All powers according to the Namibian Constitution vest in the people of Namibia who shall exercise their sovereignty through the democratic institutions of the State. Parliament, the National Assembly and National Council, is one of such institutions with defined responsibilities guided by the principles and values of the Constitution of democracy, the rule of law and justice for all.
The Constitution defines the powers as well as representative nature of members of parliament. Briefly, it is legislative powers to pass laws, and representing all the people of Namibia. The values of the Constitution, public interest and their conscience ought to be the only guiding principles when parliamentarians perform their duties. Whether this is the case in Namibia, is a matter of debate and diverse public opinions. I personally do not think that it is, and has been the case.
There seem to be continued lack of understanding and appreciation of the distinction between party, government and state. The South African Constitutional Court has provided clarity regarding representative nature and allegiance of members of parliament.
The Court has ruled on the matter as follows: “Members are required to swear or affirm faithfulness to the Republic and obedience to the Constitution and laws. Nowhere does the supreme law provide for them to swear allegiance to their political parties, important players though they are in our constitutional scheme.
Meaning, in the event of conflict between upholding constitutional values and party loyalty, their irrevocable undertaking to in effect serve the people and do only what is in their best interests must prevail.
This is so not only because they were elected through their parties to represent the people, but also to enable the people to govern through them, in terms of the Constitution.” I am not a lawyer by profession, but is convinced that Namibian courts will arrive at similar conclusion if the same matter is brought before them.
The purpose of this article, against this background, is to assess the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight in Namibia using the Education Bill as a tool for analysis.
I am conscious that someone cannot use one example to arrive at conclusive findings. One example, however, could pinpoint important shortcomings that could serve as lessons for the future.
Many educators and some parliamentarians have made constructive contributions to the Education Bill.
The purpose, I presume, was to strengthen the objects of the Bill with the view to provide a strong foundation for the provisioning of equitable and inclusive quality education.
I cannot comprehend why some of these contributions have been brushed off without reasonable explanation. Namibians must realize that Nations that are performing and effectively competing globally, are not necessarily natural resources endowed, but are strategically and sustainably investing in human capital development, research, creativity and innovation.
The Education Bill, both in its philosophical grounding namely, defining the purpose of education, and organizational roles allocation does support the ultimate objective of positive learning outcomes.
I am disappointed that members of the National Assembly, especially those from the education and public policy backgrounds, have not critically scrutinized the Bill with the view to direct our education system to where the rest of the world is going.
This is to ensure that our education system contributes to the development of well-informed, critical thinkers, and professionally skilled citizens with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to function confidently in competitive global contexts.
The Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century has identified four pillars that should underpin education systems namely, learning to know, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together.
The main object of the Education Bill is to ensure equitable inclusive quality education and lifelong learning, and yet the Bill in definitions has not defined equity and quality. How will we monitor and evaluate provisioning of equitable quality education, if we have not defined what it means? Policy documents such Towards Education for All, 1991 Higher Education in Namibia: Report of a Presidential Commission, the 1999 Presidential Commission on Education, Culture and Training and international conventions and recommendations should have helped the parliamentarians and Ministry officials to provide contextual definitions of quality and equity.
The Bill has also failed to assert that rights are accompanied by responsibilities, and that there are limitations to rights.
What values are we instilling in our learners, if learners cannot be refused admission to a school based on not subscribing to the mission statement of the school or refusing to enter into any contract imposed by school management?
The Bill should also have stated functions of Regional Councils and Directors of Education in the context of the Decentralization Policy. The definition of “school“in the Bill is also a matter of great concern.
There are other concerns that I have forwarded to some parliamentarians prior to the debate.
Our only hope is now in the hands of the members of the National Council to do justice to the Bill.