The vote on the annual government budget highlighted once again the attendance issue of the current parliament and its speaker.Thirty six members including the Speaker Abdirahman Irro were absent in the vote that commenced the first House session of the year.
As I dug deep to the attendance records of the parliament, the enormity of the situation revealed itself. The Speaker missed 30 percent of the votes that passed legislations, while, in average, 33 MP missed every vote the house held in the last ten years.
The parliament does not publish attendance records of its members, so to obtain these figures I reviewed all the bills passed in the last ten years using the copies of acts published on the website of the parliament. Those document show that the current parliament passed 42 bills, not counting those voted on during this session, and only 29 of them carry the signature of the speaker. In other words, Irro only chaired about 70 percent of the sessions in which bills were passed.
Another revelation that comes from the documents is that MPs attending each vote are slightly above the quorum, 49 precisely. The rare instances that the rule is broken are when private sector interests are involved somehow. The Telecommunication Act, the roads development expenses act, and Central Bank act draw the attention of 77, 70 and 64 MPs respectively, and they are the only votes more than 60 MPs were present.
At the twilight of their prolonged tenure, performance review of the speaker and the house in general is relevant now more than any time.
The speaker, for starters, may have to explain his performance in his current job before applying for promotion to presidency in 2017. The conventional wisdom requires that one does his job well before demanding more responsibility. Unless the electorate are drastically indifferent to work ethics and commitment, the kind of performance displayed by the speaker is disastrous for the future employability of any prospect. Not showing up for work, which is symptom of lack of commitment, is not exactly what endears job seekers to employers.
However, it is not just his competence for higher office that this performance brings to question. Theoretically, the speaker owes taxpayers 19.5 million Somaliland shillings of underserved money paid as salary, bonuses and housing subsidiary. And that’s just for the last five years. The number is calculated as the total money paid to the speaker annually minus the thirty percent unearned money for his absence from parliament sessions.
All this lack of commitment from MPs comes with hefty burden on the taxpayers. The house is paid 640 million of SL shillings annually; but only 384 millions are justifiable given that only 60 percent of them actually do vote. That will translate to $32 thousand of losses each year, (8000 being the exchange rate.)
Monetary losses are the least of our concerns, though. The absence of that many MPs from the votes decreased the quality of the discussions put into bills and might have resulted in the passage of ill conceived legislations. One bill that certainly could have benefited from more debate is the unilateral extradition act passed in 2012.
The inmates’ exchange act legalizes the handover of prisoners to other countries and receiving prisoners from them. According to this legislation, someone can be imprisoned in Somaliland if we get request from another country without a retrial. At the same token, Somaliland can hand over prisoners to another country without that person’s consent.
The act is on political and morally dangerous terrain. The political issue is the sovereignty and independence concern since the legislation is one way street; we cannot legally demand other countries to hand over fugitives to us. Morally, the legislation does not consider the human rights record and the judiciary system of the countries demanding the extradition of fugitives. Ethiopia being the main likely partner of the act is a clear example of both the sovereignty and moral concerns that the act does not consider. Neither we have a bilateral extradition agreement with them, nor their human record or judicial process is reliable, to say the least. And that is just one bill.
Another downside of the poor job done by MPs is that it undermines, or at least diminishes the representative governing system and all the legitimacy that brings to the table. Somaliland is sparsely populated country with only 82 parliament members, and every one of them represents about 46 thousand citizens. His absence simply throws the voices of all those people out of the window. With their voice absent, there is little guarantee that their interests will be considered..
Furthermore, I am afraid this poor attendance to parliament sessions is a sign of an even bigger problem; little understanding of, and lesser commitment to the job of representing the people in the capital. The voting is the least demanding aspect of the job of an MP. I can’t see a man who fails to show up for a vote sponsoring a bill that will benefit his constituent; neither can I imagine him lobbying hard to allocate more funds for the local school or hospital of his community.
Finally this apparent poor work ethic may explain why the House in 2013 passed a bill that will allow them to take away a year’s salary at the end of their term. All those years, a substantial number of them, just shy of half, were showing up just collecting cheques without much of a work to earn it.