Anti-graft unit: MPs playing cheap politics

By Vusi Sibisi on August 18,2010

Swazi TImes

It is time parliamentarians woke up to the truism that they are not beyond reproach and criticism, as they might have believed after they came under a barrage of criticism for their frontal attack on the judges of the High Court as well as calling for the disbanding of the Anti Corruption Commission, using their privileged platform.

Apparently, the lawmakers, senators to be precise, were peeved by Justice Thomas Masuku’s justified criticism of inherent weaknesses if not contradictions of some of the country’s laws. And when it comes to legislating, the buck stops with Parliament, a point that apparently got some senators hot under the collar.

It was within the ambit of Justice Masuku as a judge of the High Court to apportion blame over inherent weaknesses of one law or the other on Parliament, just like parliamentarians often abuse their privileged positions to attack defenceless individuals and institutions, at times with no justification whatsoever.

As I see it, and given the hostile reaction of the lawmakers to Justice Masuku’s considered criticism of parliamentarians, my assumption is that legislators are expecting judges to carry their bidding by blindly enforcing the law without interrogating it to arrive at its proper interpretation, which is the primary duty of judges or presiding court officers.

If that were the case, then the next question would be over the need to remove qualification requirements for presiding officers in the various courts that are the prerequisites to their appointment. Perhaps that would put judges and other presiding officers at par with lawmakers since there are no requisite basic qualifications for one to become a lawmaker.

Interpretation

But then judges or presiding court officials are not there to massage the egos of the lawmakers but to make critical decisions based on their interpretation of the statutes. And in the course of discharging their responsibilities to the state they have to criticise Parliament or lawmakers so be it.

As I see it senators, or all lawmakers for that matter, should not assume that the legislature is sacrosanct and, therefore, beyond reproach. If living in a glass house means one should not be in the habit of throwing stones, the rule should apply universally.

There is not a single arm of government, or any other institution whether public or private, as well as those serving in these institutions that are insulated from criticism. The rule of thumb being that institutions as well as individuals serving therein must not only be subjected to tenuous scrutiny but that they must always be ready to accept criticism just as they expect those they criticise to do likewise.

But the difference, of course, is that some institutions, indeed some individuals, are convinced that they are above criticism just like some of them believe they are above ordinary citizens. And I have a good sense that lawmakers belong to this kraal. If anyone within the three distinct arms of government should be disposed to harsh criticism, I believe it should be Parliament. After all Parliament enjoys privileges that insulate lawmakers from litigation should the subject of their derision or verbal onslaught feel that their person had been libeled, defamed and assassinated by utterances of lawmakers while in the course of legislating. Which is why rarely had a lawmaker repeated what may have been a libellous and or defamatory statement outside the sanctity of parliament for fear of being dragged before court. And in court there are no privileges and the ignorance of the law does not exculpate even imbeciles from blameworthiness.

Ignorance

If ever there was an exhibition of ignorance on issues by lawmakers, specifically the House of Assembly, it surely must be on the case of the Anti Corruption Commission.

As I see it, it was completely unwarranted for Members of Parliament to summarily call for the disbanding of the Anti Corruption Commission ostensibly for failing to fulfill its mandate.

This naked but unjustified hostility towards the commission triggered a chain reaction of thoughts from yours truly but the poignant one being by what or whose standards did the MPs judge the commission to have failed in its mandate.

As I see it, had the MPs done a little research on why the commission had not taken off in God’s speed they would have found that they are partly responsible. But then given the fact that there are also no minimum qualification requirements for one to become a lawmaker in this land, spewing verbal diarrhea within the hallowed chambers of Parliament has become acceptable and quiet normal.

Yet ignorance should not be bliss for MPs because when they campaigned for elections as public transport operators, funeral undertakers, football sponsors, charitable or-ganisations, etc they did so by promising to deliver and not to sleep on the job once in Parliament.

That this country is among a minority of nations that have not yet ratified three important conventions on corruption is not just an indictment of the government in general but of the legislature itself in particular.

The three conventions at issue are the United Nations Convention against Corruption (signed in September 2005), the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (signed in December 2004) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol against Corruption (signed in August 2001). The import of these conventions is that they are useful in strengthening the domestic legal and institutional frameworks of member countries.

Significantly, a national anti-corruption summit held in 2006, which was preceded by the first national civil society and private sector workshop to combat corruption, culminated with the creation of the Swaziland National Anti-Corruption Strategy (SNACS) as well as the development of the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NAP). And since the latter provides the framework to for the implementation of the former, one would have expected MPs to address themselves on these issues. And if anyone needed to be taken to task it should not have been the Anti-Corruption Commission but rather the executive arm of government for sitting on the job.

Anti-corruption

As a matter of fact had MPs familiarised themselves with SNACS, they would have gotten an insight into how the Anti-Corruption Commission functions and should not have wasted the taxpayer’s money in the manner they did without even understanding the subject matter.

As I see it, having an insight into SNACS would have educated MPs into understanding that one of the threats faced by the Anti-Corruption Commission is that contrary to SNACS it is not that independent but a government department under the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. This flies in the face of logic that there is political commitment to ridding this country of the scourge of corruption.

As the situation is right now, the Anti-Corruption Commission is compromised in many ways including budgetary and as such cannot afford the sort of expertise that would be a catalyst in its operations, especially in delivery.

And there is no second-guessing SNACS on the question of independence of the commission, "The integrity of the Anti-Corruption Commission should not be compromised in any way. Its independence should be guaranteed, even when it depends on government for budget and other resources. Such independence should go hand in hand with extended powers given to anti-corruption authorities.

It is this independence that will give the commission the credibility that is central to its success." Indeed in some instances, such commissions as in the example of Tanzania, report direct to the head of state or Parliament.

Besides everything else there is still a battery of supportive laws, such as the protection of witnesses or whistleblowers, which still need to be enacted and passed by the very Parliament that has turned around to score cheap political points at the expense of the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Given the prevailing scenario is anything needed to be dissolved or disbanded for failing to achieve its mandate, it surely must be Parliament but certainly not the Anti-Corruption Commission.