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An induction course for new MPs

LAST week, following the inauguration of the newlyelected 12th Parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania by President Magufuli on Friday 13th November, 2020; this column focused on what is equivalent to an “induction course” for the newly elected MPs; in order to equip them with the essential nitty-gritty of parliamentary business.

Hence, in pursuance of that objective, last week’s article focused on matters relating to Parliamentary conventions, or the unwritten laws and practices which have been adopted for use in Parliament; on the essential role of political parties inside Parliament, plus a brief overview of the contents of the parliamentary rules of procedure.

Today’s article will just continue from there. However before we do that, I wish first to draw attention to another concept that also needs to be properly appreciated, which is simply this: “As much as Tanzanians may look upon President Magufuli’s second term Government to make good on the staggering array of pledges and promises made in the CCM Election Manifesto, it is actually Parliament which will determine whether the Government succeeds in implementing the declared pledges, by dutifully carrying out its constitutional mandate” This assertion is made on the basis that.

“Parliament lies at the heart of the nation’s political life. All Members of Parliament must, therefore, be fully prepared for the sacred task of carrying out their Constitutional mandate and functions.

And in this context, the words “all members” include those from the Opposition parties. Thus, it is most unfortunate, that certain Opposition parties are creating unnecessary obstacles by attempting to prevent their qualified ‘special seats’ women MPs from exercising their right of participation in the business of the House ! Indeed, the disturbing reports concerning this peculiar saga, have reminded me of a prediction that was made by a political analyst at the time of the country’s entry into multi-party politics in 1992.

He said the following: “Now that we are a pluralist society, some elements and opportunists may take advantage of this situation to form political parties with the hidden intention of achieving personal gain”.

It would appear, in view of such unethical actions being taken by these Opposition parties, that they are more focused on ‘personal gain’, instead of on the country’s benefits.

But such actions also help to demonstrate the existence of a serious lack of proper knowledge regarding one of the main functions of the Opposition parties inside Parliament; which is “to cooperate with the governing party members, in the making of appropriate legislative and financial decisions by the House”.

For example, through its constructive criticism, the Opposition can secure the reconsideration, or even withdrawal, of a Government Bill which might have been hastily drafted, or perhaps misconceived.

Thus, any attempt by the Opposition parties’ leadership to deny their duly qualified candidates their constitutional right of attending Parliament, should be roundly condemned. We may now continue with the principal subject. Opportunities for individual MPs to initiate business in the House. For most of the time, parliamentary business relates to proposals presented by the Government of the day.

There is a good reason for this arrangement. It is primarily due to the fact, that the Government that is formed by the political party that won a general election, has a binding obligation to fulfill the promises which were made to the electorate through its election manifesto.

Hence, it is only fair that the greatest portion of the scheduled parliamentary time be allocated to the Government, in order to enable it to obtain parliamentary approval for the laws, and the budget, required for the implementation of those promises.

This is precisely the basis for the bold statement we made above, namely that “It is Parliament which will determine whether President Magufuli’s second term Government, will actually succeed in implementing its election pledges and promises”.

This is because the “the rule of law” concept requires, that the Government shall rule the country only in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and the other laws of the land”; and Parliament alone has the mandate to enact the county’s laws.

Similarly, the Government also needs money to finance the projects which were promised in the election manifesto, and Parliament alone has the constitutional mandate to supply the required money, by approving the government’s annual budget proposals.

Indeed, our parliamentary history shows, that there have been very rare occasions when Parliament got the opportunity to debate ‘Private Members’ business, despite the fact that the Parliamentary Rules do provide opportunities for the participation of individual MPs in the business of the House.

Such opportunities are the following:- (i) Raising a matter for discussion during the motion for the adjournment of business at the end of every sitting day, (ii) Moving a Private Member’s motion, (iii) Introducing a Private Member’s Bill, (iv) Moving amendments to a Government motion or Government Bill. The procedure for taking any of these initiatives is spelled out in the relevant rules of the House; and the Speaker is always available for consultation before taking any such initiative.

The role of Parliamentary Committees. Parliamentary committees play a very crucial role in facilitating the work of Parliament generally. The acknowledged ‘book of authority titled “Erskine May”, explains that “the present parliamentary committee system was developed in response to the need to relieve the pressure of business on the floor of the House, and to new obligations and demands on the House to perform new functions involving detailed investigations which are unsuited to a large assembly”.

In our case, a major restructuring of the Parliamentary committees was undertaken soon after the inauguration of the multiparty Parliament; for the purpose of enhancing Parliament’s capacity for exercising its supervision of Government activities. This was necessary because, during the ‘one-party’ era, Parliamentary committees had been rendered practically ineffective, by requiring them to meet at the same time as Parliament itself; supposedly in order to save money.

This arrangement had the obvious disadvantage that MPS had either to abscond from the sittings of Parliament in order to attend their scheduled committee meetings, or miss the committee meetings in order to attend Parliament. This arrangement was changed after the reintroduction of multi-party politics, by making provision for committee meetings to be held in advance of the associated Parliamentary sessions.

At the same time , the rules were amended to require that each and every item of business which is to be presented to the House, must first be referred to the appropriate committee for detailed consideration and scrutiny; to be submitted to the House only after the relevant committee had reported to the Speaker that it had completed its deliberation on the matter that was sent to it. The budgetary process.

In last week’s article we talked about “parliamentary conventions”, that is to say, those parliamentary practices that are normally done in Parliament without being supported by any written law. Another of such conventions is that the annual budget speech is delivered always on a Thursday afternoon.

And because Tanzania is a member of the East African Community Organization, the choice of this ‘Budget Thursday’ is also governed by the following factors:- (i) The requirement of the Treaty for the Establishment of that Community, which provides that “the estimates of revenue and expenditure of all the partner states, shall be introduced in their National Assemblies, simultaneously on the same day and at the same time. Fortunately, that chosen day and time was Thursday, at four o’clock in the afternoon.

(ii) Uganda’s Constitution, which provides that Uganda’s budget must be introduced in their National Assembly not later than 15th June. The important Constitutional requirement. This is another essential budget consideration.

Article 90 (2) of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977 directs the President to dissolve Parliament, “if the National Assembly refuses to approve a budget proposed by the Government”. This is due to the fact that refusal to approve the government budget is regarded as a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the Government of the day.

Hence, if that happens, the President is compelled by the Constitution to dissolve Parliament, so that a new general election can take place to allow the electorate, if they so decide, to choose a different political party which will form a new Government.

This requirement is what led to the introduction of the ‘ roll-call’ rule when the House votes to approve the annual budget, in order to provide clear written evidence that the budget was in fact approved by Parliament.

MPs should therefore be aware of this constitutional provision, so that they can avoid the possibility of inadvertently creating the necessity for an unplanned general election. Approving the Finance Bill, and the Appropriation Bill.

There are two important Government Bills which must also be approved in order to complete the budget approval process. These are the Finance Bill; and the Appropriation Bill. The Finance Bill is what authorizes the imposition of any new taxes, or alteration to any existing taxes; the adoption of which constitutes Parliament’s approval of the Government’s revenue collections for the relevant financial year.

The Appropriation Bill details the moneys that have been granted to each of the specified beneficiaries of the Government budget. However, it has a slightly different procedure for its adoption, which is that: whereas all other Bills have to go through the “Committee stage” which normally follows immediately after the completion of the general debate on the Second Reading of the relevant Bill, when the National Assembly automatically reconstitutes itself into a ‘Committee of the whole House’ in order to give detailed consideration to each and every clause of the Bill for approval or rejection, as the case may be; the annual Appropriation Bill is not sent to any Standing committee, nor is it taken through the committee of the whole House.

I am not personally aware of the reason for this exception, it is presumably among the inherited British parliamentary conventions. Approval for Government borrowing. The annual Appropriation Bill also normally carries a provision which gives specific approval to the Minister for Finance to borrow money; in the manner, and on the conditions, prescribed therein.

The relevant provision reads as follows:- “ The Minister may, at any time or times during the relevant financial year, borrow within or outside the United Republic, or partly within and partly outside the United Republic, any sums not exceeding in the whole the total sum granted, or deemed to have been granted out of the consolidated fund for the relevant year, by way of loan, advance, the issue of bills or bank overdraft, and on such terms and conditions as the Minister may deem expedient; and may charge the loan or advance on any of the assets of the United Republic, including the securities forming part of the consolidated fund . . . The powers conferred upon the Minister by this section shall be in addition to the powers of the Minister under the Government Loans, Grants, and Guarantees Grants Act, 1974”.

The Appropriation Act thus gives the necessary authority to the Minister of Finance to take loans from the specified sources, without having to come back to Parliament every time the need arises, to seek approval for doing so.

(To be continued next week). piomsekwa@gmail.com /0754767576

I have been recently retrenched by my employer. ...


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