A bigger parliament, but so what?

31 January 2020 | Opinion

When Swapo used its two-thirds majority to make sweeping amendments to the country's constitution in 2014, its members defended this move tooth and nail.

The amendments helped balloon government's wage bill by creating, among others, the position of vice-president and increasing the National Assembly from 72 to 96 voting members.

With MPs in that house earning an average annual salary of about N$600 000, the salary bill of the National Assembly must have increased by a whopping N$14.4 million per year.

The expansion of parliamentary seats was never properly justified, except to say it was “in keeping with many Commonwealth parliamentary practices”.

Now President Hage Geingob, who was an active player in the 2014 constitutional amendments, is planning to downsize his cabinet, come March 21. He cited cost as the key influence of his decision.

This is a scenario of robbing Peter to pay Paul. What difference would it make to downsize the cabinet while parliament was increased?

And, apart from the flimsy Commonwealth compatibility excuse, how has parliament become a better servant of the people with its increased army of often absent MPs?

The only notable change we have seen in the past five years is that MPs have become savvy with their gadgets on which they browse X-rated adult content sites.

Neighbours Botswana, who are our peers in every sense of the word, have a parliament of 65 seats. They have adopted a culture of doing more with less – something they have been doing with finesse and absolute efficiency.

We must thus interrogate the logic of having increased seats in our National Assembly, which on the face of it seemed to have been a ploy to accommodate as many comrades in the well-paying house of legislature.

The irony is that government increased seats in parliament and immediately started moaning about how its wage bill gobbles up over 50% of the national budget.

If President Geingob wants to salvage his legacy in the next five years, he must be bold enough and reverse parts of these amendments, especially those that have worsened our financial situation.