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Parliament back-benchers must stop bench warming – analysts

by Rodney Pienaar

Political analysts have urged parliament back-benchers representing the ruling party and the official opposition to pull their weight by contributing to debates, and to start engaging and updating communities on parliament discussions.

Last year, back-benchers who also make up parliamentary standing committees said that they were crippled by budget cuts and therefore were unable to carry out their mandates.

Between the 2016/17 fiscal years, finance consolidation measures chopped the committees’ budget from N$13 million to a measly N$4.5 million in the current fiscal year.

Speaking to The Villager, political analyst Ndumba Kamwanya said that in the previous parliament session only a hand full of back-benchers contributed to debates. 

“We have seen very little contribution from the side of the back-benchers last year. We have seen them for most of the time showing up there and not contributing to discussions. This has proven that they are not performing at all. They need to pull up their socks because they are the ones that are supposed to go out to the communities to spread the message and discuss issues of national concern and bring back feedback to the parliament. They are not doing enough at all” he said. 

He added that just attending parliament sessions for the sake of being present does not help members of the public who are not exposed to information disseminated in parliament.

Kamwaya also added that in general back-benchers raise issues that have an impact on the society such as new laws that might be passed in the parliament. 

Institute for Public Policy Research, researcher Frederico Links also said the presence of back-benchers in parliament is a waste of resources.

“I think that it is a waste of money. They are just there for the sake of being there and do not recall a time when a backbencher made a meaningful contribution to discussions in parliament. All we know is that they are in parliament so that there will not be any empty chairs in parliament,” he said. 

Links added that back-benchers need to hit the streets to make information accessible to Namibians a long way from parliament.

Another political analyst in concurrence is Dr Hoze Riruako who said back-benchers have been idle decorations in parliament who do not contribute towards most of the discussions. 

"Back-benchers are one group that is not necessarily adding value to the whole issue of governance. Ministers have activities in their offices that they need to bring to the nation and these are issues of importance that affect the people. There are also activities that would show how the back-benchers are performing in terms of bringing information to the people but unless there is something that triggers these back-benchers, they are quiet like they are not there at all,” he said. 

He added that the state has been wasting money on backbenchers for years and that it should now make plans based on their performance.

“There is a need to consult all the stakeholders that need to be reached by law makers through them and then come back to the house and make meaningful contributions to the debates in the house. As it is now, what are they tasked with? A minister has an office to run and a ministry to run because ministries have mandates. As for these people we call back-benchers what is their mandate? They do not have any responsibility from the look of things,” he said.