Chief whips of various political parties represented in the National Assembly yesterday leapt to the defence of their fellow parliamentarians, saying the current seating arrangements are limiting their members from actively taking part in debates in the August House.
Lively debates and sometimes hostile disruptions have become the order of the day of the current National Assembly seating, with MPs from both ends of the house hoping to outsmart each other.
However, observations have been made that only some MPs participate in debates, while others are accused of virtually warming up parliamentary benches over the past months.
A 2019 study by the Hansard Society reported that MPs spend a full 49% of their time on constituency work as part of their parliamentary oversight function.
The study concluded that backbenchers in parliament spend more than half of their time and energy looking away from parliament, seizing their opportunity to partake in parliamentary committees.
New Era engaged different political party chief whips in the National Assembly on why their members do not engage actively in debates, motions and contributions in parliament.
Swapo chief whip Hamunyera Hambyuka blamed the seating arrangements, which he said deprives their backbenchers from actively contributing inside the chamber.
He feels the sixth session of parliament is more active than the current seventh session.
“Swapo members are not ‘deadwood’. Most members are seated scattered due to Covid-19,” he said.
“They are deprived sometimes due to the seating arrangements as a result of Covid-19. However, as Swapo Party members, we are working on a strategy to make sure parliament becomes alive. Come next week, they will see some changes apart from the training.”
Hambyuka promised his office will continue to strengthen and organise its MPs to be effective and seasoned national leaders through capacity-building workshops, language proficiency workshops and induction training.
Hambyuka called on party members, especially backbenchers to approach his office whenever they want to table motions so arrangements can be made for them to make contributions.
Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) chief whip Vipuakuje Muharukua claimed there is no single official opposition MP who conform to the term ‘deadwood’.
He said all their members are actively involved in debates and motions, seeking answers.
“PDM does not have such members referred to as ‘deadwood’. When it comes to substantive debates, PDM is one of the parties that go out there to ensure we researched debates on the floor and make meaningful debates,” said the youthful MP.
“I know so because I am the one in charge of managing individuals as to who is going to talk about what. As far as I am concerned, all our MPs are doing the job as they should. Perhaps we could make improvements in various areas but ‘deadwood’ is not the term that I would associate with PDM MPs,” he remarked.
According to him, MPs must be aware of the plight of the masses and address them.
He feels if MPs do not contribute to debates regarding the plight of the masses, then such members are not in touch with the people on the ground.
Muharukua accused some MPs, in particular those representing Swapo, of merely being “handclappers”.
“That is wrong. We get paid peoples’ money and we must alleviate their plight – and if we don’t bring people’s problems to parliament, then we are neglecting our job. We have the management of parliament to blame. They fear the executive. As long as that happens, we will continue to have MPs hiding in the system or the bench and do nothing – but at the end of the day, they take their salary home, and that is wrong,” Muharukua noted.
Landless People’s Movement (LPM) chief whip Henry Seibeb said they are only four members in parliament and are all actively involved in debates, contributions and passing motions.
“Since we are four, it is easy to handle. We are a new and small party, and we don’t have institutions like old parties such as Swapo. We debate and participate. Most minority opposition parties depend on us to support their motion. We are happy about our performance,” he maintained.
On fights in parliament, Seibeb said parliament, by nature, is a hotly contested avenue of ideas.
Once the debate gets hot, he said, some MPs lose their temper.
“I have not seen physical fights. We debate hotly and emotions can erupt. We don’t have ‘deadwood’,” Seibeb stressed.
Christian Democratic Voice Party (CDV) Gothard Kandume defended his party as not dormant, saying they are active and do contribute to crucial issues affecting ordinary people.
According to him, CDV has a different agenda, unlike other parties.
“I cannot fight Swapo like other opposition parties. I represent Christian democracy. Therefore, we cannot fight. We do participate. Even last year, I asked the finance minister why they are bailing out SOEs like Air Namibia. Why are community members concerned with MPs who are not debating? We still have four years. We took an oath to represent Namibian people and not political parties,” Kandume reacted. - email@example.com