By Louis Kolumbia
Dar es Salaam — Tanzania is facing a deep institutional crisis with trust in Parliament – one of the three pillars of government – slumping to worrying levels, a recent survey by an internationally respected body reveals.
Researchers said the National Assembly has suffered decline of trust among the public, the majority of whom no longer believe the legislature can provide the leadership to deliver desired change.
The survey by the Society for International Development (SID) was conducted across East Africa to, among other things, determine the levels of trust in the region with respect to the presidency, the legislature, traditional leaders, the clergy and the Opposition.
Tanzania scored relatively healthily on the clergy and fairly on the presidency.
But its score on the legislature – where 66 per cent of the respondents said they either completely distrust or have a little trust in the institution – is alarmingly low.
Only 56 per cent of the Tanzanian citizens interviewed said they had little or somewhat trust in the Parliament.
“If our legislatures do not offer comfort to the citizens, there is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently as the role of parliaments in deliberating and enacting the reforms that are mooted is critical,” the researchers noted.
Tanzania is in the same group with Kenya where nearly 80 per cent of the respondents have expressed no trust in the legislature.
Titled The State of East Africa 2016: Consolidating Misery? The Political Economy of Inequalities, the survey covers the period 2014-2015.
According to the report released recently in Dar es Salaam, only 32 per cent of Tanzanian respondents expressed full trust in the National Assembly.
Rougher road ahead
Dr George Shumbusho, a lecturer at Mzumbe University, told Political Platform that it may be an even rougher road ahead for the current Parliament, already reeling under heavy criticism for playing partisan politics at the expense of the electorate.
He blamed the distrust on lawmakers putting their political parties ahead of the people who voted them into the National Assembly.
“It will be difficult to solve the problems facing Parliament under the current Constitution, and when MPs squabble for their sakes, and not for the sake of the electorate,” he said.
The MPs’ bribery scandals, the handling of the Constitutional Reforms debate and other controversies could have largely played a role in damaging public trust.
Early this year, Parliament stared at a serious credibility crisis as claims of bribery of several Members of Parliament unravelled in dramatic fashion.
Speaker Job Ndugai was forced to remove three parliamentary committee chairpersons and two vice chairpersons after reports that their members had solicited bribes from state firms.
Frosty relations between the Opposition and ruling party CCM MPs in the National Assembly have not made it easy for the public to trust the legislature over the years.
In-fighting, boycotts and walk-outs have also left many wondering whether or not the august House still holds the position of an influential socio-political game-changer, or it has slumped into a battle field of political ideologies.
Alarm bells rang louder during the 11th Parliamentary Session mostly chaired by Deputy Speaker Tulia Ackson who sent many opposition MPs packing over allegations of breaching Standing Orders.
Her decisions, roundly condemned by the back-benchers as politically-motivated, sparked unprecedented drama and boycotts.
Demanding her ouster, Opposition MPs did not attend a significant number of sessions in walk-outs and boycotts political analysts warned signal a looming institutional breakdown.
An acclaimed lawyer and former deputy Attorney-General, Dr Ackson is accused by her critics of being a ‘gun for hire’ to silence the Opposition in Parliament. Her appointment is just of the storms that hit the National Assembly this year.
The government’s controversial decision to restrict live coverage of parliamentary sessions seems to have vindicated claims that there is a deliberate ploy to weaken dissent in the august House.
MP’s who were in the frontline opposing the government’s decision were booted out, causing a public outcry.
The Deputy Speaker also raised eyebrows when she donated Sh6 billion towards the purchase of school desks to State House. She said the money had been saved through a cost-cutting drive.
Opposition MPs questioned why they were not consulted over the matter, and how the same Parliament that claimed to not have money for live coverages had Sh6 billion to donate elsewhere.
Last week, Speaker Ndugai, who was away in India for medical care as the crisis unfolded, extended an olive branch to the warring parties in Parliament.
“The conflicts that now dominate Parliament do not please Tanzanians at all. We will have to seek common ground between leaders from the Opposition Camp and House officials,” he said in an interview with a local TV station.
University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) lecturer Elijah Kondi said public trust could only be restored to Parliament if politicking stopped.
“CCM MPs must also stop using their majority in Parliament to pass everything tabled by the government regardless of whether or not it’s good,” he said.
He also warned that there is a clear risk that resentment of the august House could escalate among the public.
According to The State of East Africa 2016 report, trust in national institutions plays a key role in the shaping the present and the future. The researchers warned that without public trust it would be difficult for leaders to implement policies that spearhead development and transform the economy.
“We cannot presume that trust will emerge out of nowhere. It is a fragile, yet indispensable construct that will be required for the journey ahead,” they noted.
“As such, there is a challenge for leaders at all levels to understand how to preserve and nurture the trust within and between the communities.”
Survey results come amid growing concerns that the gulf between the country’s citizens and the political elite could seriously affect reforms, given the need for continuity to benefit from bright economic outlook.
Last month, the World Bank reported that Tanzania was one the best performing economies of the region in the last decade with GDP growth averaging nearly 7.0 per cent.
Nevertheless, poverty remains widespread mainly due to uneven growth, an area that the SID survey also highlighted.
The World Bank partly attributed the economic growth to political stability.