Parliamentary Accountability: Tool to curb Corruption?

Pusetso Morapedi – published 24 August 2019 – The Weekend Post – Gaborone

Having an independent functioning Parliament and strong oversight bodies can be an anti-corruption measure? Becoming a Member of Parliament (MP) is a great honour, but it also entails great responsibility. An MP is a representative of the people. People’s needs and desires are to be communicated in the National Assembly to ensure people-centred policies that impact lives. Meaning that any bad law and policy out of Parliament have consequences, bad and good. It is therefore imperative to be intentional who you vote for to represent you in Parliament, the legislative power of government. As we struggle for our democracy, it is apparent that which we need to work on is how we engage with politics, to strengthen, to deepen democracy, to efficiently and effectively manage public resources and assets to benefit citizens.  

The legislative power plays an important role in creating a democratic state and good governance. As the state institution that functions to produce legislation, exercise oversight over executive power, set budget policy and authorize the use of public resources, and represent the public interest, the roles of the parliament are extraordinarily important. It plays a key role in establishing an environment that is conducive to promoting growth and ensuring accountability and transparency of all state and government institutions. 

If any leader in Botswana wants to leave a legacy in taking us from the crossroads we are at, it will be by neutralising some of his/her powers to ensure the real separation of powers. It will be to especially empower a democratically elected parliament to represent a broad spectrum of public interests as the public put forward its complaints, requests, and aspirations. The articulation of the public’s interests and preferences which is normally set forth in legislative products that become national policies on collective problems can be allowed to be inclusive only under a transparent and accountable political system. 

Parliament can however, be an obstacle to democracy and development of the people if its authority and functions are abused. If the parliament is dominated by certain powers and their interests or is controlled by a dictatorial power, its policies and programmes can do more harm than good. Compared with the executive or judicial branches, the legislative branch is certainly the branch of state power that is closest to the public. It therefore becomes imperative who you vote for, to safeguard your interests and public assets and resources. Let us go for accountable leaders, leaders who are clear about their open government agenda, leaders who are willing to put integrity systems in place. Leaders who when they talk about fighting corruption actually go a mile further and do the following:

  • Provide the resources and political support necessary for a robust, independent and effective national prosecuting authority;
  • Rid the cabinet of those serving ministers who are neither fit nor proper to serve in their high public offices, and do not appoint to cabinet those on the governing party’s parliamentary list who are alleged to have been implicated in corruption;
  • Prioritise tackling corruption in those sectors that provide basic goods and services, in particular policing, public healthcare, energy, transport and education. 
  • Particularly introduce transparency into the processes governing the appointments of the heads of oversight institutions and the Boards of state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

You see, an independent and equipped Parliament would be able to assist with the institutionalisation of the above. Starting with the Appropriation Bill, our MPs can also show their commitment or lack thereof to fighting corruption by articulating very well or not the resources needed to fight corruption, to enhance good governance. 

The concept of parliamentary accountability is based on the premise that Parliament, as the highest representative organ of government, has the duty to check on the activities of the executive through a number of measures. Also tied to this is the institutional accountability of MPs, collectively and individually. Thus, champions of accountability must first be accountable to themselves. Question is, do our MPs account to themselves and to us? Representatives of people are expected to listen, represent and respond to their needs in an effective and timely manner. Is it the case for our MPs, take the last 53 years, do our leaders listen, represent and respond? Or is it about themselves and their hubris? 

Accountability, which is in simple terms responsibility for one’s actions, means being able to provide an explanationor justification, and accept responsibility, for events or transactions and for one’s own actions in relation to these events or transactions. It is about giving an answer for the way in which one has spent moneyexercised powerand control,mediated rights and used discretionsvested by law in the public interest. 

In international practice, there are four types of legislatures or parliaments, in relation to the development of their role and function as organs for public representation (World Bank, 2005):

  • The 1sttype “rubber stamp legislatures”:this type is commonly found in authoritarian countries or those using a system of “guided democracy.” In this arrangement, the legislature is simply an extension of the executive power; its only role is to provide full support for all executive policies.
  • The 2ndtype is “emerging legislatures”:a parliament of this type has experienced a significant process of change and reflects these changes in all aspects of the political system. Parliaments of this type play a greater role in creating governance processes in society. 
  • The 3rdtype is called “arena legislatures”:at this stage, the parliament is functioning well to represent and articulate the people’s interests, discuss public policy from differing perspectives, and conduct oversight and measurement of the government’s performance using various criteria. 
  • The 4thtype is “transformational legislatures”: a parliament of this type functions to articulate various interests and represent various social priorities and expectations in society. The parliament independently produces policies based on such priorities. Parliaments of the transformational type are adopted in presidential systems that separate legislative authority and executive authority.

It is important to know where we are in Botswana, and where we ought to be, to really bring about inclusive economic growth and social development. Continuous relations between the people and the parliament will exist when access and opportunities are legally and formally provided to the people to obtain information on everything that takes place in their parliament. Democratic governance in the parliament is a requisite, because the parliament is, basically, the house of the people. Therefore, when the media, opposition ask questions in Parliament, it is within their mandate as MPs to represent and articulate the people’s interests. It is about public policy, and it should never be about personalities. When civil society asks for more accountability and transparency, it is not about attacking the Executive, it about deepening good governance, and about ensuring that this democratic dispensation brings development to the people. That democracy does safeguard some public good dividends for the people

One of the most respected committees in Parliament is the Public Accounts Committees (PACs). PACs are viewed as the apex for financial scrutiny and accountability, promoted as a crucial mechanism to facilitate transparency in government financial operations. PAC ideally, should have unconditional access to all government agencies and have the power to ‘follow’ government money provided to non-government service providers. In addition to issues raised by the Auditor General, the committee should have powers to investigate other matters and issue formal substantive reports to parliament at least annually. PAC should establish a procedure with the government for following up on its recommendations and is informed about what, if any, action has been taken. Most importantly, the citizens must follow the money, they must push for an independent Parliament and invariably equip members of the PAC to be efficient and independent in thinking. Citizens must follow the money in listening to the budget speech, reading the development plans for specific areas, do check if indeed the schools, clinics and roads have been built. Parliament can institute this culture. 

It is high time we grapple with the fact that the ‘winner takes it all’ mentality will not work in an ‘inclusive’ democracy. We are all part of a system that needs reconfiguring one’s obsession with power, state-power vis-à-vis public interests. Separation of Powers is not a partisan issue, building and equipping Parliament, the Ombudsman, Auditor General is not about just civil society and opposition politics, it is about the people and what they deserve that can bring better livelihoods. 

Strengthening Parliament is strengthening the demand for ethical parliamentarians who serve the people and not their own interests. Conflict of interestalways exists at various level:

  • conflict of party and national interest,
  • conflict of personal and national interest,  
  • conflict of constituency and national interest. 

However, with strong democratic institutions in place, these conflicts and abuse of privileges can be managed and deterred by a legal framework. 

In summation, Parliament can play a big role in curbing corruption. It must be empowered however to exercise to the full its oversight role and effectively account to the public. According to the World Bank (2005) recommended Measures for Effective Accountability Factors, affecting accountability may include: 

  • Strengthening MPs access to research and information;
  • Strengthening political parties;
  • Strengthening parliamentary oversight activities;
  • Strengthening committee systems;
  • Building the capacity of parliamentary staff; 
  • Building the capacity of MPs to debate, articulate the interests of the people and follow the money to avoid wastage of public goods. 

Consulted Works

  2. file:///C:/Users/26772/Downloads/School%20Improvement%20and%20Accountability%20Framework.pdf
  4. OECD (2005) Public Sector Modernisation: Modernising Accountability and Control 
  5. Stapenhurst, R. Johnston, N. & Pelizzo, R. (Eds.) (2006). The Role of Parliaments in Curbing Corruption. Washington DC: World Bank.

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