She will go down in history as the speaker of one of the most female-dominated parliaments in the world. At 64 per cent, this record may remain unbroken for a while. She also presided over a parliament that passed 315 laws, including the reviewed Penal code and the Constitution.
With Chamber of Deputies already having been dissolved to pave way for the forthcoming elections of new Members of Parliament due next month, The New Times’Athan Tashobya interviewed the new former Speaker of Parliament, Donatille Mukabalisa, on a wide range of issues.
How would you describe the 3rd parliament?
In our entire constitutional mandate, I think we did a great job in legislation because we enacted and reviewed many laws.
Now people will start asking why we enacted or revised so many laws but still we have to remember that laws are the guiding principles of every-day life, with which life changes every other day.
Change is inevitable and so if change is deemed necessary to take people to the next stage in life it is ideal to enact or revise laws to create ideal and enabling environment for progress.
So many bills were developed either from the parliament or other government organs, but the cooperation between the parliament and other stakeholder is what made the difference.
On the oversight part, the third parliament did all they could to get close to the common people at the grassroots. That was mainly to examine government programmes and policies. It think that was done differently this time too; we moved from sending one or two legislators to the grassroots level and started doing it in groups, moving from one village – and sometimes – household to another. This helped us to get close to the electorate but also understand their challenges and needs.
That is how we go to find out about issues in Girinka, VUP and nutritional programmes, among other social welfare programmes. And we had to engage the executive on those issues.
Of course, we also heard feedback from the public challenging the parliament on why we seemed to get satisfied with every explanation but the truth is during public hearings and summons, responsible organs would admit challenges and they in turn accept failure and present possible remedies. Some issues were due to insufficient resources, others were due to overlapping issues but there was a need to give people a chance to correct the wrong – out of their request.
But, of course, the biggest event of our parliament was the constitutional amendment process in 2015. Rwandans tasked us to amend the constitution because it was their right to choose whoever they wanted to lead them and since they were convinced that the current government had delivered them to commendable strides they wanted that continuity.
They tasked us to change some articles to allow the President to run again because of what he has done for the country and there is no way we could stand before the will of the people.
We are satisfied that we had to respect people’s civil and constitutional rights and of course democratic principles to amend the constitution.
Over 300 laws passed in five years, it must have been some years of sleepless nights for you as the Speaker too?
That’s right. It was not me alone. You have to give credit to all the standing committees, they did a great job in examining all the laws we passed – article by article – and ensure that every detail was serving the intended purpose. Sometime they would work overtime until midnight to meet deadlines. But our satisfaction is in realising that those laws will positively impact our country and the people.
What was the key moment of your 3rd parliament?
Many key events. Almost every key moment of our country, the parliament was involved.
Right from the ratification of regional and continental treaties such as the Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol, Continental Free Trade Area agreement (CFTA) to passing local laws that have improved the wellbeing of our people and economy such as the Investment Code, that facilitated improvement of doing business in Rwanda and maternity law that allowed mothers to get a 3-month payable maternity leave.
315 laws were passed in five years, including the revision of the penal code and the constitution, which were all important for Rwandans.
During last National Leadership retreat, President Kagame challenged the parliament to tighten the grip on the oversight work and if need be call for any member of the executive to step down. Do you think there’ssomething you didn’t do right in terms of oversight?
I think what we didn’t do was to push some leaders to step down but the rest was done to ensure accountability and progress.
But we pushed leaders to give practical explanations and remedies to issues at hand. And, surely, things moved on very well. We ensured accountability, which was vital in addressing challenges.
In 2015, your House was faced with a critical time during constitutional amendment process – with some commentators saying it was unnecessary to amend the constitution but you also succumbed to the demands of the majority. Was that the most difficult moment in office?
The biggest challenge would have risen from having a big number of Rwandans who would be against constitutional amendment. But that was not the case.
But foreign commentators being against the will of the majority of people in a sovereign state doesn’t mean anything really. As long as everything was done with respect to the rule of law and democracy, we didn’t find any difficulty in doing what majority Rwandans asked us to do despite some commentators—whom I actually think had no understanding of our context let alone moral responsibility to tell Rwandans what they thought was right for them.
Constitutional amendment in 2015 was entirely the will of the majority Rwandans for the good of Rwanda.
What if the same thing happened in the future this time the executive taking advantage of the historic facts?
One thing is for sure, there’s no way the executive influenced the constitutional amendment. It was the will of the people for a reason the majority, if not all Rwandans, related to. But if there is a president, who would come out to ask for constitutional amendment they will have to give clear reasons and, of course, go through the same constitutional process. Still, Rwandans would decide on that.
In 2015, it was a unique case and I don’t see that being a problem at all in the future.
What do you think were your weaknesses?
Giving people enough chances to do things right. We wanted to make sure that issues at hand are addressed in a sustainable manner and that is why we believed that continued dialogue, conversation and action was the right approach.
But it is a journey that continues. Sometime things are done in a way that is slow and frustrating, sometimes things are done pretty fast and we take stock of the progress and lessons to do better going forward.
What I can tell the future legislators is to put more effort in oversight and to hold leaders to account.
Would the outcomes have been different if it had been a male-dominated parliament?
That is not surely a problem. Because there is time when our parliament was male-dominated and things were moving a certain way.
But women make about 52 per cent of the national population, you need to see their active involvement in national building because leaving them aside means you are not intentional about national inclusiveness and development.
You have to give credit to our government for being visionary and realising that it is everyone’s responsibility to take part in national development, taking into account inclusiveness.
So what next for you after this term?
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to rest. Starting Monday, I will be on the campaign trail for the parliamentary elections.
I am on the list of the candidates for the September elections and besides I am the President of my political party (Liberal Party). Whatever the case, it will be a busy month ahead.
Do you expect to come back in the 4th parliament?
I believe so. If Rwandans believe in us, then why not.