A former Member of Parliament went back to his village to campaign for his re-election. During his campaign people asked him this question, “Why were you not talking during your four years in the Parliament?” The former MP answered, “Well, you know, every time I talked in the Parliament, the same time the YSATO program came on the radio.”
I wonder what would be the answer of the 43 former MPs who have never participated in the Parliamentary debate for the last four years as per the findings of the Transparency Solomon Islands. I applaud TSI for creating such conduit for which citizens are informed about parliamentary deliberations, particularly, the parliamentarians’ performances.
It is interesting to learn that only seven Members of Parliament regularly contributed to debate on bills that came before parliament – this is a true reflection of the Solomon Islands Politics. One may argue that parliaments differ in form, role and function, but the two most obvious reasons for the lack of parliamentary debates in the Solomon Islands are (i) the parliamentary roles in the Solomon Islands is centrally focused only on constituency services, and (ii) there is generally lack of knowledge and understanding of the roles, responsibilities and issues by members to constructively contribute in the parliamentary debate.
(1) Constituency Service: the central focus of MPs in Solomon Islands.
The long-standing roles of members of Parliament are (i) to legislate laws, (ii) to oversee the implementation of laws or policy by the Government including scrutiny of public financial spending, and (iii) to represent the people that elected them (constituency service activities).
While constituency service is the least in the hierarchy of the roles for parliamentarians, in most cases for Solomon Islands, this is the central role for most MPs. The question of whether a parliamentarian engages in debates in the parliament or not, does not matter much compared to how much a MP distributes to his constituents.
Several factors contributes to this paradigm shift, and to name the few, voters expectations is one, shift in the management of resources and development is another, and the RCDF.
(a) Voters Expectations.
In the Solomon Islands, it is well noted that with every ballot casted has strings attached – expectations for financial support for homes, school fees, marriage, funerals and other social welfare from the voters outweighed the parliamentarian’s affordability – which held a parliamentarian in shrewd and ensures that these expectations are met in order to be re-elected. A parliamentarian therefore not only spends more time outside of the parliament but working outside of the parliamentary jurisdictions and outside of the legal means to acquire resources to meet these expectations.
(b) shift in the management of resources and development
When a parliamentarian is considered an agent for the delivery of goods and services to the people, it drastically shifted the way development has been framed nationally and traditionally. The notion that members of parliament have direct and strong connection with the people, has resulted in the channeling of development resources through the MPs. Recently, we’ve noticed the rerouting of development funds from certain Government Ministries to the parliamentarians to develop their constituencies – which led to micro management of development in the country. According to some, there is evidence of minimal social developments in some areas, while at large these projects have boomerang effects of resources benefiting only the voters.
The creation of the RCDF is the catalyst for facilitating the shift of development to parliamentarians. For many years, the RCDF funds have been given to the MPs for rural development, yet real tangible developments in the rural areas are yet to be seen, while accountability and effectiveness remains the big questions.
Having the MPs to administer funds has becoming a norm in the Solomon Islands. But what we did not realize is, it directly shifts the role of parliamentarian to the role of the Government and its ministries to implement development programs – it drastically shifts a parliamentarian role of engagement, and by doing so, it defraying the parliamentarian from performing his other significant role of overseeing and scrutinizing the Executive branch. As a result, what we have seen is most MPs remain quiet in the parliament, and it’s the people having to scrutinize their own parliamentarians and making sure their MPs held accountable for the RCDF.
(2) Lack of knowledge and understanding of roles and issues by Solomon Islands MPs.
The second most obvious reason for parliamentarians’ lack of parliamentary debate is the general lack of knowledge and understanding of the roles, responsibilities and issues in order to contribute constructively.
Many MPs who are elected have limited formal education which places them in adverse situation to understand simple procedures in the standing orders of the parliament. At least, with the limited educational background, some experience is gained while in the parliament, unfortunately, in most cases, with the turn-over of MPs after every election, does not really foster the experience that is needed for MPs. Political career is a job that comes with experience and obviously the MPs with most experience always dominate the discussions on the floor of parliament.
With the induction programs catered for elected members provides a basic platform for learning, although a few days session may not suffice to fully equip the Members to articulate on the matters especially on matters which involves technical aspects. Perhaps, a mandatory long-term capacity building would foster and equip parliamentarians’ knowledge and skills, provided that parliamentarians with unlearned behaviors are willing to build their capacity.
Amongst other factors, the incapacity to understand roles and responsibilities or the lack thereof, has led most MPs to centrally focused roles only on Constituency Service. When MPs narrowly focused their roles, they create a local political culture that unable them to expand knowledge and understanding fully on matters of regional and international front, or contemporary issues, which in most cases, resulted in a domino effect that when MPs attending regional and international meetings, they also remain quiet during these meetings – a noticeable failure to garnered influence for Solomon Islands political gain.
Furthermore, with the narrow focus on the roles, it creates an Executive dominance in the parliament whereby every bill that is put forward by the Government, smoothly passage through without much scrutiny – just like razor blades are easily made.
Against the backdrop, understanding the changing nature of Parliamentarian’s roles in the Solomon Islands is vitally important for the people to choose the leaders who can equally carryout their roles as law makers, as oversights and as constituency representatives. A parliamentarian who is elected only for the purpose of providing constituency service is unable to contribute constructively to the nationwide building of Solomon Islands. We therefore need leaders who knows what they are doing and who can do it rightly with utmost integrity.
The major reasons for lack of parliamentary debate by MPs
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of Divine Waiti and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.
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