TODAY’S presentation is a continuation of the argument introduced last week, regarding some of the senseless/ pointless actions that are often taken by the Opposition parties in our own jurisdiction; which appear to be implementing the statement that was made by the Leader of the first British Opposition party to be established in that country, namely, that “the duty of the Opposition is to oppose everything, propose nothing, and throw out the government”.
The Opposition political parties in the Tanzania Parliament have continuously taken that action of opposing every annual government, over the entire period since the reintroduction of multi-party politics in our country in 1992. Many stakeholders, including myself, have considered this action to be senseless, pointless, and absolutely illogical.
And the late President John Pombe Magufuli, presumably after having been utterly disgusted by this senseless repetitive action by our Opposition camp in Parliament, decided to openly express his irritation and dismay.
He did so when he was on a tour of the Lake Zone Regions of Mwanza, Mara, and Simiyu, during the third quarter of the calendar year 2018; soon after Parliament had completed its consideration of the 2018/2019 annual budget.
Among the issues of concern to him which he raised during that tour, was this matter (of the Opposition parties casting their “NO” vote, on the motion to approve the government annual budget), in their futile attempt to prevent Parliament’s approval of that budget. Parliament’s approval of the government budget, is a constitutional requirement.
The President had disclosed his dismay, and obvious disappointment, in some of his public speeches; in which he explained why he was dismayed by the Opposition camp’s irritating action of constantly attempting to block the passage of the government annual budgets through Parliament.
Because he himself had been a Member of Parliament (and also a member of the government), since 1995, and he had therefore seen it happening repeatedly since that time.
Hence, now that he was the country’s President, he decided to publicly express his deep concern regarding this matter, of why the opposition camp in Parliament was always taking this action, despite the fact that it is this same budget which provides the funding for almost all the development projects which are implemented throughout the country, including their own individual constituencies, or areas in which they live or operate!
But, clearly, the President was not alone in getting so dismayed, and even puzzled, over this state of affairs. For there were many others, particularly the CCM MPs, who had expressed similar concerns during the previous year, as was reported by THE DAILY NEWS of 6th July, 2017, in which it carried a front page headline which read: “Budget sails through Parliament as Opposition legislators are roasted over their ‘NO’ vote”; and continued as follows: “Some CCM Members of Parliament urged the government to stop sending development funds to those areas whose representatives had had rejected it by casting their “NO’ v otes; a call which was supported by many other CCM legislators”.
However, what actually motivated me to write tis article, is the welcome “breath of fresh air” in respect of the voting on the motion for the approval of the government budget for the fiscal year 2023/2024; when the Opposition camp in the National Assembly refrained from that pointless voting casting a NO” vote; and this time chose to take the more moderate “abstain” option; which means “not voting either in favour, or against, the relevant motion”; and in practical political terms, is usually done in order to avoid probable trouble.
Such fate actually befell comrade Ngombale Mwiru, at the time he was a Member of Parliament, and dared to vote “NO” to a government motion, as a direct consequence of which, he immediately lost his job as Regional Commissioner. However, in view of the raging conflict between the CHADEMA Women MPs and their party, which claims to have dismissed them from membership of that party; their “abstain” vote could be interpreted as a difficult attempt to hide their decision; considering that, on the one hand, because they belong to the opposition camp, they cannot openly support the government by voting “YES”.
But on the other hand, because they are in such conflict with their party, they cannot support it so openly, by voting “NO” to reject the government budget. Abstaining was therefore their safest available option!
A perplexing, and illogical action
The Opposition political parties’ actions of attempting to block the government’s annual budgets, .are not only puzzling, but are also absolutely pointless, and illogical; for a variety of reasons, including the following:-
(a) The glaring hopelessness of the action itself. Firstly, because of the bare fact that such attempt has no chance of succeeding, considering the fact that it an action taken by a very tiny minority of opposition MPs in our Parliament; wherein the overwhelming CCM majority will always “have their way”; in strict compliance with the democratic parliamentary principle of “the minority shall have their say, but the majority shall have their way”. Secondly, the fact that by that seemingly simple action, the legislators will have, in fact, driven themselves out of office; resulting in the loss of the coveted privileges associated with that office, including their salaries and other remuneration.
And thirdly, and indeed much more serious, is the negative consequence of such action on the country’s general community; since it will result in the stoppage of the implementation of all development projects, plus the delivery of all the social services, which depends entirely on funding from the government budget. For without money, no expenditures can be made.
It should be remembered, that this discussion is all about “the duty of the Opposition is to oppose everything, propose nothing, and throw out the government”, which was enunciated by the Leader of the British WHIG PARTY way back in the 1820s; Hence, by this action, our Opposition political parties appear to be implementing this statement; because a successful rejection of the annual government budget will have achieved their mischievous, but constitutionally valid intention, of “throwing out” the CCM government.
(b) The negative consequences to the nation that will inevitably follow, should that attempt succeed. The constitution directs the holding of a new general election whenever Parliament refuses to approve any government annual budget; because such action is considered to be a “vote of no confidence” in the government of the day. General elections are, of course, very costly undertakings, which, under normal circumstances, are carefully planned well ahead of their regular occurrences.
Such an unexpected sudden occurrence will, inevitably, create immense confusion and serious economic as well as social convulsions or disturbances. Thus, their deliberate actions taken in total disregard of all these negative consequences, can only be attributed to two ‘push-factors’, namely, either their ‘ignominious ignorance’ (which is most unlikely in this case), or their burning, unmitigated desire ‘to overthrow the CCM government (which is their declared, objective).
Indeed, this was my first serious challenge.
I was given the rare historic opportunity of being the Speaker of the National Assembly at the time of the great and fundamental change from the ‘single party’ to the ‘multi-party’ Parliament, under the newly re-introduced multi-party political dispensation; and to shoulder the heavy responsibility of managing that fundamental transition; and managing the procedural aspects relating to the process of approving the annual government budget.
Thus, in respect of the fiscal year 1996/97, which was the first government budget that needed the approval of the new multi-party Parliament. The challenge came when the Opposition MPs walked out of the House, in order to escape from voting by using the roll-call procedure, which they had conspired to oppose. We will return to this story later.
The Opposition camp’s action is perplexing and illogical
The Opposition camp’s action of attempting to have the Government budget rejected, is not only puzzling, but is also absolutely illogical, for a variety of reasons, including the following:-
(i) The adverse constitutional consequences of rejecting the Government. (The Constitution requires a new general election to be held whenever Parliament rejects any Government budget proposals).
(ii) The adverse financial consequences to the MPs themselves. (There will be no money to pay them their salaries and other perks).
(iii) The hopelessness of the action itself. (In view of the stark fact that coming from the minority, it has no chance of succeeding)!
We will return to a discussion of all these unavoidable consequences a little later. In the meantime, we will take a look at the historical background of the Opposition camp’s attempts to reject the Government budget, in all the past years. It all began with the 1996/97 Budget, the first one under the multi-party Parliament which had been elected in October 1995. I was then occupying the Speaker’s Chair, and can vividly remember the relevant facts.
They are as follows:-
For constitutional reasons, the procedure for voting on motions to approve the annual Government Budget was designed differently from that which is used for voting on all other motions, which is normally done through a ‘voice vote’, whereby the Speaker asks all those members who are in favour of the motion to say ‘aye’ (yes); and all those against the motion to say ‘nay’ (no). However, with regarding to voting on the Government’s annual budget proposals, the procedure used is the ‘roll-call’ method, whereby the name of each MP is called out by the Clerks-at-the-Table of the House, and the MP is required to indicate his or her vote accordingly, which could be either ‘yes’, or ‘no’; or ‘abstain’.
This special procedure was deliberately designed in order to satisfy the requirements of the country’s constitution, which are:-
(a) That for any decision which is made by Parliament to be considered as having been validly made, there must be a quorum in the House at the time of voting; which is “half of all the Members of Parliament”; and
(b) That every question which is proposed for decision by the National Assembly shall be determined by a majority of its Members present and voting. And
(c) that failure by Parliament to approve the government budget shall lead to a dissolution of that Parliament, followed by the holding on new general elections. (This is because a rejection of the Government Budget is conventionally regarded as ‘a vote of no confidence’ in the Government of the day, and the adoption of any such ‘noconfidence’ motion inevitably leads to the holding of a new general election).
Thus, the ‘roll-call’ method was designed precisely in order to provide credible evidence of these facts, namely that there was a quorum in the House at the time of voting, i.e. half of all the Members of Parliament; and therefore that the decision to approve the budget was validly made.
Despite the fact that I went to great lengths to carefully explain these constitutional requirements, the new Opposition camp refused to listen, and demanded that voting be done through the usual method of the ‘voice vote’.
Obviously, they were overruled, whereupon they walked out of the House in protest. But, because the CCM MPs easily constituted the required quorum, the voting just went ahead, and the budget was approved.
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