Swapo MPs mum during question time
Only one Swapo MP asked questions last year during National Assembly question-and-answer sessions (Q&As).
An overview, which forms of a study by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), authored by Max Weylandt and Ndeapo Wolf, showed that out of 159 parliamentary questions, only eight (around 5%) were asked by Swapo, and all by one MP, Veikko Nekundi.
This reduces the Q&A mechanism to a “cross-party accountability measure rather than a legislative-executive one”, the study found.
The Q&A sessions nevertheless “exemplify the best and the worst of Namibian democracy”.
The IPPR noted that the lack of accountability could ultimately be rooted in a “more profound structural issue: namely, the dominance of Swapo in the National Assembly”.
This is because the vast majority of MPs are members of the ruling party and as such members of the executive, who are tasked to provide answers to questions.
The study into the strength and weaknesses of Q&A sessions found that although accountability is touted as one of the key benefits, the system faces numerous obstacles that weaken the mechanism’s effectiveness as an accountability tool.
Although there are challenges, including a narrow focus on interests and a lack of resources and skills, which often lead to ineffective questions, and although ministers “can find ways to skirt accountability”, it is an “imperfect instrument, but one that shows its latent promise nonetheless”, the paper concluded.
One of the promising aspects of the Q&A mechanism is that it provides a “regular ritual of accountability”, which has “normalised the practice of questioning government officials’ performances”.
The importance of this should not be understated,” the authors found.
Most of the questions posed last year came from the opposition, led by the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM), with a total of 65 questions.
The United Democratic Front (UDF) submitted 46 questions.
The fewest questions were from the Workers Revolutionary Party and the United People’s Movement (UPM), which each submitted one question each.
With 46 questions, financial mismanagement questions dominated, followed by 39 on the economy and employment and 35 related to constituency issues.
Maladministration (28 questions) and agriculture and environment questions (22) also topped the question themes last year.
The UDF’s Apius Auchab led the pack of MPs who dominated questions, submitting a quarter or a total of 42 of all questions during the year.
He was followed with 22 questions by the PDM’s Jennifer van den Heever, 14 by Nico Smit from the same party and 13 posed by Mike Kavekotora of the Rally of Democracy (RDP).
Overall, only three questions were related to gender, with two belonging to Van den Heever - one on gender-based violence and the other to child marriage.
The third gender-related question was posed by the Auchab on the topic of breastfeeding.
And while women MPs of opposition parties were well-represented in posing questions, the lack of female voices among Swapo MPs represented the overall lack of engagement in the asking process within the party.
“None of Swapo’s 21 women backbenchers asked a question in 2017.”
The IPPR paper found that although women’s issues were a marginal topic, it reflects trends in other countries with high female representation, including Britain, where a low number of questions are related to women’s issues.
And while troubling, women MPs overall raised a broad range of topics during parliamentary question time, including the land resettlement scheme, illicit capital outflows and tax evasion, suggesting they are willing and prepared to tackle a wide range of relevant topics, and not necessary restricting themselves to gender issues.