Full-time or part-time legislature? ….. NATION

Full-time or part-time legislature?

The debate over full-time or part-time legislature is gathering momentum. Assistant Editor LEKE SALAUDEEN examines the pros and cons of the options and their implications for governance.

Nigerians are sharply over the proposal that the country should adopt part time legislature. The debate was prompted by the huge remuneration paid the legislators without commensurate productivity. The proponents cited the N13 billion collected by the members of the eighth National Assembly as salaries and allowances for the month of June and July without initiating or passing a bill. It has been argued that Nigeria is already toeing the line of part time legislature due to the number of time the National Assembly goes on recess in a year. Analysts observe that the national legislature, in most cases, sits for about six months in a year; they sit for three days in week, they enjoy a two month annual recess, four weeks for Christmas and New Year festivities, two weeks for Easter, three weeks for end of session and four weeks for Islamic festivals. Added to this is the truancy of the legislators, during plenary, most of the seats are empty as the law makers are usually busy attending to their private business at the expense of the legislative work.

Analysts have faulted the argument put forward by the leadership of the National Assembly that the House will reconvene when the President forward the list of ministers or issues of national interest that require the legislature approval. Are they in the parliament to deliberate on the executive bills or matters alone? Can’t they initiate bills and motions that will benefit their constituents and keep them busy? The long term recess embarked upon by the National Assembly suggests that there is no much to be done and that legislation can be done on part time.

But, former Deputy Minority Leader Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora has hit back at the proponents of part time legislature, saying the proposal was not the answer to the impunity in the system. According to him, “part time legislature is not and can never be the answer to corruption in the country”.

Mamora said: “I don’t think part time legislature is desirable because legislation has become somehow sophisticated; people tend to make mistake that all what the legislators do is to legislate. The major roles of legislators include: representation which cannot be done on part time basis; law making which must pass through a process like public hearing, research and personal inputs to come up with good legislation. There is also oversight function which cannot be done on part time basis”.

He listed others as “confirmation hearing on those recommended for appointment by Mr President. The President can make appointments at any time. The Senate has to engage in confirmation hearing. How do you achieve that when you have part time legislature? There is also consensus building when there is crisis and the National Assembly has to summon people; you can’t predict when crisis will erupt. Remember, it is the duty of the National Assembly to scrutinise and approve budget. There is what is called policy incubation which is a function of the legislature. Issues brought before the legislature at the plenary have to be examined over a period of time before being forwarded to the executive for consideration as government policy. The National legislature also perform legitimising role. That is to say that the executive actions cannot become effective without legitimacy conferred by the legislature”.

Reacting to the proposal on part time legislature, a stalwart of the Peoples Democratic Party in Sokoto State, Alhaji Shehu Dangiwa said it was a welcome development, noting that the present crop of legislators both in national and state Houses of Assembly are already working pastime.

“Imagine the current situation where a legislative House only sits for two or a maximum of three days a week, and go on recess for several weeks in a year. What do you call that? It is part time but they are only wasting public funds on the pretence that they are doing full time legislative business. Look at the current national legislature that have sat two or three times since its inauguration in June is yet to pass a single law, yet members had withdrawn several millions of naira as salaries and allowances for doing nothing.

“I have been an advocate of part time legislature since 1999. This was because in all developed countries Nigeria was trying to emulate, members of the legislature have their professions and they don’t resign their appointments to become lawmakers. Part time legislature would be good if the Federal Government wants to attract high-calibre people to politics. There is nothing stopping an accountant, lecturer or banker from venturing into politics and do it part time. This would enable them to still hold on to their jobs and do politics. It will be beneficial because all these people are coming with skills and experiences from their own professions. So why can’t we use these skills and experiences in shaping our country?

But, Senator Chukwuka Utazi  (Enugu North) has described the call for part time legislature as unnecessary. He said the argument that it would reduce cost of governance by paying legislators sitting allowance is baseless.

“Those making such calls were ignorant of the workings of the National Assembly. The legislature is one of the active arms of government and the law makers work all through their stay in the National Assembly, including holiday periods. Law makers engage in oversight of agencies and parastatals as well as committee meetings even during recess.

“As a growing economy, Nigeria should be allowed to run a full time legislature to avail law makers the opportunity of contributing to its development. You cannot do this job on part time; the people saying we should run on part time are either ignorant or have a dislike for us. They said we fight and throw banters instead of carrying out our duties as lawmakers but that perception is wrong.”

Gender rights activist, Hajia Raliat Ibrahim argued that the notion of part time legislation will reduce cost of governance in Nigeria. But she warned that unless corruption is fought and reduced to the barest minimum, the part time legislators who are ideally to receive less than full time legislators, will find a way to allocate a large amount in the budget to make up for their reduced salary.

Ibrahim noted that the Nigerian Parliament is too costly and constitute a drain pipe on the nation’s economy. The current situation where a legislative House sits for two or three days a week and go on recess for several weeks in a year is unacceptable. The legislature should be made to attract people are committed to the service of humanity, she stated.

President, Nigeria Voters Assembly (VOTAS), Comrade Moshood Erubami opined that the current agitation by the people for part time legislature stem out of the growing impunity, which start from late arrival in the House, outright truancy and low turnout, which translate to not doing enough to merit the high emolument being paid to the legislators.

Erubami said: “If legislators arrive to time, and are present at all appointed time to do the job of legislation, oversight of the executive and truly represent the people, nobody will be against the status quo but many Nigerians are of the right opinion that many of the legislators are short changing the country and the House with regular absenteeism, irregular and untimely arrival at work which result in low productivity.

“Pitiably, Nigerians watch with dismay how members stroll into the legislative chamber when the proceeding in the House is almost concluded without visible respect for the time schedules in the House, yet these are leaders whom we are expecting to lay good examples, serves as models for emulation.

Making a case for full time legislature, Erubami said the duties of legislators are tasking and numerous and require moving of daily motions, initiating and supporting bills that seek  the good welfare and security of the people, focusing the betterment, growth and sustainable development of the constituencies where the legislators come from and the country in general. All these can be achieved under a full time arrangement. Full time will be the time allocated for participation of the legislators in the activities of the hallowed chamber of the legislature.

Mamora said that part time legislature can only work in parliamentary democracy, not in presidential democracy. He explained that in parliamentary system, members of the cabinet are appointed from the legislature. Major decisions are taken at the party caucus. I don’t know of any country that practices presidential system and adopt part time legislature, he said.

He noted the clamour for part time legislature stemmed from low productivity of the legislators; there is need for increase productivity.  “But the low productivity is across board. There is low productivity on the side of the executive and the judiciary. If there are issues, let’s find solutions to them and not demonising the legislature. The legislature defines democracy. If you remove legislature, you will have autocracy”.

Erubami explains why people are calling for part time legislation is because of the fact that they do not by their attendance justify what they earn. “Legislators work less but are paid huge salaries at the expense of the growth and better welfare of the state they represent and the nation. However, as it is now we are operating a full time legislature, hence all legislators must arrive to time set for the business of the day, contribute to budget debates or discussion and initiate legislative dialogue, initiate and support bills, move motions on issues of national importance, participate in committee oversight activities and truly represent the people at the constituency and national levels.

On what should be done to increase productivity of the legislators, Mamora asked the electorate to assess the quality of people being elected into the legislature in terms of their competence, capacity, educational background, ability and pedigree. It is not the amount a candidate can afford to win election but the quality of his personality that matters most.

He said the electorate should monitor the performance of their representatives in the legislature. “They should ensure he is not a bench warmer. Watch his level of participation at the plenary and at the committee level. Many legislators are truants.