By Omar L Ceesay
The primary responsibility of a government is to act as a service provider for the people who voted it into office and hence, of the three arms of government, the legislature stands out as the one that is most symbolic of that people-government relationship. The parliament or legislature plays an important role in the life of a nation. It thus performs three main functions: a) make new laws, change existing laws and repeal laws which are no longer needed;
b) represent and articulate the views and wishes of the citizens in decision making processes and
c) oversee the activities of the executive so that the government is accountable to the people. Achieving good governance requires the existence of a strong, effective and efficient parliament. This is so because parliament plays a crucial role in gauging, collating and presenting the views and needs of the people, articulating their expectations and aspirations in determining the national development agenda. However, as the second edition of the African Governance Report (AGR-II- 2009) observed, “the capacity of the legislature to perform its functions efficiently and effectively is a major concern in many African countries”, the Gambia inclusive (ECA Work Program,2010/2011).
Indeed, I dare say that the parliament is the most underdeveloped amongst the three arms of government as, on the one hand our national assembly suffered from 22 years of authoritarian military dictatorship, in which it (parliament) was either marginalized or completely muzzled out in governance; the one-man decision to withdraw the country from the Rome Statutes, pull it out of the Commonwealth and to declare an Islamic state to cite but three examples as testimony to this fact. On the other hand, lack of capacity in terms of financial and material resources seriously weakened the representational function of our national assembly members (NAMs) as could be deciphered from the frustration expressed by constituents, in every given opportunity, at the lack of development in their various constituencies. This goes to reveal that physical chamber and office space themselves alone are not enough for effective and efficient legislative performance.
Since the representation function of parliament entails, among other things, making MPs stay in contact with their constituencies, which includes making resources and time available to them, the recent donation of new motor vehicles to the national assembly is therefore, a move in the right direction and could not have come at a better time. That said and done, the challenge now lies with our NAMs to fully utilize the vehicles to the purpose for which they have been given. One major problem with politicians and our deputies in particular with respect to participation is that they only engage the public during an election campaign, and once elected they lose interest in local concerns. Although the oft-cited constraint for this disconnect (in the past) is understood to some extent, it can no longer constitute a genuine excuse with the advent of this new development.
The physical presence of people or a group of people in parliament is not the whole prescription for effective representation as this may require the national assembly to embark on outreach activities to the electorate in their constituencies. We all know that the provision of these cars is just one step towards the improvement of parliament-civic engagement. however, our parliamentarians as well as the parliamentary staff should also understand that since the NCCE is constrained in the expansion of its service delivery they, the national assembly should make the best use of this opportunity by engaging and interacting with their constituents in providing knowledge and information which will further enhance a more meaningful participation of the people in the decisions affecting their own lives.
In this way the unpleasant consequence of parliament making laws that might not consider the interest of the electorate, laws that might not be explained to the public or parliamentarians failing to fulfill their control function vis-à-vis a possibly ill performing executive could be avoided. On this note, I’ll also like to add my voice to those of well-meaning Gambians in commending the government for this excellent leadership quality.
Long live the Republic of the Gambia!