ON Tuesday last week, 31st January 2017; the Parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania commenced its first of the four regular annual sessions scheduled for every calendar year, in this case, for the year 2017.
This parliamentary event has given me the desired opportunity to send my new year greetings collectively to all our honourable MPs, who are now assembled in Dodoma for the purpose of carrying out their constitutional functions and responsibilities, and to wish them all absolute success in their supreme endeavours to accomplish their ‘sacred’ mission of representing us in that August House.
I have chosen to convey these good wishes through this article, in order to enable me to address them on one particular aspect of their multiple functions, namely, that of their ‘ oversight functions’.
This, presumably, is a matter which is pretty well known to them, but for their voters, this presentation could be of considerable assistance in enhancing their level of understanding of this important matter. The relevant constitutional provision.
The relevant provision in relation to this particular matter, is article 63(2) of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, which provides, in Kiswahili, as follows:- “Bunge litakuwa ndicho chombo kikuu cha Jamhuri ya Muungano ambacho kitakuwa na madaraka, kwa niaba ya wananchi, ya kuisimamia na kuishauri Serikali ya Jamhuri ya Muungano na vyombo vyake vyote, katika utekelezaji wa majukumu yake kwa mujibu wa Katiba hii”.
Interpreting the words of that sub-article. This matter is worth revisiting, primarily because of past experience, when a narrow interpretation of the above quoted words led to serious public misconception of how Parliament should discharge this ‘oversight function’.
At some stage in the distant past, during the One-Party system of Government, public perception had it that the lack of opposition to Government proposals had turned our Parliament into “a very dull institution, and a mere rubber stamp of Government proposals”.
This came about mainly because the words ‘kuisimamia Serikali’ were mistakenly understood to mean that the duty of Parliament was ‘to oppose, (and preferably to reject) most, if not all, of the Government’s proposals which are brought before Parliament; and in particular, the budget proposals!
For example, an article written by one Wilson Bukholi in the SUNDAY OBSERVER of October 12th, 1997, claimed that “nothing of interest comes out of Parliament these days” and further that “discussions in Parliament have become extremely dull and boring” .
It is of course quite understandable, that many people would like to see, or hear, their elected representatives in Parliament mounting some vigorous be challenges to the Government, which should preferably spiced with an occasional rejection of some of the Government proposals. And they therefore get thoroughly disappointed when this does not happen. Hence, as far as they are concerned, parliamentary debates become dull, uninteresting, and actually boring. The wider meaning of the words “kuisimamia Serikali”.
The meaning of written words may either be expressed directly, or implied. In the case of the Kiswahili words ‘kuisimamia Serikali’; there is also an implied meaning connected with the said words, which I will endeavour to explain in this paragraph. The dictionary definition of the Kiswahili word ‘simamia’ is given as: “ preside, supervise, or administer”.
In other words, it includes the act of watching or checking what someone is doing, in order to make sure that the work he is doing is being done properly’. In reality however, the relevant work cannot be done properly if the workman is not given the essential tools for doing the relevant job. This could be described as “empowering the workman”, in order to enable him to do the job properly.
Thus the task of supervision, or watching and checking to see whether the workman is doing the job properly, becomes meaningful only if such supervision is accompanied by the empowerment of the said workman, by providing him with the essential tools which are required for the proper and effective performance of the relevant job. Similarly therefore, the Government of the day must in the first place be ‘empowered’, by being given the essential tools which are necessary for the successful performance of its tasks, in order for it to be meaningfully supervised to see whether or not, it is performing properly.
The essential empowerment tools. What then, in the case of the Government of the day, are these essential empowerment tools, and who has the responsibility to grant them? The main essential tools are the following two: (i) the appropriate legislation; and (ii) the money in the Government Budget.
And the answer to both questions, is Parliament itself. This is so because it is Parliament alone which has the constitutional mandate to grant these essential tools, which are necessary for the Government’s proper performance of its various tasks and responsibilities, for the following reasons:- (i) Since the Government is expected to govern strictly in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Constitution and the other laws of the land, (a function which is commonly referred to as ‘the rule of law)’; and also since Parliament is the only institution which is authorized to amend the Constitution where necessary, and to enact all the other laws of the land; it must be the Parliament which has this implied obligation of empowering the Government, by enacting such laws as may be required for the Government’s proper performance of its duties and responsibilities. (ii) Again, because the Government needs money for the proper performance of its duties and responsibilities, and since Parliament is the only institution which has the power and authority to grant such money by approving the annual Government budgets; It must be Parliament alone which has this implied obligation to ‘empower the Government’ by authorizing it to raise taxes and other public revenues, as well as approving its annual expenditure Budgets.
Thus, in view of these obligations, all of which are mandated to Parliament by articles 64(1) and 99 (1)(2) and (3) of the Constitution, the notion that Parliament’s ‘oversight function’ is only to oppose the Government (and preferably to reject its proposals) is a very serious misconception, for it completely ignores this implied role of Parliament’s obligation to empower the Government, by enacting such enabling legislation as may be required, and approving the Government’s Budgets.
The origin of the notion of ‘opposing all Government proposals’. This strange notion of ‘opposing the Government and rejecting it’s proposals’, actually originated from the British Parliament when, way back in the 1820s, the first ever Opposition Party was formed in the British House of Commons, called the Whig Party. But because having an official Opposition Party inside Parliament was a novel idea, the British Press naturally wanted to know what were going to be its functions.
They therefore put that question to the leader of that new Opposition Party, who is on record as having replied as follows: “the duty of the opposition is to propose nothing, oppose everything, and throw out the Government”! That strange notion of the Opposition having to “oppose everything and propose nothing” has of course already been abandoned, even in Britain itself. Unfortunately however, the Opposition camp in our own Parliament has consistently voted ‘no’ to all motions asking the House to give approval to the annual Government Budget proposals, in its determined attempts to reject all of them. This appears to be credible evidence to prove that the Opposition camp in our own parliament is still adhering to that outdated notion.
This is indeed surprising, considering the fact that the annual budget is what empowers the Government to provide the required economic and social services to the people; and considering further that their own salaries are paid from the Government budget, this consistent action of attempting to reject every annual Government Budgets becomes a genuine riddle, an event which cannot be easily understood !
That provision was a mechanism to control abuse of power. It is worth remembering that this provision is part of the 1977 Constitution, which was enacted during the period of the One-Party system of Government.
The intention of the Legislature (which was temporarily turned into a Constituent Assembly for the purpose of enacting this Constitution) was to put in place a suitable mechanism which would provide a constant check on the Government in the exercise of its power and authority. And that, in fact, was the reason for including the words “kuisimamia na kuishauri Serikali”, which appear prominently in article 63(2) of the Constitution.
The need for such a mechanism was the brainchild of President Nyerere, who was particularly concerned about the danger of the possible misuse of power by the Government in a One-Party system of governance. It is for that reason, for example, that he ordered the inclusion of the “Permanent Commission of Enquiry” (PCE) in the 1965 Constitution, which formally established the Constitutional One-Party system of governance. The primary function of the Permanent Commission of Enquiry was stated as follows: “to enquire into the conduct of a person in the exercise of his authority, or abuse thereof”.
Hence, even in the case of the 1977 Constitution, he still wanted to see suitable constitutional mechanisms put in place therein, in order to prevent, or to control, the occurrence such abuses of power. It was indeed for that reason, and under his direction, that subarticle (2) was included in article 6 3 of the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania. It was intended to act as a constitutional mechanism for the prevention of ‘abuse of power’ by the then One-Party Government.
It may be of some interest to note the pioneering status of the 1977 Constitution, which is that it was, for the first time ever, proudly enacted in Kiswahili, the national language of Tanzania.