Parliament’s attendance register has exposed lawmakers’ shockingly low attendance numbers – some absent for more than a month. This is more than the prescribed 10 consecutive days despite taxpayers footing N$8000 per day in 2017 to keep lawmakers in a chamber where some of them do not want to be.
If it was not for the country’s dire financial state, the construction of a new parliament would be underway today, but what for if recently-revealed attendance statistics indicate that lawmakers are not that keen to spend their afternoons in the august house.
The majority of lawmakers in the National Assembly remain resolute that the country must construct a brand new parliament chamber, an agenda being advanced despite public rejection.
Not once since the current crop of MPs were sworn in during March 2015, did all 104 members attend a sitting on the same day.
Out of 365 days in 2017, the National Assembly sat for 75 days, yet there are MPs who failed to reach the 50% attendance mark.
This comes as no surprise, after all, they still get their lucrative pay-check whether they miss sittings or not. MPs receive an annual salary of over N$600 000 per annum, which translates into more than N$50 000 a month and averaging N$8000 per day.
Some lawmakers such as former sports minister Jerry Ekandjo, deputy labour minister Alpheus Muheua and All People’s Party’s Ignatius Shixwameni even went a month without attending parliament.
Out of the 75 sittings in 2017, Muheua only attended nine of those, Ekandjo attended only 21 while Shixwameni only sat for 23 days.
Parliament’s secretariat has confirmed that a leave of absence was tendered for Muheua, who was sick for most part of last year after suffering a stroke.
The register does not clearly indicate which MPs filed a leave of absence.
In some cases, MPs may have been absent from parliament because they were attending to parliamentary committee duties.
National Assembly Speaker Professor Peter Katjavivi said he is satisfied with the attendance of lawmakers.
According to Katjavivi, MPs do file a leave of absence and provide reasons whenever they are absent from parliament.
“There has been one problem however: Swapo Party’s 2017 Elective Congress.
The congress proved to be a challenge because it took place while the National Assembly was conducting its business.
But it is a lesson for us to ensure that next time we do not face the same situation.
We had to break to allow Swapo to hold its Congress. These are lessons that must guide us in future,” said Katjavivi.
He said despite the break, the National Assembly still managed to complete all the items on the Order Paper.
The Speaker said parliament has an efficient system to keep track of truant MPs.
The tendency of absenteeism has been increasing in the National Assembly,” said a senior official at the Parliament Secretariat.
Sources at the secretariat claim that the House has been adjourned several times last year, especially to cater for the ruling party’s elective congress which took place in November.
“The lawmakers are surely betraying President Hage Geingob’s vision to turn around the fortunes of the country and to ensure efficiency as well as accountability at all possible times,” said the secretariat member who could not speak on record because of his low ranking status in the system.
Lawmakers often show disdain and contempt of the august institution and the administration of Parliament has done little over the years to institute punitive measures to nail down the culprits.
When it comes to asset declarations, Katjavivi has not managed to compel lawmakers to comply with the regulations thereof.
The last time the declarations of lawmakers were publicly availed as prescribed by the law, was in 2009.
Truant MPs who bunk Parliamentary sessions without filing leave of absence ought to face contempt charges.
Over the years there has been complaints of MPs being absent from Parliament business, a tendency which seems to have escalated seeing that those who are guilty are often taken to task.
Since 2015, when the Fifth Parliament began, it has become common for questions on the Order Paper to be deferred because ministers are absent. Thursdays are normally set aside for lawmakers to engage ministers on issues plaguing the country.
Two years before the current crop of MPs conclude their costly term, which has seen the National Assembly wage bill balloon from N$21 million to N$55 million when Constitutional Amendments were adopted to increase the membership from 72 to 104, the nation can only make one conclusion about this Parliament: It has exhausted the nation.
The country has long lost its peace of mind and with each day it is drifting deeper and deeper into an economic abyss.
Analysts have proffered several plausible explanations, that the unnecessary and costly decision to increase the members of parliament has not been justified and that the costs involved far outweigh the benefits.
One of the key state enablers to advance the fundamentals of social change is the State Owned Enterprises.
What has happened, however, under this Parliament is that parastatals have become a burden on taxpayers where the well-connected contest ruthlessly for self-enrichment instead of using these institutions as devises to fight poverty. It appears that parliament has joined parastatals in exerting this burden at the expense of delivering economic development to its voters.