A new report compiled by various committee clerks on members’ attendance in National Assembly Committee meetings paints a worrying picture of the casual nature of various legislators when it comes to performing their roles in Parliament. According to the report, 10 MPs did not attend parliamentary committee meetings from January to October 2019. Deliberately missing committee meetings for three months can be equated to an MP opting to stay out of the committees altogether, that is according to the Parliamentary Standing orders which stipulate that if a member fails to attend four consecutive sessions of the committee without written permission from the chairperson or the speaker, the Member of Parliament shall be replaced.
Committees have often been described as the “engine rooms” of Parliament because most of nature and load of the work carried out in committees. In brief, it is in the committees that concrete elaboration of the law is undertaken, budgets and expenditures for the executive approved, investigations on special issues carried out, public participation and proper scrutiny of policies and programmes to assess whether they meet the objectives of legislation and development plans are done.
Generally, the parliamentary committee hearings have been considered the best tools in undertaking the oversight of governance and administrative matters. Through the calls for public participation, parliamentary committees not only enable the Parliament to be in adherence with Article 118 of the Constitution but they enrich policies and legislation with experts’ input. Committees enable direct contact between the citizens and specific MPs and the flow of information to Members. The committees also serve as a platform for people in the opposition to voice their concerns and have input in the development of policies.
Therefore, the dismal performance in committee attendance by members is a great disservice to the citizens they represent and undermines the principles of democratic governance and should be condemned. The revelation that MPs are absconding their duties further weakens the public trust in the legislature as an institution that is mandated to address their needs. By missing committee meetings or any legislative proceedings without valid reasons, MPs leave the citizens with a feeling of being ‘unrepresented’.
The citizens who pay taxes and voted with the desire to attain progressive change often end up feeling shortchanged when the MPs fail to play their part. Because citizens have high expectations from their representatives, MPs should strive to utilize the available means to amplify and address their needs. Citizens have a myriad of issues ranging from healthcare, education, infrastructure and security that need to be addressed to the government and their only link is their representatives.
The primary need for the establishment of parliamentary committees is to gather members of parliament in smaller groups with a specific jurisdiction such as Health, in order to enable them to work efficiently and effectively. However, the mere presence of parliamentary committees is not necessarily a sufficient indicator for their effectiveness. Thus, there’s need for the respective members to actively engage in the committee activities. Avenues such as parliamentary committees are perfect opportunities for MPs to ensure that various policy development reflect the local needs of their constituents and at the same time promote the national interests. In addition, a parliamentary committee that performs its duties effectively promotes democratic governance.