17 Nov 2018

 

South Sudan: The People’s Representative Assembly

"As long as there are constituencies with villages linked by footpaths, represented by absentee MPs with expensive cars – representation will remain theoretical..! In my upset mind, a good start is to require all MPs to have their official residence within their constituencies – orthey are..."

By Alfred Sebit Lokuji
 
We practiced Athenian democracy in our villages – amazing level of participation and cooperation.
 
I know I am venturing into territory that almost always prompts someone to call me a romantic about traditional society. Unfortunately for those who really think so, I offer no apologies.
 
The moment tables covered with a cloth set apart for dignitaries became part of the preparation for a meeting in the village, one could tell that village democracy had been dealt a mortal blow.
 
One would expect that the member of parliament visiting his constituency on “fact-finding” tours would retain the old village format, where his constituents gather around him in earnest exchanges. No, the MP now arrives and behaves like an English explorer at the court of the Kabaka in Uganda. Formalities take over: “Your excellency” replaces “our son”! The MP even introduces himself as “Honorable” even though he might be party to despicable politics. It is hardly any more the representative and the represented, but a divide between the “superior vs. inferior”!
 
Ever since our parents and grand-parents cast their first ballot for their Member of Parliament, it has never dawned on anyone to ask the MP for an accounting of his time in parliament. Campaigns have been about elders, class, whose turn, and splashing money – hardly ever about taking a message and returning with the goods, or a report of gallant attempts at the least! Apart from one or two post-election monuments, perhaps only a handful of villages can show what their parliamentarian ever achieved for them.
 
The “youth” and “women” reps are no different. The real youth continue to be expected to wait for their turn while 50-year olds pose as youth; and the physical abuse of women continues to be tolerated publicly with the chorus that “he is beating his wife” – almost a divine entitlement!
 
Since cars, lately to the tune of 16 million dollars, became part of parliamentary entitlements, how many kilometers in the odometer are registered on the road home to the constituency? Apart from that twin-like bulge, what do MPs have to show in the service of their people?
 
In the context of the current conflict, considerations about the legislative branch fortunately arise! Sadly, the focus is on numbers rather than purpose. Silence about the appropriate role of the legislature is deafeningly loud. The thinking seems to be the more in number, the less the disgruntled. With this thinking, 550 members of parliament is more logical than a small effective number of 100 (10 per state)!
 
Jacob Jiel Akol stands out in my mind as a social critic who has always asked the question: where is the money for all these numerical solutions? What is it that a big number of discussants can accomplish better than a small Focus Group? The arguments of Mr. Akol against an unwieldy number of states squarely apply here.
 
A peace formula that introduces “Responsible Government” to South Sudan is better focused on quality rather than numbers to appease the materially thirsty!
 
A robust agreement would address the need to free the legislature from the deadly grip of the Executive. Among the sorely needed reforms is to allow both houses to elect their own Speakers, not have one who would turn the assembly into a cage of parrots singing for the executive!
 
Critically wanting is an independent assembly that should not be threatened with dissolution anytime if it challenges the whims of the Executive. In the end, it is the socio-economic development of constituencies that is the ultimate goal, not masseurs for the executive!
 
As long as there are constituencies with villages linked by footpaths, represented by absentee MPs with expensive cars – representation will remain theoretical, not practical!
 
In my upset mind, a good start is to require all MPs to have their official residence within their constituencies – or they are disqualified!

 
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