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When Appointees Humiliate MPs 

By Martin A. Nkemngu

The incident in which six Members of Parliament, MPs, from the Northwest Region were on August 11, reportedly brutalised by the bodyguard of the Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Jean Kuete, has shocked the public.

In the eyes of those who know what parliament represents, it is simply unbelievable that the elected representatives of the people could be subjected to such ignominy in the office of a senior member of government. It must be said that the attitude of the gendarme was no surprise to keen observers of the Cameroon political scene.

In fact, the violent physical attack on the MPs was just the external expression of the mentality and perception that some members of government have towards the legislature. It is difficult to imagine that the Vice Prime Minister’s bodyguard would not know that he is supposed to treat MPs with respect; or did he see the honorable gentlemen as hoodlums who constituted a threat to the security of his boss?

Even more intriguing was the reaction of the Secretary General of MINADER, who went further to call for police reinforcement after raining more insults on the unfortunate visitors. And worse still the Minister did not care to come to the rescue of the honorable gentlemen who declared that they were there on appointment. Well-informed sources have hinted that Mr. Kuete and his team might have been settling scores with MPs. The Minister was reported to have gone through serious grilling recently, in the hands of legislators.

He has been subjected to questioning on cases of corruption and embezzlement of subventions for production of maize and the management of tractors from India. His competence has also been put to question with the organisation of the agro-pastoral show in Ebolowa. All these issues have drawn the wrath of parliamentarians in the House during question and answer sessions. It seems as if the Minister saw the visit of the MPs as the right time to pay them back in their own coins.  

The incident has brought to the fore a long-standing problem between the three arms of government, namely; the executive, the legislature and the judiciary in Cameroon. In countries where the relationships between these governmental arms are established, the overall quality of governance is much better than in countries where the relationships are in a state of flux.

In a democratic system, the executive has responsibility for developing, initiating and implementing policy. The legislature or parliament examines and controls the work of the government in debating and passing laws. Finally, the judiciary comprises the judges and the courts, and exercises the power to interpret and apply the law through the court system.

To return to the attack, the aggression of the gendarme guard, the reaction of the Secretary General and the silence of the Minister translate vividly the wrong perception that some Cameroonians have about their parliamentarians. Generally, MPs are perceived as errand boys of the administration. As CRTV journalist Jonnie MacViban says, "Our MPs are just vassals of the executive. The MP will always stoop before the minister because he wants favours". This accounts for the disdain and disregard of our elected representatives by appointed officials who hold executive positions.

Some parliamentarians have contributed, albeit unconsciously, to their own fate. They lobby for government contracts and sometimes have to be kept waiting for long hours to be received by members of government who have little esteem for them. This sad situation has been further compounded by the introduction of the so-called micro-project grants which has created more confusion in the eyes of the public about the actual role of the elected representatives of the people. Many people tend to judge the performance of MPs on how they use the annual FCFA 8million micro-project grant.

Apart from the fact that the money is grossly insignificant, the MP is virtually trapped by the executive as he struggles to justify that the money is properly used. By the way, what development can be carried out with this paltry sum? Rather, the MP is weakened and cowered into silence especially if he has mismanaged the grants. In parliament, he has no moral authority to check a government minster guilty of similar misconduct.

Recently a local newspaper attempted a revealing classification of Anglophone MPs placing Honorable Justice Paul Ayah at the bottom of the ladder. Apparently, the paper’s main criterion was the use of micro-project grants. Yet those who know the role of the MP are agreed that Honorable Ayah is perhaps the best representative of the people. He criticizes and takes government to task and makes useful contributions during debates of bills in House. That, in fact, is the real role of the parliamentarian. No more, no less.

This type of mix-up or wrong perception of roles leads unavoidably to the question, what can be done to put things right and restore the power and respect of parliament in Cameroon?
To that question, I venture to suggest the following:

1) Create offices for MPs and give them parliamentary secretaries so that they can stop wasting time going after ministers to curry favours.
2) Abolish micro-project grants and increase the salaries of MPs so that they can stop going around cap in hand, begging government ministers for small contracts.
3) Convert parliament into a permanent session round the year, instead of meeting quarterly, so that MPs can only go on recess as obtains in advanced democracies. Let our MPs know that theirs is a full time job to do the people’s business.

Our MPs deserve more and better. Any humiliation of the MP is a humiliation of the people. Perhaps it is necessary to remind the ministers that the President of the Republic who appoints them and who they revere, derives his powers from the people. Like the President, these honorable men and women also have their mandate from the people.

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