FROM the parliamentary point of view, last week presented a unique, triple assortment of interesting parliamentary events taking place simultaneously, ranging from a rather unusual one which took place in London England to local events taking place in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.
They were respectively, the prorogation of the British House of Commons, the annual conference of the Commonwealth (Africa Region), conference and Tundu Lissu’s court case against Speaker Job Ndugai in which the former Singida Mashariki constituency MP is challenging his removal from membership of the Union Parliament.
I have chosen this parliamentary topic for discussion in today’s article, primarily because of that institution’s fundamental and high profile status in the country’s constitutional outfit and the level of respect accorded to it in Tanzania’s political landscape.
In light of that, it will be helpful to update our esteemed readers on that August Institution’s high constitutional status, which is what presumably accounts for the general public’s interest in the normal proceedings of that constitutional organ itself and its other associated activities or functions, such as the events which are mentioned above.
The Parliament and the Constitution.
Preamble to our country’s Constitution reads as follows (translated from Kiswahili): “Whereas we, the people of the United Republic of Tanzania, have formally decided to build and develop our nation’s community based on the principles of freedom, justice, brotherhood and peace; and whereas these principles can only be realized in a truly democratic society, whose Government is answerable to a Parliament consisting of representatives directly elected by the people themselves; now therefore, for that purpose, we hereby give to ourselves this Constitution, which is enacted by the Parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania on behalf of all the people of this land.”
But the Parliament’s high profile status in the country’s constitutional outfit is further illustrated by the statements made, at different times, by the country’s top leadership namely, by Prime Minister Rashidi Kawawa in 1962, and by the President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in 1964.
When he was introducing the Bill for the adoption of the Tanganyika Republican Constitution for discussion in the National Assembly in November 1962, Prime Minister Rashidi Kawawa said, “The proposal to have an executive President, in no way derogates the authority or status of this Parliament.
The moral authority of any Government must ultimately depend on the consent of the people who are governed.
This is the basis of democracy, and in practice, democracy is best maintained by means of a freely elected Parliament, having sovereign power to make laws, to raise taxes, and to vote money for public purposes.
The parliament is the voice of the of the nation, and the fount of authority, which must remain sovereign”. For his part, President Julius Nyerere, in his address to the National Assembly on April 25, 1964 said the following: “This Parliament is the supreme organ of the people of Tanganyika.
No important constitutional issues can be finally decided by any individual person, or a group of persons, other than this august Assembly”.
Such observations by the country’s top leadership, clearly serve to confirm the Parliament’s high profile status, and the high respect it deserves in the political landscape of Tanzania.
This also presumably implies that many people would be interested in knowing more about such extraordinary parliamentary events, as those that occurred last week.
That precisely, is what gave me the appetite, plus the motivation, to craft today’s article, which is designed to provide some useful additional information in connection with the three unrelated separate parliamentary events that occurred last week simultaneously in London, Zanzibar and in Dar es Salaam, whose details are discussed below.
The prorogation of the British House of Commons.
“To prorogue Parliament” simply means the act of ‘suspending the sittings of Parliament for a specified (usually very brief), period by the Sovereign.
It is a long established convention of the British Parliament, which, during the colonial days, was also exported to all legislatures of countries which were ruled by Britain, including Tanganyika and was, therefore, incorporated in the Tanganyika Independence Constitution (which had been crafted in London), where in the power to prorogue the Tanganyika Parliament was vested in Her Majesty, the Queen, but exercisable on her behalf by her resident representative in Dar es Salaam, the Governor-General.
Actually, the ‘Government White Paper’ which had been prepared for the purpose of informing the public regarding the Government’s proposals for the Republican Constitution, had specifically recommended the retention of this power.
However, indeed most fortunately, the inherent dangers of that power appear to have been well known to the far-sighted Mwalimu Nyerere, who directed the makers of the Tanganyika Republic Constitution of 1962, NOT to include this power in that first ‘homemade’ Constitution.
This fact was disclosed by Prime Minister Rashidi Kawawa in his speech introducing the relevant Government Bill for discussion in the National Assembly, when he said the following: “Mr Speaker, the abolition of the power to prorogue Parliament is a major departure from the Government Paper. We have accepted it after full consideration to emphasise the sovereignty of Parliament.
” The dangers inherent in the power to prorogue Parliament (which were foreseen by Mwalimu Nyerere in 1962) are what are now greatly troubling the British Parliament in London.
Although it is perfectly legal, yet the said action has enraged many of the MPs in the House of Commons.
For example, the Deputy Leader of the main opposition Labour Party has strongly denounced it by saying that, “this action is an entirely scandalous affront to our democracy.
We cannot let this happen,” while the Liberal Democrats spokesman said, “The mother of all Parliaments will not allow him (Prime Minister Boris Johnson), to shut the peoples’ Parliament out of the biggest decision facing our country (Brexit). His declaration of war will be met with an iron fist.”
The Green Party spokesperson called it ‘a constitutional outrage’ and many other critical comments made by other MPs. But these were only the initial hostile reactions to the British Parliament’s prorogation measure.
More serious fighting by MPs against it is widely expected to follow, with the possibility that it may even force the calling of a new general election to resolve that nasty conflict.
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Zanzibar.
The current generation is probably not so well informed about the value of the Commonwealth and its benefits to Tanzania.
It may thus be helpful to them to quote here the words of Prime Minister Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (as he was at the time), which he used in his speech delivered in the Tanganyika Legislative Council on June 5, 1961, when he was explaining the benefits of joining the Commonwealth upon the attainment of Tanganyika’s independence in December of that year.
He said the following: “Mr Speaker, I feel sure that this National Assembly can see nothing, but good from our request to join the Commonwealth.
This is an association which does truly work. For more than any other group of nations in the world today, the Commonwealth binds together in friendship and like-mindedness an astonishing variety of nations, great and small without distinction between them, and without discrimination among themselves.
Stronger than treaties, less selfish than alliances, and less restrictive than any other associations, the Commonwealth seems to us to offer much hope in the world today for lasting peace and friendship among the peoples of the world.”
Thus, at the political level, the ‘Commonwealth’ brings together the Heads of Government of all the member countries, who meet regularly every two years and also brings together the Parliamentarians of all those countries, under the umbrella of the ‘Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’ (CPA).
This association is structured in terms of continental ‘regions’, one of which is the ‘Africa Region’, which was holding its annual conference at Zanzibar last week.
During my Speakership, I hosted one such conference in Arusha in 1995.
The basic purpose of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is “the strengthening of parliamentary systems, and the promotion of the democratic principles of good governance and the rule of law in its member countries by actively promoting knowledge and education about the constitutional, legislative, economic, social and cultural systems within the Commonwealth parliamentary framework”.
It is in pursuance of that objective of ‘strengthening the parliamentary systems in member countries’, that the CPA Africa Region conference held in Zanzibar last week, focused mainly on “the need to broaden the use of information and communication technologies to improve the parliamentary processes” with participants expressing confidence that “by fully adopting the e-parliament system, African Parliaments will have achieved a milestone towards enhancing democracy and greater effectiveness, in their service deliveries.”
Tundu Lissu’s litigation against Speaker Ndugai: the relevant facts.
Lissu, Member of Parliament for Singida Mashariki (as he was then) lost his membership of Parliament entirely by the operation of Article 71(1)(c) of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, which provides as follows: “Mbunge atakoma kuwa Mbunge, na ataacha kiti chake katika Bunge, litokeapo lolote kati ya mambo yafuatayo:
(b) . . . . . .
(c) Ikiwa Mbunge atakosa kuhudhuria vikao vya mikutano ya Bunge mitatu mfululizo, bila ruhusa ya Spika.”
The words “bila ruhusa ya Spika” are the ones which create the offense that attracts the prescribed punishment, of an MP having to lose his parliamentary seat. In other words, such permission must be sought and obtained.
When that is neglected, the Speaker’s responsibility is limited to only informing the National Electoral Commission (NEC), about the occurrence of a vacancy in the National Assembly seats, a duty which he is compelled to perform by a specific section of the National Elections Act, 1985.
But Lissu was quick to challenge in court what he called “the decision of the Speaker” to unseat him. Perhaps I should say it one more time, for the sake of emphasis, that his removal from Parliament was NOT the Speaker’s decision.
But, surprisingly, Lissu’s submission included a (rather strange) request to the court, “to issue an order to stop his elected replacement from being sworn in before the set hearing date.”Wow! Attempting to stop a formal parliamentary process externally?
That is surely something that was more in the nature of pure theatricals! However, at this stage (at the time of writing), we can say no more about this matter since the case is still in the process of being heard before the High Court of Tanzania.
But it may be of some interest to our readers, to know that an identical event actually occurred in April 1996 when I was the Speaker, and it fell upon me to inform the National Electoral Commission (NEC), that several vacancies had occurred in the seats of elected members of the National Assembly, as a result of all CUF MPs having failed to attend three consecutive meetings of the House ‘without the Speaker’s permission’, just because their party had ordered them to boycott all meetings of the House.