By Henry Kyambalesa-The National Constitutional Conference’s proposal to increase seats for Members of Parliament from 158 to 280 makes very sad reading, especially that it is coming at a time when tens of thousands of Grade 7 and Grade 9 students have continued to be spilled onto the streets every year, the healthcare system cannot meet the basic needs of the majority of citizens, the majority of Zambians have no access to clean water and electricity, a critical shortage of decent public housing has compelled so many of our fellow citizens to live in shanty townships nationwide, public infrastructure and services are still deficient, civil servants are still not adequately compensated for their services, crime and unemployment are still widespread, and, among many other socio-economic ills, taxes and interest rates are still very high.
It seems the huge allowances which members of the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) are receiving have intoxicated them so much that they have become incapable of thinking about the catalogue of socio-economic woes which cannot be addressed mainly due to the lack of financial and material resources.
Zambia cannot afford to implement the proposal they have recommended. There is really no wisdom in seeking to increase the number of constituencies when some of the existing constituencies cannot even generate enough tax revenue to meet the cost of maintaining their MPs.
Rather than increase the number of MPs, we should actually have been considering the prospect of reducing the number and restricting their functions to legislative matters. Parliament would still be representative and able to function effectively as the legislative organ of our national government with only 72 elected MPs, for example, so that 1 MP could be elected from each of the existing 72 districts.
If we cannot reduce the number of MPs, we need to continue to have a Parliament with 158 members.
And MPs should not be involved in the implementation of development projects; this should be the function of government ministries and local authorities. Besides, the provinces are already saturated with such portfolios as District Commissioners, Provincial Ministers and Provincial Permanent Secretaries, all of which are supposed to complement the executive branch of the government in the implementation of development projects. To reiterate, we need to restrict the role of Parliament to legislative functions — that is, law-making.
Our country’s meager tax revenues will not be sufficient to maintain such a large Parliament and the highly bloated Cabinet. And we cannot continue to borrow until we push the country back into the debt trap. Besides, donor countries, too, are not likely to continue extending a helping hand while we continue to misuse our meager resources.
There is a need for NCC members and the government to realize that donor countries, like Zambia, do not have unlimited resources. They have to make do with scarce resources by going through public expenditures line by line, program by program, agency by agency, department by department, and ministry by ministry in order to eliminate unnecessary application of public funds.
We need to start doing the same in order to wean our country from its current addiction to loans, its over-dependence on donor funding, as well as attain economic independence and sustained socio-economic development mostly with our own local resources.