ON TUESDAY THIS WEEK the Office of the Opposition gathered its MP’s together to discuss on matters surrounding the national budget a week before it is tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Finance. This is a first ever initiative by the Opposition at the parliamentary level.
As a Member of Parliament (MP) you are expected to perform to a certain standard. Representing a constituency is not always an easy task, it demands commitment, determination, courage, and the passion to symbolically keep on dancing even after the music had stopped. But to achieve this a lot of practice is needed, regularly.
This is what the Office of the Opposition is currently working on. The Private Secretary to the Opposition Leader Mr. Levi Tarosa mentioned on social media on Monday this week that they will be conducting a get-together workshop where MP’s in the Opposition could brainstorm, discuss freely among themselves, “especially the new MP’s or those that come from rural areas, to understand the budget and to know how it will impact each of their constituencies.”
“The Opposition Leader wants to encourage all the MP’s to talk, and not just the same ones” Mr. Levi Tarosa stated.
When Transparency International Vanuatu met with Mr. Levi Tarosa they had just finished from their get-together to discuss the budget in the Opposition Conference Room at the Parliament House.
“Some of them (MPs) are new,” Mr. Levi said, “and the budget is one of the most important things because the first thing to always be debated (every year) is the budget. And since it is their first time in parliament they will feel like they do not know what to talk about” Mr. Levi explained. “And if you do not know what to talk about and you are silent in the beginning then that means that you accept what will happen in the next twelve months.”
It is because of this reason that the Office of the Opposition has called in its MP’s to discuss and understand “the implications of the budget on each of their constituencies and how it will affect them, their work and their projects” the Private Secretary said.
Ten out of fourteen members of the Opposition attended their first meeting to discuss the budget, “One thing that was interesting today was that we invited Willie Jimmy, the former Minister of Finance, to give some insights on how to prepare for it. It is because he was one of those that stood at the other end to present the budget” he said.
Mr. Levi explained that Mr. Willie Jimmy gave them some insights into how to think like a Finance Minister. They also looked at how to listen to a budget speech including what parts of the speech to focus on for debate and questions. Mr. Levi said that together they covered several significant topics like; what to listen for when the Minister of Finance is giving his speech? How to pick up on familiar points? What questions to ask and for what reasons?
Mr. Levi continued to explain that during their short training they found out that even though the budget for this year would increase by around 2 billion vatu, there are two vital government ministries that will have a decrease in their budget.
“So this increase (of 2 billion vatu) is somewhere, tomorrow (Wednesday this week) we will try to find out where this increase is,” Mr. Levi explained.
“The MP’s are excited and are finding it interesting that at least they are receiving some guidance from some people to help the new MP’s. And some existing MP’s are saying that it is a good initiative, it is one of the first.”
TIV acknowledges the effort taken by the Office of the Opposition to up-skill the performance of its MP’s. In 2014 a research by Transparency International Vanuatu suggested that the technical capacity within the legislative, or the parliament, needs to be improved so that it can effectively “fulfill its role as the central law making and accountability body.” (NIS Assessment Report; 2014)
Speaking in parliament may look like an easy task from the outside, but it is not that easy when you are on the inside, and for first-time parliamentarians it can be even harder to represent when everything is new; the environment, the faces, the language, the affiliations and exedra. All this factors can contribute to a lack of performance which can reflect poorly on the constituency concerned.
As voters, we expect to see our MP’s speak and debate in Parliament, we want to see them strategically negotiating for the interest of their constituencies. A prime indicator that can be used to measure MP performance is by taking note of how many times their Member of Parliament speaks to represent his or her constituency during a parliament session.
The current initiative by the Office of the Opposition indicates that there is the possibility to experience an increase in MP participation when parliament sits to discuss the budget during the first extraordinary session this month.
Some government MP’s also showed interest to take part in the Oppositions budget workshop says Mr. Levi, however since the Conference Room is short on space they have not been able to attend. He explains that it does not really matter whether you are in the government or in the opposition, because when the time comes to discuss the budget then you have to speak up for your own constituency and not which side of the House you affiliate with.
Similar workshops for MP’s are expected to continue regularly to up-skill them so that they can perform at a capacity that is expected of them.
“A pure hundred percent politician may talk about some of the things that we are doing like – ‘what are you doing? What are you trying to show?’ – But we are training to improve the standard of administration, we are bringing professionalism into politics” Mr. Levi explained.