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Why Shouldn’t MPs Be Censured?

By Vision Reporter

Added 11th December 2002 03:00 AM

The sixth parliament mostly cut its teeth through censuring Cabinet ministers. Indeed they censured quite a number and threatened several others with censureship.

The sixth parliament mostly cut its teeth through censuring Cabinet ministers. Indeed they censured quite a number and threatened several others with censureship.

The Members of Parliament are among leaders elected directly by people of a given constituency

By Chibita wa Duallo

The sixth parliament mostly cut its teeth through censuring Cabinet ministers. Indeed they censured quite a number and threatened several others with censureship. Hardly a month would go by without hearing of who their next victim would be. There is still talk of how the censureship process went too far, too fast. Some people likened it to a kangaroo court. Others thought the process was being used to settle personal vendettas.
The seventh parliament has not censured any minister though there have been threats to do so. Several reasons could be given why the sixth parliament and the seventh one are different in this regard. Some people could say the ministers are more careful and less censurable. Others could argue that the current members of parliament are more thorough and less given to settling private scores in the house.
Whatever the reason, something has happened to parliament that has not happened in the recent past. It definitely did not happen to the sixth parliament, at least not publicly. Several MPs have been accused of less than honourable behaviour. They have been accused of corruption, the specifics of which border on extortion, bribery, abuse of office and influence peddling!
The accusations have kicked off a mini-storm in and outside the august house. The storm can be blamed largely on the fact that of all arms of government, the legislature is the last one most people expected to be accused of corruption. In the minds of the people, the legislature is the epitome of the system of checks and balances. They check on the excesses of the other two arms.
Members of Parliament are after all directly elected by the people of a specific constituency. The people do not decide who become a cabinet minister and they don't decide who becomes magistrate, registrar or judge. In a way, therefore, these people are remote from the populace. Allegations of corruption by these categories abound and people are not terribly surprised by these allegations.
When the custodians of the people's trust, the parliament, gets embroiled in the same activities that the others are accused of, then the people have a right to get confused. Not that there should be double standards for dealing with the different organs of government. It is just the way the system and the constitution are set up that seems to put a different kind of burden on the lawmakers.
For example, the constitution provides for an elaborate system of censuring ministers by parliament. In effect, the constitution empowers one organ, the legislature, to actively investigate and take action against the other, the executive. This is the only instance where one arm of government is empowered to specifically investigate and discipline, or recommend for discipline, another arm.
Of course everybody is subject to the law and therefore trial by the judiciary in case of breach of the law. However, there is no instance in the constitution where the legislature is subjected to scrutiny and censure or its equivalent by another arm of government, short of prosecution. The nearest we come to disciplining MPs is by their in-house disciplinary committee. From what has transpired of late, it seems the only people with confidence in this disciplinary committee to deal with the kinds of allegations parliament is currently weighed down with, are MPs themselves. The outsiders do not think that the disciplinary committee can deliver justice against some of its own members. Actually, there is no precedent that the public is aware of from this committee. Though the judiciary is faced with potentially the same credibility problem when it comes to trying some among its ranks, yet the Judicial Service Commission is more balanced and is seen to be more balanced. Though it comprises of some judges, it has representatives of lawyers and lay people. These outsiders lend credence and objectivity to the process where a judicial officer is under trial.
Not so the disciplinary committee of parliament which is exclusively comprised of members of parliament. The question that people ask is whether this committee can deliver justice to a complainant coming from outside parliament to accuse an honourable member. Maybe more importantly, can justice be seen to be done by such an in-house committee? So it is that parliament finds itself in the unfamiliar posture of being on the defensive. Should there be a system of censuring members of parliament who are not ministers, as well? If members of the executive can be censured, why shouldn't the MPs who are not ministers be subject to the same process, especially now that they have been shown to be equally vulnerable, by another independent body? Or is it enough that members of parliament are subject to be recalled by their constituents in case of poor performance? Ministers are subject to the same threat of recall too but have the vote of censure to contend with as well. This comes as a result of their additional responsibilities. So maybe members of sensitive committees in parliament should be subject to additional scrutiny.
All the allegations about members of parliament however, are thus far just that –– allegations. Until they are proven guilty, the honourable members remain innocent. In fact, some have already intimated that their political opponents are behind this campaign. Ends

Why Shouldn’t MPs Be Censured?

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