He has been there and he has done it all. Legislator Polisi Dennis is probably the most conversant lawmaker within parliament today; and for good reason, he has been part of almost every law that has been drafted and passed by the Rwandan parliament since transition period. The New Times’ Parliamentary reporter Nasra Bishumba spoke to him about his long experience in the house and other topical issues in parliament.
You are one of the longest serving MPs in this parliament. How can you compare the post genocide parliament to the one today?
During and after the transition period, several political parties were represented but because they had not been elected, we were following the Arusha Peace accords.
MDR, PL, PSD, RPF parties all had the same number of representatives; 13 except for smaller political parties like PDC that had six. Reaching a decision was difficult because it demanded a lot of negotiations but it all went well and it was instrumental in getting us out of the transitional phase to a new constitution.
The new constitution and new parliament came into place in 2003 and came with new changes. The first change was the number of women who had been voted into parliament (48% of entire parliament) and by the way, it was such a new thing in Rwanda and the whole world, that surprisingly some women organisations started questioning if the women had been voted into parliament on merit or for political reasons.
The most remarlable thing about these women however was their determined stand to join politics and how hard they worked to achieve it.
The other point is of course this leadership’s acknowledgement that indeed, having women in parliament was a right not a favor and encouraging them to prove that they too were instrumental in developing their nation.
In our new term, it is obvious that the number of women MPs has increased to 56 percent and the results have increased tremendously basing on the number and the nature of laws we have passed. We for example passed laws supporting doing business in Rwanda and the results are obvious.
You just mentioned that a parliamentarian’s job involves visiting constituents and yet I have been shocked by the fact that most of the people out here are absolutely uninformed about their MPs or the parliament itself. What do you say about that?
That is old news. In the last parliamentary term, I counted how many times each MP went to the field to talk to constituents. An MP is required to request for permission and is also required to take some form of identification papers with them and is also required to come back with a report.
In the last term, the MP who visited the constituents the least went 170 times and that excludes group visits.
….And how do you verify the MPs’ work?
We have a management section that does that work. It follows up on what time an MP has left, the identification documents, signing in at the field and the report upon return. There is a session where they provide a report on that.
We also do community work Umuganda in every district and for each law that we draft, we consider how helpful it will be to Rwandans and how far it will go in delivering on what the President promised them.
When the MPs go to the grassroot levels and find any dicrepancies, we invite those answerable to come here and explain . We have so far summoned several ministers. According to the law,an MP is required to visit the constituency twice a month and of course there are commissions, sessions and others.
Lets talk about parliamentary sessions. All the times I have attended the sessions, most MPs are present. Something striking however is the way some MPs are very active while others are quite dormant…
MPs work in different levels. That is not the only level where they work. Most of their work is in commissions and these commissions have their presidents.
Those who work with them on reports, in commissions and everywhere know this.
Not all of them can contribute equally and their output can not be the same, maybe not in the world we live in. People can not be the same, each one of us has his or her expertise in one thing or the other. What I can tell you is that each one has a role they play in this parliament.
Tell me about your experience of working under a female speaker…
(Laughter) It is actually my second experience. Academically, I worked with several women but professionally I have had a female boss before…in Burundi… and I appreciate the way she guided me because she did everything respectfully and professionally and both of us have no regrets about working together.
I have learnt that women are calm and relaxed in their leadership. The work we do with my speaker is done through close consultations and we agree on so many things. I also appreciate the fact that she is very brilliant because I always see how she understands many things very easily and very fast whether it is the laws coming up or administrative issues, I am glad I work with her.
One of your MPs; Theobald Mporanyi has been embroiled in Gacaca proceedings in the past few weeks. What is your take on his case, is it causing some sort of embarassment to the parliament or are you supporting him during this trying time?
To me, besides the fact that he is an MP, I view him in the same light I would view any Rwandan who has any pending court issues to sort out. First of all, if the jusice authorities have issues with anybody, I feel no one should meddle in and that’s why we call it justice.
It is the job of the justice system to solve the problem. That is why, whether Honourable Mporanyi appeared before Gacaca courts or whether it is the way the courts made their final decisions,we should let justice take its natural course.
Just because you are my daughter or wife; I can not let emotions and sentiments rule over me because that would be viewing things from a very subjective window because when you start saying that this is an MP or it is a relative and you take sides, that is when you stop being a leader. A leader is one who analyses issues from all angles.
QN: Parliament is always busy, how do you wind up in your free time?
ANS: You are right, I am always in parliament and most weekends I am here (parliament) to read through laws, see which ones have come out and other issues. But some weekends, I get sometime off to tend to my cows. Generally I must say that even with the tight schedule I am a happy man.
You are a very popular man. Those who don’t know you physically, know your name. Are we going to see President Polisi Dennis in years to come?
(Laughter) I have never given it any thought because a President’s duties are very heavy duties and I do not wish to carry them. They are very serious duties, and they are very heavy……..imagine taking care of a whole country.
I have never thought about it, and I am not thinking about it. I am happy to be where my party (RPF) put me and I have no ambitions in that direction [of Presidency]. Iam still determined to serve RPF in any other capacity.