Members of parliament who continuously portray a lack of decorum in the National Assembly (NA) should be taken to task, local commentators have suggested.
The National Assembly sessions have been hogging headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks, as MPs from across the political divide hurl insults at each other, while some have also challenged each other to physical fights outside the chamber.
The situation has also been exacerbated by the non-existence of a privileges committee, which is supposed to oversee the conduct and ensure decorum is maintained in the National Assembly. The committee is yet to be constituted and this has visibly rendered Speaker Peter Katjavivi “incapacitated” when it comes to bringing the House under control during proceedings.
He recently told The Namibian political parties were playing dirty politics by delaying the formation of this committee.
Legal aid lawyer Natjikasorua Tjirera weighed in on the issue by reminding “unruly” MPs not to forget they are representing Namibians who voted for them.
“It is despicable in my view that while the nation is having a myriad of socio-economic challenges, members of parliament are busy with petty issues,” he said. “Parliament should be a platform where ideas are exchanged in an attempt to advance the interests of Namibians but unfortunately it has been turned into some haven for lawlessness and anarchy.”
As for the parliamentary immunity, Tjirera said he is of the considered opinion that the immunity granted to the MPs is not absolute and should be read with other provisions of the law, especially the constitution which is the supreme law of the country.
“I hope that one day someone will test the parliamentary immunity in court for us to have a clear position. As for now, we can simply hope that the MPs will rise above petty issues and address serious issues,” said the outspoken Tjirera.
Political commentator Graham Hopwood is of the view that parliament should have procedures and rules which govern what is acceptable in terms of speech.
“I think the public expects there to be a robust debate but not insults and personal abuse. MPs together with the speaker’s office need to sort this out soon,” Hopwood said.
“If the privileges committee is not functioning then a meeting of chief whips and senior MPs from all parties should be convened to ensure reasonable and respectful standards of debate and exchange.”
Another commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah said slandering each other is not parliamentary nor is it policymaking.
“Not only does it divert the parliamentarians from their policymaking responsibilities but voters from being served in a dignified manner,” Kamwanyah said.
“Just because South Africa or any other country is doing it does not mean Namibia should also do it. Namibia is a unique country and should create its own parliamentary culture and practice.”
He also said there was no absolute to parliamentary immunity, therefore the voters and the public must develop a cancel culture towards those involved in unruly conduct.
Former Swapo MP Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana admitted parliamentary debates can be heated. However, she indicated there are rules about what members can and can’t say. “Unbecoming language, insults, and accusations of dishonesty are banned from the House,” she added.
Recently, justice minister Yvonne Dausab demanded an apology from Landless People’s Movement (LPM) MP Henny Seibeb for alleged defamation of character.
The threat for a defamation lawsuit follows statements allegedly made by Seibeb during a National Assembly debate in which he claimed that Dausab fraudulently completed an LLB degree for environment minister Pohamba Shifeta.
However, Seibeb has cited parliamentary immunity.
‘Enough is enough’
Meanwhile, an irate Katjavivi on Tuesday warned the conduct of some MPs was seriously threatening the integrity and the decorum of the National Assembly.
“For too long, we have observed some members choosing the floor of this House to insult each other, calling each other all sorts of names and even to an extent of threatening each other physically,” he said.
Katjavivi said he has reached a point that the rules of the House must be strictly and actively observed and honoured by all.
“I will instruct the systems controller to switch off the microphone of any member who stands up and/or starts talking without requesting the floor and so granted or acknowledged by the presiding member in terms of the rules quoted and any other relevant rule,” Katjavivi told MPs.
“All of us are required to behave with the necessary respect and courtesy attached to the position we hold. This unbecoming behaviour of some members that have become a daily occurrence will no longer be tolerated.”