This week, we released the Annual Parliamentary Scorecard, our flagship report that highlights the performance of members in the Plenary. The scorecard is one of the tools that Mzalendo, like many other parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) across the globe, uses to measure the performance of members and parliament in general, in terms of legislative development. As a legislative transparency measurement tool, it is not unexpected that it elicits mixed reactions from members and the public in general, given its focus on one parameter of the role of Members. As a measurement tool however, it is a key ingredient to enhancing accountability, transparency and responsiveness.
Coming against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fast shifting political realignments, the 2020 Scorecard was expected to reveal certain dynamics. Firstly, the 4th Session recorded the highest number in record of MPs who failed to utter a single word in the plenary. A total of 31 Members of the National Assembly did not speak at all, compared to 21 in 2019. In the Senate, the number of silent members rose marginally by two, to three, compared to one in 2019. In a way, the scorecard mirrors the challenges that have faced legislatures during the pandemic across the globe.
The scorecard also comes in the week that the world commemorated the International Day of Parliamentarism (IDP) (World Parliament Day) on 30th June, 2021. The day, established by the United Nations (UN) in 2018, seeks to centre the place of parliaments as the cornerstone of any functioning democracy. Its significance, notes the UN, is partly attributable to the fact that ‘people are losing trust in political institutions and democracy itself is facing challenges’. Building this trust requires parliaments to work with stakeholders to restore, maintain and sustain parliamentary independence. The day also comes at a time when, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, unequal relations between the legislative and executive branches of government are being witnessed.
To commemorate the day, we, in partnership with other PMOs from across Africa held an event dubbed “Watching the Watchers: Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations Why Citizen Parliamentary Oversight Matters.” The event sought to deliberate on how well PMOs can leverage their numbers and diversity of focus to enhance their place as oversight actors over parliaments, or more aptly, their mandate of “watching the watchers.” At a time when the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), identifies public scepticism, power disparity between executive and legislative branches of government and inclusion as some of the challenges facing parliaments, the role of PMOs can no longer be considered an option but a responsibility.
The forum acknowledged the need to secure legislative accountability, openness and transparency. When safely secured, these pillars would ensure that parliaments are steered within the path of public service, addressing the democratic yearnings and aspirations of the general public. Beyond, focus remains on inclusion as an ingredient of making real the promises of democracy and attaining genuine governance ownership by all. It is no wonder then that the Theme of the IDP day this year is “I say Yes to Youth in Parliament.”
Globally, the number of young people in Parliament remains relatively low, even when “youth” is defined as those under 45. In Kenya for example, young MPs constitute only 6.5% of the members of both Houses. It is for this reason that we highlight the contributions of young and women parliamentarians, to not only showcase their work but to encourage young people to lead, run for office and vote in young leaders as well. This cannot, however, happen without the necessary legislative interventions necessary for a critical mass of young and women leaders. Prioritizing the passage of legislation on Article 100 would therefore be a great legacy for the 12th Parliament.
To remain effective, Parliaments must foster a culture of accountability, inclusivity and transparency. Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations remain an important bridge and facilitators of these principles. Rather than being adversaries, the two actors should work together to enhance citizen awareness and participation in legislative affairs, while holding each other accountable.