Thursday, June 07, 2012
By The Post
Thu 07 June 2012, 13:25 CAT
OUR members of parliament promised more during the election campaigns and more is expected of them now. Most of our members of parliament promised more than they will be able to give or to deliver and they are starting to be uncomfortable with the people. Reality is starting to dawn on some of our members of parliament who promised their constituents heaven but today, they are not even able to deliver purgatory. But there is no need to fear the people and run away from them. What is needed is to explain the state of things and the challenges they are facing in delivering on their promises.
The people will understand. As Uruguayan freedom fighter José Gervasio Artigas once observed, with the truth, you don't offend or fear. It is a big mistake to run away from one's constituents and still expect to retain a measure of respect or credibility from them.
It is important to explain the difficulties one is facing. And as Amilcar Cabral taught us, "hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories".
Every responsible member of parliament must have the courage of his or her responsibilities, exacting from others proper respect for his or her work and properly respecting the work of others.
The expectations of some of the constituents are impossible to meet. It is not possible for a member of parliament to personally talk to all those who voted for him or her. Doing so will mean not doing anything else at all. This is not the rational way to run a parliamentary constituency.
Some people have gone as far as expecting their member of parliament to attend every funeral in the constituency and provide a coffin, food and firewood. Where is the poor member of parliament going to get the money to do this? The salary or allowance of a member of parliament is well-known to all. And being a member of parliament is not a full-time job. One has to still do something else to earn a living.
Where is the time going to come from for the other responsibilities a member of parliament has if all his or her time is spent on attending to phone calls from the constituency, funerals in the constituency and other numerous problems individual members of the constituency may face? We think too much is being asked of our members of parliament to deliver. We are actually breaking people. There is need to be clear about what a member of parliament is to his or her constituency.
A member of parliament has no obligation to finance funerals and other personal requirements of his or her constituents. The basic or fundamental responsibility of a member of parliament is that of legislating, of making laws and of holding the executive accountable. Development projects in the constituency are a responsibility of government and government officials.
A member of parliament is not a manager of development projects. Of course, a member of parliament participates heavily in the decisions of how resources should be allocated in the country. And it is the duty of the member of parliament to fully understand the needs of his or her constituency, articulate them and transmit them to the Executive.
This means that a member of parliament has to fully understand what is going on in his or her constituency and what the needs of his or her constituents are. And to truly lead one's people, one must also truly know them. It is not easy to lead people one does not understand.
A member of parliament should not be swayed by the ephemeral and superficial values being propagated by other people but his or her decisions should be based on a visceral understanding of his or her constituents and their needs.
To understand the needs of one's constituents, one needs to spend more time with them and communicate with them. It is said that to govern is to communicate. But we know that it is not possible for a member of parliament to reach every member of his constituency, or to have the opportunity to see, much less talk with every constituent in person.
We know that our people have many urgent needs and most of these are increasingly being pushed on their members of parliament to address. Those who are not able to pay the school fees of their children are often turning to their members of parliament for help. Some even want their members of parliament to buy the school uniforms of their children.
But what they are forgetting is that some of these members of parliament are humble people like them who have just been given the privilege of representing them in Parliament. They are not rich people with much money to spare. They are also struggling, like them, to meet the basic needs of their families. This attitude towards our members of parliament needs to change.
If we don't change our approach, the quality of members of parliament will continue to decline because honest people will not offer themselves for that type of leadership. Only crooks, liars will be contesting parliamentary elections because they have no problems telling lies and promising all sorts of things which they know very well that they will not be able to deliver.
And after elections, they will simply disappear, only to be seen at the next elections with sacks of money and other goods to use in bribing the electorate so that they can be re-elected. Honest people can't do this and they will simply just stay away from contesting elections.
What we should be seeking is genuine democracy in which our elected representatives are our servants and not masters. If we expect our members of parliament to look after us like we are their children, then we are asking them to be our masters.
What we should be looking for are leaders who are willing to listen to the people, who respect the people and are willing to work for the welfare of all the people. We are not seeking those who can be Father Christmas to be our representatives. What we are seeking are honest people who are able to use their political offices for the achievement of the common good.
What we are looking for are members of parliament who are able to exercise stewardship and uphold the common good. A person elected to serve as a member of parliament must remember that he or she is simply a servant or steward entrusted to offer humble service to others as opposed to owning power or the people he or she is serving.
There is need for members of parliament to be close to their constituencies. But there is also a need for us not to be over-bearing on our members of parliament.
They are not there to provide us, from their own pockets, with the daily necessities of life. This needs to be well-understood or we will never have a member of parliament who meets our expectations.