Interest in the Deputy Speaker position for the 11th Parliament is very high. How do you rate your chances?
It is a crowded race and I am loving it. Indeed, everyone who is elected a Member of Parliament qualifies to be a leader in that House, so I am happy to see that colleagues are having interest in that office. It means it is an office they take seriously and it is an office they believe they can use to add value to how the country is run. It is an open opportunity for everyone and anyone can take it, and my chances are really high.
Why do you rate yourself very highly?
My candidature is premised on building a strong and cohesive Office of the Speaker by effectively and efficiently deputising the Speaker and coupled with execution of my roles as enunciated in the Constitution and the related subsidiary legislation and rules. I undertake to ensure that the Office of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker function as a single and complimentary unit, built on mutual respect and understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities.
Beyond that, what the public considers is not exactly what we members as voters consider. I am coming out with a candidature that is going to bring the Office of Speaker down to the MPs. By understanding their constituencies, I become a brother to them, they find they can easily approach me and we talk issues that are even beyond office, but also personal issues and that is what has been missing - that office is so [high] up there and big people get headache trying to reach people they voted for.
I have seen people who want to raise issues of national importance but wonder whether the Speaker or Deputy Speaker will allow them.
There has been intense conversation about how Parliament works, the structure of debate, time, etc. What are your views?
It is not just about the structure, but also the quality. What have those whom you have given time presented? For example, if I was a researcher on national issues, The Hansard of Parliament would be my first to look.
For example, if it is about the Budget, what was the debate about, why was this Budget passed? What were the contradicting issues in regard to what government presented? That is very important.
I think what we would need to do is to create more time for plenary. When we start our plenary sessions at 10am, for example, we get more time. I wouldn’t even mind having a debate at night. I have seen it in happen in the UK and other parliaments.
There is also the problem of over interference. When we are debating and we follow our rules of procedure, then we will reduce issues of someone speaking 17 times and you look for what they have spoken and you can’t get it. So, we need to come in and steer the debate and restructure around issues.
We also need to work with party whips. Sometimes, some MPs even register early after researching on things and they want to submit. These are often given priority. We must strengthen the research function at Parliament.
If we can have a ratio of one researcher to five MPs, and it is a pool of researchers with specialties in different fields, then I know that if I have an issue, I will send it to this researcher, because we subscribe to e-libraries all over the world. But you have to condense those big reports and get talking points out of them.
Parliaments all over the world that are performing extremely well have invested in researchers/ research assistants for MPs.
The current researchers we have are attached to committees. If I am a member of the Committee on Natural Resources, I don’t know anything about a researcher of the Committee of Education because I don’t sit there. So it becomes difficult for me to get a researcher in this area.
We must have a pool of researchers who will be doing quality research and dissecting reports. Committees such as PAC [Public Accounts Committee] come up with very good issues during their sessions because the Office of the Auditor General facilitates that committee with researchers.
Do you think there should be a schedule on when the Speaker or Deputy Speaker presides over the House?
I wouldn’t want to go into that area. There is a business committee of Parliament and I believe that committee can look at that issue in terms of schedules.
But why I talked about the issue of deputising the Speaker without having any questions, I would want to see cohesion and I believe that if my candidature is built on that – the race for Speaker is already a highly polarised issue in the House – I will work with them. I have already talked to them and discussed this. They are running their race and I am running mine.
The mistake will be if we who are standing for Deputy Speaker get infused in the race for Speaker, then you will find we only have a team of winners and losers. With the highly polarising race for Speaker, the other members should be able to seek refuge in the Office of the Deputy Speaker.
If the Office of the Deputy Speaker is also occupied by someone who is fighting any contestants for Speaker and that person wins, what is going to end up happening is finding members who fear to even enter the House.
I know MPs who are not comfortable with any of the two, to the extent that when any of them is chairing the session, this MP says they cannot attend.
What issues do you see dominating the 11th Parliament?
The government sets the agenda and I believe the government is going to be more active. It was sometimes embarrassing to find that we have a parliamentary session and you have around two or four ministers present, and sometimes when you look at the order paper, you see that indeed Parliament is trying to find business for the government.
I believe government should set their agenda, have more issues around the debt sustainability of the country. That is an important issue because I see that our appetite for borrowing has not gone down and yet our debt to GDP ratio is moving high.
I am seeing us discussing corruption more. This is going to be more important because the President is very clear on that issue and Parliament has to come in to support any laws that will be in line with that.
I am also seeing us discussing issues that are pro-life. I am very passionate about protecting the rights of the unborn child. I also see us discussing issues to do with human rights.
Are you prepared to accept what your party will decide?
We have a very interesting race and I hope that the party (NRM) coming up to intervene does not suffocate any of us, especially the younger people.
When you look at what happens in some cases, you find it is the Opposition setting the agenda for the young people inside NRM. Our party needs to allow our own to grow.
I am an NRM candidate and I am going to subject myself to the process in the caucus. If we hold a vote in the caucus and I lose, I will request to even be the one to nominate whoever would have defeated me on the floor.
I do hope that they give us an opportunity, because if you don’t give us the chance – in case leaders are directly sent by CEC – then you are going to have leaders who are not going to be in touch with the people they are leading.
I believe NRM will give us the opportunity to present our manifestos and be voted on in the caucus. With that we shall have a very strong institution of the speakership.