Home » Governance » Needed – Competent Parly Committee Chairpersons

“IN a monarchy, the man who was to be its leader, to preside over its affairs was told about it soon enough so that heshe can spend the early part of a lifetime learning on how to handle the job,” says Hugo Hellman who praises monarchy over democracy in his book, Parliamentary Procedure.

In a democracy, it is common to have a man or woman elected MP over the weekend sworn in on Tuesday and appointed to chair a portfolio or thematic committee on Wednesday without having the opportunity to learn the ropes.

Committees play a major role in a democracy as they offer an opportunity for the electorate to interact with their representatives by bringing up issues that may be of concern to them so that they can be dealt with by the whole House.

Ordinary people get to interact with these honourable members after having been invited to appear before the committee or when they request the meeting themselves.

Each committee superintends over issues that fall under the ministry that it oversights some of which are too technical for “small brains”.

This is the dilemma we are facing in some of our Committees where we have chairpersons and members who are lost in their own world and cannot handle the dynamics of issues at hand.

The fear factor in some of the committees that used to make ministers tremble when they appeared before them has disappeared.

Just like that of Old Trafford, if you know your football. In fact, witnesses actually leave those committees regretting why they wasted their time giving evidence before a clueless lot.

Many a time, MPs ask stray questions that have nothing to do with the particular ministry officials giving evidence.

That is the time when a competent chairperson must be able to interject and rule such MPs out of order. But some of them are actually the culprits as they exhibit their ignorance by incessantly asking wrong questions to the extent of “poaching” into the mandate of other committees.

As a result, it paints a bad picture about the calibre of people who are representing us when they cannot tell each ministry’s terms of reference.

What kind of laws will such people pass if they do not know such simple things?

In Hellman’s opinion, a good chairperson should be able to run business like a “traffic cop” who runs things at a busy intersection, ever alert and articulate, keeping business going because if he does not, everything stops or at worst goes chaotic and ends up in a muddle.

When committees call for oral evidence, they must be focused on what they want to get from invitees but more often they railroad from issues at hand by touching on everything pertaining to that ministry and sometimes other ministries.

As a result, some committees have failed to produce reports because of the chaotic manner in which they ran their businesses. Good meetings largely depend on competent chairpersons who are able to comprehend and listen attentively when witnesses are giving evidence.

The meeting should not be bogged down by trivialities which are inconsequential to the detriment of proper consideration of what is important.

They must investigate, consult relevant structures and come up with reasonable reports that must influence the executive.

We cannot expect honey from a fly because if truth be told without flattery, most of our MPs are educationally incompetent and intellectually deformed.

As such, a mediocre chairperson will produce mediocrity.

Committees must be led by people with the right qualifications in that particular field than be appointed on narrow party interests.

Chairpersons and members to certain committees should be chosen on merit after looking at the MPs professional training, expertise and mastery of the subject matter.

These then are invited to apply this knowledge to the tasks facing the committees they head.

Committee chairpersons are expected to be prepared on the many topics they are tackling and need not be caught off-guard as they meet the wits and intellect of experienced civil servants.

We need competent chairpersons for effective oversight so that they avoid being lectured by the witness and ultimately misled.

Most of our committees have failed to live to their mandate as evidenced by the obscene salaries management at State parastatals and enterprises were paying themselves and wasteful expenditure under the nose of our representatives.

Portfolio and thematic committees must have been the ones to expose this vice because that is what their oversight mandate is all about.

Some witnesses even go to the extent of misleading parliamentarians but some MPs do not have intellect to challenge these officials.

A good chairperson to a certain extent is a reflection of the aice heshe gets in the committee coupled with his hisher own initiative in research and articulation of issues.

Committee chairpersons must be above assumed trivial petty party interests when they sit on that chair and assess the information and applying it to the proceedings of a committee than engages in childish and vacuous confrontation with people giving evidence.

Equally, committee members must know that when they are in that committee they are not in a party caucus where their deliberations must be guided by the party line.

It boggles the mind why some MPs would want to frustrate the work of their committees hiding behind party interests when in actually fact it is them who are compromised.

There are chairpersons and committee members who mean business, judging by the manner in which they research before inviting witnesses sadly though too many do not bother.

Only a few across the political divide hold the executive to account in exercising their mandate as long as the issues are not politically motivated.

While some committees have taken the executive to account, too many are mediocre born out of mediocre chairpersons.

Source : The Herald