Creating the right incentives for MPs (THE CITIZEN ARTICLE)
By Kabwe Zitto
Kigoma North MP
Dodoma. The debate on the strengthening of Parliament and the creation of an effective Parliament has been on and off. Recently members of Parliament have been discussing the introduction of a constituency development fund (CDCF) to assist MPs to address some of the challenges we face in meeting the demands of our constituents.
This proposal faces enormous opposition from some sections of the civil society and donor community. One of the reasons why some stakeholders oppose the CDF is the concern that it distracts MPs from performing their legitimate core functions.
This article is not concerned with the merits and demerits of CDF, but rather it brings to our attention that, with or without CDF, MPs have to perform core functions outlined below. CDF does not address the core functions of legislation and oversight.
As a Member of Parliament for the last three years, I have observed a number of issues regarding our role as Parliamentarians and I hereby analyse the problems and put forward some recommendations for reforms. I consider this to be the right time as the Parliament is in the process of enacting a new National Assembly (Administration) Act. This brief article inputs into the legislation process of the new law to administer the affairs of the Parliament of Tanzania.
According to a recent World Bank article, legislatures around the world are developing into institutions that increasingly perform four key functions of making laws, representing citizens in policymaking and legislation, overseeing the executive and developing future leaders. The Tanzanian Parliament is increasingly performing the mentioned roles. In recent months, perceptions of Tanzanians towards the National Assembly have improved considerably.
Nevertheless, there are challenges that we as Tanzanian MPs face in performing our duties. The challenges we face as MPs in performing these core functions effectively at both local and national level have been extensively documented in recent years. Some of the challenges that have been mentioned by MPs and other stakeholders through various studies include inadequate, inaccurate, unreliable and inaccessible information to facilitate our work.
Others are a lack of adequate analytical, research, and administrative support, a distorted public perception of the role of an MP (some MPs joke that, they are mobile ATMs when they visit constituencies). Others are political interference (real and/or perceived) by the executive function to the legislatures and vice versa and unfavorable working environment, including lack of premises, inadequate equipment and no technological support.
Improving MPs’ performance
All of the above five mentioned challenges are stumbling blocks that make it difficult for us to perform our legitimate and sometimes constitutional functions. The fact remains that MPs face real problems that need to be addressed. Below we examine some issues raised by MPs and analyse attempts in other countries to address them.
Access to Information
MPs cannot begin to be effective without enough of the right information at the right time in a consistent manner. The recent debate around parliamentary access to government contracts has forced this issue into the public domain, questioning old assumptions. At national level, the Parliamentary Library has the potential to be a vibrant hub of policy and legislative information that can be used by MPs and parliamentary researchers to improve legislation, policy and oversight. However, the information contained therein is inadequate, often outdated, and often of questionable relevance to today’s changing legislative environment.
To perform our representative role, MPs need to be in constant contact with constituents, to be informed of and understand their needs and to ensure that these needs are followed up with the relevant government authorities. At constituency level, many MPs do not have offices. For those MPs, who manage to obtain office space, it is often inadequately furnished and ill-equipped. This discourages MPs from spending time in constituencies because the working environment is less than ideal.
If constituents do not know where to access their MP, the MP will not be informed of their needs and will not represent them adequately. One of the reasons cited for wanting the CDF is that public funds that are available at constituency level for development projects are excessively bureaucratic and not easily accessed. Information on the money received and how this money is used should be posted publicly at local government level.
Furthermore, the MP, being a member of the local authority council should have access to all the necessary information to perform the oversight function at local level. For those MPs working in constituencies where there is internet access, following up issues at district level becomes even easier because a lot of information that is not easily accessible at district level is often posted on the various government websites.
Examples of this are budget, expenditure and performance information, audit reports, laws, by-laws, policies and service delivery survey findings. Often information produced outside of government can also provide valuable information for MPs to cross-check or supplement information provided by government.
Information and Technology (IT) equipment and internet access in the office of the MP in such cases if well used could improve the oversight function considerably.
One of the most common complaints at constituency level is that, once elected, constituents rarely see their MP until it is time for re-election. Some of us admit that we are unable to spend as much time in our constituencies as we would like due to the many duties we have that require us to be outside of our constituencies.
These include following up on projects earmarked for our respective constituencies with the relevant ministries etc. This problem could be addressed if the office of the MP at constituency level was staffed with pParpeople, who would assist the MP with constituency work. This way our presence would be felt even when we are not physically present. Much of the follow up work done at constituency level can be done by someone other than the MP.
In fact, even centrally, staff supports for the legislature in general and, more specifically, for Parliamentary committees is far from adequate and this affects the ability of MPs and Parliamentary committees to analyse proposed bills and policies, their implications on the nation as well as on our constituents. It also limits our ability to initiate legislation in the form of private members bills, as is our right, or to commission special studies independently of the executive to assist us with our oversight function.
While acknowledging that Tanzania is a developing country and that the national budget will reflect this fact, for a small additional increase in the administration budget for Parliament, it is possible to employ enough appropriately skilled staff to ensure that Parliament is adequately supported in performing its oversight function. In the past, I have proposed that each constituency MP should be provided with, say, Sh3 million a month for the purpose of remunerating supporting staff. This would total less than Sh10 billion a year.
When MPs put propose revisions to our pay packages, the common public perception is that MPs are seeking to legislate large salaries for ourselves and the public constantly questions whether value for money is being obtained.
This is not surprising given that the declaration of assets that an MP is required to make annually under the Public Code of Ethics Act is also not easily accessible to the public.
Lessons from other countries
The above problems are common and we should, first of all, examine how other countries have tried to address them. In 2005, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conducted a survey of remuneration paid to legislatures within the commonwealth. The survey demonstrates the diversity in terms of what is paid to MPs across the countries surveyed and there were many differences.
Most legislatures in developing countries received a constituency allowance, some assistance towards transport or purchase of a vehicle and fuel, and an attendance allowance when parliament is in session.Many were on a medical plan or a contributory pension scheme. The salary levels varied considerably.
In Kenya, for example, an MP was paid a salary equivalent to that of a head of a civil service ministry, while in Malawi an MP was paid less than half the salary of a secondary school teacher. In most cases, support staff salaries are paid directly to staff by the Office of Parliament and this is not given directly to MPs. Staffing support is not common in developing countries.
In view of the above and having taken account of common practice elsewhere in the world, I make the following recommendations:
Immediate action should be taken to ensure that the Parliamentary Library in Dodoma is well stocked with up-to-date, relevant material to provide MPs and parliamentary staff with timely, accurate and relevant information to enhance their performance.
MPs should be provided with a Parliamentary Programme in advance of each session detailing all the matters to be discussed during the session. Changes to this Programme should be the exception rather than the norm.
MPs total remuneration package should be reviewed every 2 years (beginning this year) in order to be in line with appropriate rates paid in countries with similar conditions and in line with job market trends within Tanzania.
All elected MPs should be guaranteed an office within their constituencies, if an office cannot be provided by the local government authority, then the Office of Parliament should set aside a fund to ensure that appropriate premises within their constituency can be leased on behalf of the MP.
Nominated and Special seats MPs should also be guaranteed office space either in Dodoma or Dar es Salaam so that they can be easily located by the special groups they represent. Such MPs may be required to share office space and/or basic equipment if it is more cost-effective to do so.
All MP offices should be furnished with basic furniture, stationery, office equipment (including IT equipment where possible), and a modest budget for general running costs. Where it is most cost-effective to do so, any of these items should be purchased centrally and distributed accordingly to MPs’ offices. All office premises, equipment and furniture should be issued to an MP on loan and must be returned to the Office of Parliament once s(he) ceases to be an MP and re-allocated as appropriate.
The Office of Parliament should consider assisting MPs with postage costs for official correspondence. This may be done by issuing prepaid envelopes to MPs for official correspondence.
To assist MPs to perform their representative and oversight duties within their constituencies, there should be a guaranteed staffing allowance for all elected MPs. The allocation should be enough to guarantee an MP a driver, an office assistant and a personal assistant to assist with research, basic correspondence, following up on constituency issues, preliminary analysis and problem solving for constituency problems that are straight-forward, among others.
The personal assistant would be expected to operate at the level of a recent university graduate. MPs would be responsible for preparing staff contracts (following a standard contract template issued by the Office of Parliament) and terms of reference for all of their staff.
They would manage their performance and allocate duties within the terms of the contract. All salary payments would be made directly by the Office of Parliament to individual members of staff in accordance with the agreed contract. MPs would be required to set salaries at levels similar to those paid to staff possessing equivalent levels of responsibility within normal government service.
Parliament should consider setting aside an allocation for special research projects to enable MPs to perform their role more effectively.
This allocation would not be used for work that falls within the MPs’ routine duties. However, it would be available to assist members with more technical research studies, such as analysis of complex bills requiring technical expertise, preparation of private members’ bills requiring specific research or impact analyses.
All remuneration and benefits due to MPs should be publicly available by law and posted on-line.
All assets owned by and interests belonging to MPs must be declared on and annual basis, and the current declaration of assets/interests must be published in a public place at the MP’s office.
All allocations to and expenditure by MPs should be audited by a reputable external auditor or the National Audit Office on an annual basis and this report should be made available to the public both on-line and within the relevant constituency in hard copy.
Effective Parliament can only be attained if and only if there exists incentives and an enabling environment to allow the legislature to perform its oversight role properly. The above highlighted recommendations, I believe, would improve the effectiveness of the Tanzanian Parliament.
The purpose of parliamentary reforms is to create the right institutional and individual incentives for increased effectiveness in the legislative function. I submit that, the recommendations herein would move our Parliament several steps in this direction.
Kabwe Zuberi Zitto, the youngest elected MP in Tanzanian Parliament, is a Trade economist with enormous interests on democratic institutions and mineral/resources economics. Zitto is currently serving as a Champion for the establishment of the Global Parliamentary Network on preventive Diplomacy.
He chairs a strong and sensitive Parliamentary Standing Committee dealing with Accounts of Public Investments (i.e. Parastatals, Government Institutions and Companies with government interests). He is an MP representing Kigoma North on a ticket of Chadema, the country’s main opposition party he serves as the deputy secretary general