Controversial Bill tabled

01 August 2014 Author  

front Kawana 01 augAll eyes are fixed on Swapo MPs after the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Attorney General Albert Kawana tabled the Third Amendment Bill to the Namibian Constitution in parliament on Thursday. The majority of the proposed amendments have come under serious public scrutiny in recent weeks. The Bill proposes the amendment of Article 32 of the Constitution for the creation of the office of the Vice President. The Bill seeks to re-arrange the hierarchy of succession and making the appointment of a Deputy Prime Minister optional.

 

It makes provision for the president to appoint the head of intelligence services and for the increase of the composition of the National Assembly from 72 members to 96.

Many observers see the proposed changes as a significant expansion of the powers of the presidency by allowing more structures to report directly to the head of state.

It remains to be seen whether members of parliament will interpret the new Bill as a move by the presidency to gain total control or gain better control over the affairs of the state.

The Bill is expected to sail through parliament as not even a united opposition protest in parliament would have any effect because of Swapo’s two thirds majority.

The only hope of stopping the executive from steamrolling the changes would be if a significant proportion of Swapo MPs in the National Assembly took a stand to vote against the amendments, which is unlikely.

Leading political analyst and director of the Institute of Public Policy and Research Graham Hopwood says the enlargement of parliament is the most significant Constitutional amendment since independence.

He feels the amendments are not something to be taken lightly.

“We need to know why this would lead to a better quality of governance, improved service delivery, and a deepening of democracy.

“Such a discussion should be a national one, taking place over time and with careful consideration and inputs from a variety of stakeholders,” Hopwood said.

The IPPR Director described the amendments as a ‘rushed job’ apparently motivated by Swapo’s need to deal with the possibility of the 50:50 gender balance requirement in the party.

The gender requirement would lead to a number of leading figures, older politicians and Geingob supporters not appearing in safe positions on the party list.

“Having a party list of 96, plus eight appointees, makes it a lot easier to fit most of the aspirant MPs in and therefore prevent discord in the ruling party.”

However, another justification used for the expansion of parliament is the need for parliament to always have a quorum, which has not been the case in recent years, particularly because ministers often travel on official duties.

Some have put forward the additional argument that a larger National Assembly reduces the dominance of the executive in the legislature, which has been a bone of contention for the opposition for some time now.

In this way, with more members of the National Assembly, the house would theoretically not be as dependent on the presence of ministers and it could conduct its business without the backlog experienced in the past.

The Bill further proposes that the country should improve the composition of the National Council.

An insertion in Article 73 of the Constitution proposes that the Chairperson of the National Council appoint a person as Secretary of the Council, who shall perform functions and duties assigned by the Constitution or the Chairperson.

The Bill also proposes that the country should increase the number of presidential appointees to the National Assembly. These appointees will be granted full voting rights.

It further suggests a review of powers of the National Council aimed at limiting the powers of the second chamber in relation to bills on the levying of taxes and appropriations.

With regard to the judiciary, the Third Constitutional Amendment Bill proposes the introduction of a Deputy Chief Justice as well as a Deputy Judge President.

In addition, the bill proposes the introduction of a Magistrates Commission, other Lower Courts Commissions and a provision for a tribunal to investigate misconduct of judicial officers.

Yet another proposal that has raised eyebrows is the one that suggest that the Security Commission should only act in an advisory capacity rather than make recommendations to the president.

The Security Commission currently has the mandate to make recommendations to the president on the appointment of the Chief of the Defence Force, the Inspector General of the Police, the Commissioner General of Correctional Services and the Head of Intelligence Services.
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