How do mediocre MPs find themselves in the National Assembly?

[By Melvin Chisanga]

It is said about problem solving that the first step towards finding a solution to any problem lies in being cognisant of its existence, have you heard or experienced it? In retrospect of the many problems that mother Zambia has grappled with for some time now, my thoughts, which have very seldom misled me, have today transported me to the National Assembly of Zambia.

Hello honourables! How do you do? May we know one another please? When and how did you become a member of this house? How would you rate your relevance to the house? How many times have you risen on the floor of the house to say anything? With the 2021 elections coming in barely a year, do you have intentions to re-contest your seat and why?

Citizen of Zambia, do you know your area members of parliament (MP)? Were you one of those that voted them in office? Do you know the job you elected them to do for you? On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate their performance in as far as fulfilling their campaign promises is concerned?

If their rating pales in comparison to their own big talk during their campaign, have they been courteous enough to engage you on the challenges they are facing on their part? In comparison to the pre-election attitude, how approachable is your MP after taking up that office which he begged from you on bended knees?

My focus on Vantage Point today will, among others things, try to demystify, even as I debunk the mystery behind the irony at our National Assembly, which despite being called a honourable house, has to a visible extent been infiltrated by subpar individuals who have arguably turned it into a den of mediocrity.

Someone should agree with me that out of the entire membership of the house, the National Assembly of Zambia is effectively being run by not more than a third of the members, isn’t it? The rest are spectator honourables, whose title only takes prominence at outside Parliament social gatherings such as weddings and funerals inter alia.

Let us now look at how and why one of the very gifts of democracy, which other countries have received and appreciated as a blessing, has to a larger extent turned out to be a curse in our case, unfortunately, shall we?

Defined as the rule of the people by the people for the people, democracy has two variants namely participatory (direct) representative or (indirect). Whilst participatory democracy requires every citizen’s direct participation in the legislation process, representative democracy requires citizens to choose representatives to go and legislate on their behalf, and therein lies the Zambian problem.

Despite the new world order of democratisation having dawned on Zambia more than three decades ago, there has been every reason to be pessimistic about the future of democracy in this country. With the advances in our democratisation journey, almost at par with the retreats, there is very little to write home about the whole process. This scenario does, in part, trace its roots to the lack of depth in our August House squad.

With our presidents now happy to merely retain power at all costs without even expecting to be loved, or minding what is said about them, the buck now does rest at the National Assembly to protect the little democratic gains we have made over the years from being washed away by standing up for the masses. But does our current crop of MPs have what it takes to do that?

Without sounding like I am just trying to disparage our honourables, I have come to understand how, unfortunately a considerable lot of them undeservedly found themselves as members in a house, of whose primary objective they have no clue whatsoever.

Arranging my findings in no specific pecking order, allow me to begin with the labeling of politics as a dirty game. What this sweeping stereotyping statement has done is to make politics as a career less attractive and rid this field of society’s creme de la crème not only in educational wisdom, but also in morality and integrity.

This has effectively relegated politics to a career for failures and fraudsters, who seek political office under the guise of wanting to work for the people, when, contrary to what they profess, their motivation for seeking political office is purely commercial, with personal gain as their primary purpose.

When the minimum education qualification for a member of parliament was revised upwards from anyone who is counted among the living to someone who at least managed to get a grade 12 school certificate, the idea was to rid Parliament of illiteracy to acceptable levels. But from where I stand, it is very clear that some people remain illiterate well beyond their grade 12 certification.

Did you know that we have some MPs who, despite being in Parliament for four years, don’t know their job? That is why some of them have reduced their honour to usurping the duties of the police to enforce a COVID-19 curfew and licking the boots of the commander-in-chief. How embarrassing!

It is a no brainer that illiteracy has circumvented one of the most critical threshold requirements, as is evidenced by the presence of some so called MPs who can hardly construct a sentence in our official language or understand it enough. With parliamentary debate as the mode of engagement in the parliamentary battlefield, how can such members stand to fight, even for instance, the devil in Bill 10 on behalf of the people they represent?

Though our democratisation has been more of a roller coaster ride, some proponents of democracy still acknowledge the strides that Zambia, like many other third world countries have made in the right direction against the odds. According to them, the poverty levels that are so high in the third world are one of the biggest enemies of democracy. Democracy, they say, thrives well on or above the poverty datum line.

Poverty has not spared us in as far as contributing to the low caliber of MPs is concerned. Because of poverty, anyone who seems to be slightly more privileged than the rest in a given society automatically qualifies to be their representative in Parliament. Should that be the sole criteria?

You will be shocked to learn that those seemingly disoriented members are actually the epitome of quality where they hail from. These are the members who when they come in the presence of parliamentary giants develop an inferiority complex and will only open their scared mouths when they are shouting ya, ya, ya.

Perhaps accelerated by the high levels of poverty, corruption has become the easiest route that incapable individuals have used to get themselves to Parliament. Realising their inadequacies in so far as beating other contestants on an open platform is concerned, these fellows resort to clandestine activities of buying their way to the top, and this happens in one or two stages.

The first stage is an intraparty affair where a candidate, aspiring or incumbent, will after realising how unpopular they are in their constituency, opt to seek adoption using underhand methods. There is need for political parties to pay extra attention to candidate adoption processes because they are marred with corruption.

Like at presidential level of elections, this tendency is mostly common with incumbents, who will try to take advantage of their connections at the top in the party and corrupt them with their gratuity to perpetuate, mostly their unjustifiable stay in Parliament.

Talking of incumbents and their elongated stay in Parliament, there are some members of parliament that have retained their constituencies on merit and due to the popular demand of the people in their constituencies. Such will not pay anyone a dime for re-adoption because their works during their term of office vindicate them.

Sometimes, such individuals are actually begged to re-contested their seat by the people who they represent, even against their own will. These are normally the heartbeat of Parliament. Big ups If you belong here and continue fighting for your people.

There are yet incumbents who belong to the group that will never utter a word in Parliament. The politically impotent. Despite being in Parliament just to keep a place value, like a zero in a huge figure, you will be shocked to hear how much they want to stay put in the National Assembly, much to the detriment of their party.

Like an impotent but jealous husband, they are so paranoid and protective of their constituencies that they don’t want to hear of anyone planning to challenge them. They forget to uphold the very tenets of democracy that they want to see at national level within their own party. Hypocrites!

The second stage is at the interparty level and involves a political party and the ECZ. We have seen situations where a cross section of people’s favourite from one party is sidelined in a clearly fraudulent election, further deteriorating the quality in Parliament.

Going forward, there is need to redefine politics by sanitising the trade in every sense of the word so that people will understand that politics is not a game but serious business. There is need to prop up the perception so that good people can begin to see reason to associate themselves with politics. Only then are we going to have a Parliament in which we will take pride. Not this ya,ya,ya one.

E-mail: chisangamelvin651@gmail.com

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