Wednesday, May 06, 2009

MPs must be evaluated

What should have been a peaceful consultative meeting between MPs and officials of the African Leadership Instititute, a civil society organisation, on Tuesday turned rowdy as legislators accused the institute of seeking to destroy them.
Apparently, the institute, headed by former spy chief David Pulkol, has previously carried out an assessment of the MPs performance, with the results, mainly unflattering, getting a lot of media coverage.
So, when Mr Pulkol revealed that a similar report would be made public at the end of this month, the legislators in the Tuesday meeting rose up in arms. They say the methodology employed by the African Leadership Institute is not accurate. They fault the researchers of concentrating on their submissions on the floor of the House, committee sessions and district meetings, yet under the multi-party dispensation, MPs make most submissions in the caucuses and are restrained from speaking on the floor of the House.
I agree that the assessors can be more accurate. What the researchers should do is get records of caucus proceedings from the party whips and reflect these in their findings. They also can look at MPs contributions elsewhere, say international fora. But that does not mean the MPs’ contributions on the floor, committees and districts should be disregarded. The parties may have already chosen movers of motions but surely individuals make suggestions, respond to Bills and can mover Private Members Bills. It is not true, therefore, to conclude that MPs are supposed to be mute just because the parties have not asked them to talk.
By law, MPs are ex-officio members of their district local government executive councils. They are expected to attend meetings there and brief their councils on developments in the House. It is also the time they get feedback from the district. It is foolhardy for the MPs to disregard these meetings, claiming they are run by their rivals.
And just because Mr Pulkol is a former spy chief, does not mean he can’t do objective research. Rather than judge him by his past, MPs should critique his work and methods.
MPs are public officials. It is important that the public knows how they are performing. That is why they should heed Mr Kassiano Wadri, the Opposition Chief Whip’s advice: “Let us open ourselves to public surgery. We must be able to absorb all this positive criticism. The moment we close the door to criticism, we shall be judged wrongly.”

I made the same argument for judges some time back. They hated assessment by the Public Service Commission, saying their independence was at stake. But the PSC is mandated by law to do this, like the judiciary, they are independent. It is only fair that people be checked to see if they meet standards for the jobs they were recruited.

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