Missing parliamentary links

By Makhabane Maluke

All forms of government are expected to be strong and effective.

Such are often re-elected as a reward for a job well done. Coalitions, worldwide, tend to be the weakest and never really stable.
The current Eighth Parliament government deserves a closer look to establish where it stands in the scheme of things.

It came about by default; it is not a pre-election coalition. Its talent will be another determinant of its shape.

Some of its pieces may not easily fit or stick together, hence their reported agreement to disagree in certain instances. This is often a potential source of headaches for the government itself and the electorate who had to choose to either cheer or doubt this horse of many colours.

The weaknesses of a government are not easy to see with an eye that does not know what to expect or look out for.
It is only when there is a felt heat or cold that eyes look in the appropriate direction.

The tendency is to focus only and talk about service-delivery. It is in this general area that technocrats become key actors.
It is in such an arena that the nation may observe a high turnover of staff in key positions where they fail to properly read or satisfy their principals. The Eighth Parliament may have examples up to this point in time.
One weak link in Lesotho is the attitude towards the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.
It is a portfolio which has to be allocated to a powerful minister.

The portfolio is powerful in both its position in the hierarchy of ministries and knowledge of parliamentary modus operandi the bearer of the ministry should have.
It was unfortunately bunched together with the Local Government and Chieftainship portfolios in which it appears to receive less attention.

It brings to mind a democracy where the relevant minister does not have other roles like Leader of the House and has the support of two deputy ministers –– one in each House of a bicameral parliament.
Parliamentary work requires each House to always have a “Minister on duty” during all sittings.
For example, a deputy minister who is a senator has to always sit in that House and not be distracted by the goings-on in the National Assembly.

Standing Order 26(9) allocates a responsibility to the Leader of the House to explain why ministers fail to answer members’ questions or why questions were deferred three times.
This so renders the Leader of the House a referee in matters of the House.
This role is appropriate for a minister whose role is to whip colleagues into line.

The Leader of the House is largely a procedural functionary representing the Head of Government. Otherwise, the Leader of the House has to be empowered lest he remains a referee without a whistle.
This then assumes the existence of working relationships where the minister has to follow their colleagues in matters of parliament: for their timely response to recommendations from parliamentary committees, to verify certain facts, for the fulfillment of assurances made on the floor, to apprise a new government on the pending issues left by the outgoing government.

The quality of responses to questions ought to be a challenge to this minister, in both content and format. Presently no one cares about these.
One miscalculation is in the constitution which establishes a very powerful executive. Parliament ought to have a say in appointments to certain positions in the service of the Kingdom: to recommend or approve.
Both Parliament and the executive have to oil their links to serve well.
It could be through a vibrant Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and an effective Secretariat of Parliament that plans could roll out as desired, or else, there will be stagnation.

The consultant who drafted the current Standing Orders had supported the creation of the office of Clerk of Parliament as administrative head of clerks in the two houses who would focus on procedural aspects while the new creation would concentrate on strategic policy issues –– answerable to both Speaker and President of Senate.

This could be a wise innovation. Bicameralism has to be managed. It does not have to manage itself as ours does.

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