New Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Donatille Mukabalisa has an enormous task that awaits her, but with experience serving in the Senate, she is taking on a familiar task. Mukabalisa spoke to James Karuhanga about her life and times and political vision as she takes the new mandate. Excerpts;-
Who is Speaker Donatille Mukabalisa?
I was born on July 30, 1960, in Nyamata and I am a law graduate. I got married in 1983, and I have three children; two boys and a girl.
And, your career or previous professional experience?
I have had various other jobs. After graduation, I worked at the World Health Organisation, and later, I worked for UNDP for 16 years, after which I went into private business, particularly the transport and petroleum sector. In 2000, I joined Parliament during the transitional period, up to 2003, when the transition ended.
From 2003, I started with the first legislature up to 2008 and I would later return to my private business as a legal consultant as well as a commissioner in the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, but this would not prevent me from doing my own things. Later, I joined the Senate where I recently resigned and I am now Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies.
What inspired you to join politics?
I grew up in a country where people suffered so much from excessive segregation and human rights were seriously damaged. Many people did not have rights in their country, no rights to education. I felt I could not stay in the NGOs where you find that one is prohibited from joining politics.
Lawmakers have been criticised as not reaching out to the grassroots to get to know people’s concerns. What will you do to change this perception?
I think progress has been made. We have set up a radio to explain to the population the House’s work and lawmakers’ responsibilities. I think that people should really understand the work of Parliament. Normally, a mechanism was set up whereby every lawmaker has two days, each month, to go and visit people in his or her district of origin.
When people say that we do not reach out to them, I think this is partly due to not understanding the way Parliament operates. Even if one was to make such outreach exercises every day, you would not get to every citizen when you also have other parliamentary duties to attend to, including laws, and government oversight.
When you look at the report by the previous Parliament, they scrutinised about 300 Bills. You cannot examine all those Bills in committees and also have ample time to visit every citizen in the country.
However, lawmakers actually go down to the population, both on individual basis and on committee level, because you cannot ably assess the implementation of various government projects without going to the field. Perhaps, what should be given more impetus is emphasis on putting this in the media.
There is a general perception that a politician is a liar and all other bad things associated with politics. As a Christian, do you think that politics and truth-telling can mix?
Politics, really, is not about lies, especially since a politician speaks for and represents the people and they must always say the truth. You can never triumph with lies, be it in politics or any other field. People are always watching you. As a person who believes in God, I know lying is a sin and I would not do it.
Of the 80 newly-elected MPs, 50 were in the previous Parliament, and some people would think that possible mistakes (if any) by the previous legislature will not be rectified. Others reason that this is a good chance as they will continue from where they ended. What is your take?
This should not be a cause for concern at all. If at all, any mistakes were noted, it would even be easier to rectify things. It is often said that one learns from his or her mistakes. Therefore, even in the work of Parliament, to have people with experience coming back is a good development that will enable work in the House to improve.
What would you wish to do when you finally retire from politics?
I would love to help people in various capacities. I could write, depending on my diverse experience in aspects that could help people or go back into private business as I used to.
You stepped down from your Senatorial seat just a few days before the parliamentary elections. Why?
It is my political party (Liberal Party) that requested me to do so. They wanted me to be Number One on the list and, among the reasons for their confidence in me was my political experience, such that I could give my political party a chance. It was all in the interests of my party.
As Speaker now, how do you feel about your new undertaking?
The first thing I should say is that I was so happy about the trust my party had in me, as well as the trust my fellow lawmakers had for me. That is number one among the things that make me happy. Another thing is, when you are at a position where you have something to give and something you may do for the country, for things to go well, I think this is cause for much happiness.
What is it that you feel ready to offer?
Everything is actually within the responsibilities of Parliament. First of all, as a lawmaker, I think that in my prime role of legislation, I will give my contribution so that all the laws that we pass are laws beneficial to Rwandans and, laws which provide solutions to the problems faced by Rwandans.
They must be laws in line with the direction in which the country is headed. And, with my experience in legislative work, I will do a fair job. This also applies to our other oversight duties, so that what the executive is doing is good for Rwandans. We will focus on looking, for example, to what extent are the legislations we pass solving the challenges Rwandans have.
During the House’s maiden session, last week, MPs approved a list of items for the agenda of two months’ ordinary session. On that list, what do you think are the most pressing issues or laws that require immediate attention?
Everything on that agenda requires our undivided attention, including the Bills, the reports from various organs and approval of reports by lawmakers on return from various official work trips. If there are issues, in whatever reports, we shall have to seek solutions, in collaboration with other government institutions.
How do you forecast your task in the next five years?
My work will go according to the nature of my responsibilities while leading a government arm, and in line with what is stipulated in the constitution. And I feel that I will do everything possible to do a good job.
What possible challenges do you envisage and, how do you possibly intend to overcome them?
Well, I would note that in our legislative duties, we shall be looking to widely consult the beneficiaries for their views and when they are passed, see to it that people know these laws. One cannot know all the laws because they are many, but we must make sure that the citizens know them. This will be through the usual collaboration with other organs that are charged with publishing laws.
Apart from the mainstream responsibilities, there are regional issues that concern Parliament. MPs have been paying attention, for example, on regional security matters, especially on neighbouring DR Congo. How do you intend to carry on within the area of regional security?
At the level of parliamentary diplomacy, I think lawmakers have a big role in the governance of a country. As lawmakers, in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, we will endeavour to work in a manner such that we collaborate with other parliaments, to find solutions to the security challenges of the region so that peace can prevail.
There are meetings and friendship networks we have at regional, African and European level, America and Asia. We shall work on energising these so that our voice is heard as regards matters concerning relations with other countries.
More effort is required and we shall put in as much more effort as possible.