...A manifestation of limited understanding of the country’s Constitution
MR Tundu Lissu (former Singida constituency East Member of Parliament), recently lost his seat in Parliament, according to Speaker, Job Ndugai, as a result of the MP’s breach of the provisions of article 71 (1) (c) and (g) of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977.
Member of Parliament (MP), Tundu Lissu However, there have been certain misconceived reactions which have been publicly expressed in the social media platforms; with most of the commentators blaming the Speaker ‘for having taken that action,’ which they considered to be unfair to Mr Lissu.
Expressing one’s opinion is, of course, quite in order because, under article 18 (a) of our country’s Constitution, “kila mtu anao uhuru wa kuwa na maoni, na kueleza fikra zake.”
Thus, under the protection of that same constitutional provision, I am also taking this opportunity to express my own opinions regarding that matter, and that is the theme of today’s article, in which I will advance the view opinions which tend to blame Speaker Ndugai for Tundu Lissu’s removal from Parliament are, in fact, totally misconceived and misdirected, as they appear to be based on a serious lack of proper knowledge, and understanding, of the relevant provisions of our Constitution. What the Constitution says.
The relevant provisions of the U nion Constitution, 1977, read in Kiswahili as follows:- “71 (1) Mbunge atakoma kuwa Mbunge na ataacha kiti chake katika Bunge, litokeapo lolote katika mambo yafuatayo – (c ) Ikiwa Mbunge atakosa kuhudhuria vikao vya Mikutano mitatu mfululizo (ya Bunge), bila ruhusa ya Spika.
(g) Kwa Mbunge ambaye anatakiwa kutoa taarifa rasmi ya mali kwa mujibu wa masharti ya Ibara ya 70, ikiwa atashindwa kutoa tamko hilo rasmi katika muda uliowekwa mahsusi kwa ajili hiyo kwa mujibu wa sheria iliyotungwa na Bunge”.
It is important to note the mandatory nature of the provision in article 71 (1); namely that “Mbunge atakoma kuwa Mbunge, na ataacha kiti chake katika Bunge, litokeapo lolote katika mambo hayo”.
An English translation of that provision would read as follows: “A Member of Parliament shall cease to be such member, and shall vacate his seat in Parliament, upon the occurrence of any of the following events.”
This clearly means that Mr Tundu Lissu’s removal from Parliament was NOT determined by Speaker Ndugai. It was determined solely by the Constitution.
And that is what makes any such and opinions (purporting to blame the Speaker for Mr Tundu’s loss of his Parliamentary seat), totally misconceived, and therefore stand to be corrected.
Consequently, that underscores the need for upgrading public awareness regarding the provisions of the country’s Constitution.
For example, even some Members of Parliament who, before assuming office, are required to take a solemn oath “to uphold and to defend the Constitution” have, in the instant case, also displayed this lack of Constitutional awareness and understanding, when they claimed that the Speaker “had committed a procedural error, when he announced his judgment (of removing Mr Tundu Lissu from Membership of Parliament) without first giving him the opportunity to be heard by the Ethics Committee of the House”.
Thus, because they have taken the oath “to uphold and to defend the Constitution”, they surely ought to know (unless they were merely reciting those words parrot-fashion, which is unbelievable), that the Speaker was merely announcing the occurrence of an event which had been precipitated by operation of the Constitution’s relevant provisions.
It may therefore be helpful and opportune to point out, for the benefit of the current generation of Tanzanians, that such Constitutionally precipitated events have, in fact, occurred more than once before in the history of our Parliament.
There was, for example, the removal of Speaker Amir Y usufali Abdulkarim Karimjee from the Speakership of the House on 9th December, 1962; The day on which the Tanganyika Republican Constitution came into force.
That Constitution had made provisions which disqualified non-citizens of the new Republic of Tanganyika from becoming Members of, or holding leadership positions in Parliament.
Amir Karimjee, who had been Speaker of the House both before and immediately after independence, was a British citizen, and had opted not to apply for Tanganyika’s citizenship.
Hence, he was automatically (i.e. by operation of law), removed from that position effective from that day. An announcement to that effect was accordingly made in the House at its first sitting after the occurrence of that event, and the House just proceeded to elect Chief Adam Sapi Mkwawa as the new Speaker.
That same Constitutional provision also affected one Mr Austin Kapere Edward Shaba, who was Member of Parliament for Mtwara at the material time.
Immediately it became known that he was not a citizen of Tanganyika (because both his parents, were born in neighbouring Mozambique), he therefore automatically lost his Membership of Parliament, again solely by operation of the country’s Constitution.
And, in more recent times (at the time when I was the Speaker of the House), a similar event occurred when the Civic U nited Front (CU F) decided to boycott Parliament after the 1995 first multi-party general elections, and prohibited all its elected Members from attending the Meetings of the House.
When they had missed a total of three consecutive meetings, they automatically lost their seats in Parliament. All I had to do as Speaker, was just to make an announcement to that effect in the House, and by-elections were consequently held to fill the vacant positions.
The need for upgrading public awareness of the C onstitution. In my considered opinion, the said misconceived views that are currently being expressed regarding Mr Tundu Lissu’s loss of his Parliamentary seat, are based on a serious lack of understanding of the country’s Constitution; and appropriate steps should be taken to remedy this deficiency.
I actually started arguing the case for enhancing public knowledge and awareness regarding the contents of our Constitution soon after the re-introduction of multi-party politics in our governance system; when the Opposition political parties were actively campaigning for the enactment of a new, multiparty Constitution because, they so claimed, “the present Constitution is unfair, because it is biased in favour of the ruling party CCM”.
In my book titled Reflections on the First Decade of Multi-party Politics in Tanzania, 2006 (Nyambari Nyangine Publishers, Dar es Salaam); I argued that “ the need for educating the public is much greater now than ever before; for it is important and necessary for the public to be made aware of the so-called ‘unfair’ provisions of the Constitution, so as to enable them to contribute effectively to the campaign for their removal from our Constitution”.
But even Mwalimu Julius Nyerere himself, in his book titled Our Leadership and the Destiny of Tanzani a (Zimbabwe Publishing House Pvt Ltd, Harare); offers the following rare ‘nuggets of wisdom’: “It is of vital importance to the peace of this country, and to the possibility of its harmonious development, that all the provisions of the U nion Constitution, as it stands at any one time, should be fully respected and honoured.
Tyrannies and dictatorships do not have Constitutions, or if they have them on paper, they are routinely disregarded and rendered irrelevant in practice.
But countries (like Tanzania), which are endeavouring to build democratic and accountable governance systems; have created Constitutions which are appropriate to their particular conditions, histories, and culture.
Their Constitutions are the bulwark, or fortress, of their continued existence as a democracy.
Thus, if they are allowed to be disregarded, the democratic foundation of the nation will have been placed at the mercy of charlatans and crooks; and the country will have set foot upon a slippery path to dictatorship”.
It is quite clear and obvious, that adherence to the Constitution becomes possible only where its contents are fully understood, and appreciated, by the relevant public.
And this again underscores the vital need for extensive public education to enhance such precious awareness. A ray of hope appeared in 2 0 1 4 .
A ray of hope in that respect appeared in 2014, during the Constitution-making process which was initiated by President Jakaya Kikwete, of the Fourth phase Government; When a great deal of public discussion took place among Tanzanians regarding the merits and demerits of the proposed new Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania.
They said ‘ray of hope’ emerged from the fact that this particular process, more than any other of its predecessors, drew the attention and active participation of a much larger number of Tanzanian stake holders, who voiced their demands for postponement of the referendum exercise, in order to allow more time for the people to get enlightened on the contents of the proposed new Constitution, particularly on “what had been unfairly left out by the Constituent Assembly”; So as to enable them to make informed decisions during the referendum. This was a significant new development in peoples’ awareness regarding the importance of the country’s Constitution, since all the previous Constitution- making processes had always attracted comparatively little public interest , despite the commendable efforts which were always made for obtaining the peoples’ views through the appointment of ‘Presidential Constitutional Review Commissions’ for that sole purpose.
The ‘Nyalali Commission’ , which was appointed in 1991 by President Ali Hassan Mwinyi of the Second phase Government, helpfully disclosed in its Report that although it held public meetings in each of the Regions and Districts of Tanzania, they were able to collect only 32,279 submissions from Tanzania Mainland; and only 3,679 from Zanzibar, making a total of a mere 36, 299 submissions from the whole United Republic.
While the ‘Kisanga Commission’ that was appointed in 1998 by President Benjamin Mkapa of the Third phase Government, which also held public meetings in all the Regions and Districts of the country; but received a total of only 600,000 submissions.
And the more recent ‘Warioba Commission which was appointed by President Jakaya Kikwete of the Fourth phase Government, received a total of only 6 84, 303 submissions from the public.
These are, obviously, very small numbers compared with the total adult population of Tanzania citizens during the relevant time periods.
This is indicative of the low-level of public interest in the Constitutional affairs of our nation which, I submit, needs to be enhanced.
The principal purpose of this article was to show that some of the publicly expressed reactions to Mr Tundu Lissu’s removal from Parliament were, actually, totally misconceived and misdirected; and further that this was primarily due to a lack of proper knowledge and understanding of the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the United Republic; and even very little interest, in the affairs pertaining to the country’s Constitution.
There is, therefore, an urgent need to enhancing this inadequate level of Constitutional understanding. As Plato, that famous 1st century Greek philosopher is reported to have said: “No law, or Ordinance, is mightier than understanding”.
- piomsekwa@ gmail . com / 07 5 4 7 6 7 5 7 6