Youthful MPs start grappling with solutions By Ani Jozen-The Guardian IPP Media
By ANI JOZEN
Job descriptions are changing in how parliamentary committees relate to the work of government ministries they are supposed to supervise, from oversight of accounts and criticism of responsible officials, or impeaching them, to a different outlook.
Now it seems that parliamentary committees are beginning to enter into the nitty gritty of issues and look for solutions, often in the direction sought by the government, but could do nothing about it due to criticism from MPs. It means that when the same initiative or a modified version comes from MPs, it will no longer face obstacles to taking it up.
This outlook is evident from the tonality of the new leadership of the House committees handling energy issues, especially from Bumbuli MP January Makamba, where the generation gap is more in evidence than perhaps of other MPs.
He took over the seat from veteran permanent secretary William Shelukindo, and was handed the same job of chairing the parliamentary committee on energy matters, and his tone is markedly different from the elder ex-parliamentarian. It means that the usual thrust of Parliament, which certain quarters had become used to seeing as ethics, was only just style.
A major problem that has confronted Parliament since it started its current life as the 10th Parliament of the United Republic and 11th since independence, is the crippling power shedding in place since November.
There is a clear shift from requiring the government to empower Tanesco to solve this and other problems, to seeking solutions within public-private partnerships, including crossing limits hitherto imposed by the sense of ethics – but in actual fact style – predominant in the past legislature and largely explaining the current woes. The reasons are multiple but generation gap has a clear role.
What is at issue seems to focus around a proper comprehension of first, what is ‘public-private partnership’ and tied to it, clarifying its relationship with the public sector – as to how far the latter bends to the dictates of the partnership, or decides everything as if the partner was an agent.
This has so far been the way things are conducted in the energy sector in particular, leading to a chasm of sentiments on how decisions are made, to affirm public sector hegemony in all decision making. This has consequently thrown policy making into confusion, and partnerships become mostly non-starters.
For instance it is on the basis of insistence by MP Makamba that the government is now preparing amendments to the law on public procurement so that there is greater flexibility in deciding what sort of machinery or equipment can be procured by the government. One contradictory feature is that public agencies like ATC/ATCL can ‘wet lease’ any plane they can find, but electricity generation can’t be solved by procuring a system that would be in use for two years. It would be totally unlawful.
In the previous legislature the idea of making changes on the current law provisions would have been more or less out of question, and owing to opposition from MPs, government management of the sector was rudderless. The government was on the receiving end of criticism in the legislature and civil society, apart from opposition, and fending it off was sufficiently preoccupying as a task, before thinking of revisiting the legislation itself, to give it room to do what precisely was being considered as wrong ethically and contrary to the law. In other words MPs saw the law as fully rational on the issue.
This is not patently the case anymore, as it is beginning to emerge within the precincts of the House committees that the parliamentary ideal – procurement as stipulated by the law – was too hemmed in for comfort. What is missing is the combative mood of the past legislature, that wishing to alter the legislation as it was merely to observe the biddings of vested interests, since their object of pursuit, that the government purchases a new generation system, as for all intents and purposes failed. When any of their adherents address the issue, for instance among opposition MPs, they query why it is so.
What is emerging can be called a ‘wet purchasing’ regime similar to ‘wet leasing’ elsewhere, despite that the two may have different connotations, and it means that a sort of puritanism of public sector demands is being eclipsed. Obviously there is another side to the matter as the 2004 Act may have been designed to stop negative instances of purchases of ramshackle equipment and there is no way the likely complications can be prefigured or otherwise avoided but placing a blanket law about what to purchase. It means the purchasing will be closely supervised, to it keep within the public interest.
When this hurdle is crossed within the legislature, examining what can also be done in relation to parastatal restructuring begins to take a new image, for instance in the case of another youthful MP, Zitto Zuberi Kabwe in charge of accounts of parastatal organizations.
The MP has been insisting on taking up a structure where TANESCO is relieved of generation capacity and only takes up generated power, transmits it to power stations and distributes it to consumers. It is unclear if this is a changed proposal agreed collectively, or it is personal opinion to restart the debate on unbundling of Tanesco.
While the whole idea of unbundling of Tanesco is likely to confront teething problems of a practical character, it marks a shift from a situation where such issues were only being discussed in offices of the ministry and much less in Tanesco itself. Parliament was by and large disposed only to criticism of government officials, imputing or otherwise in determination of wrongdoing, with a standard political penalty of resigning from a ministerial position. That way matters looked easy, as it was enough for a particular sentiment on governance to be breached for such imputation of responsibility to come up.
What is therefore emerging is that there is clear paralysis of government action on account of being closely watched by parliamentary committees and the wider House, and fractious disputes within the ruling party, rising up to Cabinet level. This means that the government has enough on its hands just trying to keep the peace both within its own ranks and in its dealings with Parliament and civil society that it can scarcely take initiative one way or another.
As a result, vast expectations of change arose in the past general elections and failed, and meanwhile much of the old guard in the House went out.
It is consequently undeniable that a shift in tone and even in comprehension of tasks of MPs and of government has taken place in Parliament, and as a result it is the House which is moving proposals in more than one area. Altering the law on procurement to make it flexible, instead of imposing singular choices of purchasing new systems as dictated by preferences of parastatal boards and radical MPs backed by a World Bank advised legislation is one example, since its only alternative is permanent load shedding. Without a shift of sentiments in the House, no such amendments would come about.
So there is a surprising situation in both parts of the Union, where in Zanzibar the political paralysis has been resolved by having the two contentious parties constituting a government of national unity, while the paralysis on the Mainland is being resolved differently.
It is being catered for by changing mentalities among MPs partly on account of the generation gap, where the likes of January Makamba or Zitto Kabwe don’t have parastatal interests at heart, or seeing Parliament as a disciplinary caucus to control executive ethics, but a problem resolving environment. It is likely to be a relief to the public.
Source: The Guardian