he or she truly knows whether they are fulfilling their function as an advocate and representative of the people. Indeed many things are outside the MP's control.
The other point is that even if an ordinary citizen was able to determine that their MP was underperforming the individual has little incentive to act. The reason is due to what economists call the "free rider" problem. Save for the likes of a few active citizens (the Harringtons of this world), people would prefer to sit on their hands and wait for someone else to bear the cost (and I don't just mean financial) of taking their MP to task for poor performance. We see this in many areas. We always want others to do it for us, not us as individuals to do what we can to hold Government to account. I do and we all do it. Its rational! As a result MPs continue to under-perform.
One thing that may help us act is if more information was provided about how a typical MP spends their time (e.g. through SCORE CARDS). But that doesn't really solve the incentive problems! It simply helps the Harringtons! The other alternative may be to introduce Parliamentary recall - where people can put a petition together to have their MP recalled for another vote. That has huge costs attached to it but it could be a big stick against poorly performing MPs.
Question : What are your thoughts? How can we incentivise MPs to perform better?