Parliamentary bureau on the spot over plans for costly tour

Lawmakers on Monday failed to endorse a motion from the Chamber of Deputies’ Bureau suggesting that all members go on a month-long field tour as part of their oversight function.
Members of the Lower Chamber of Deputies during a past session. / File
Members of the Lower Chamber of Deputies during a past session. / File

Lawmakers on Monday failed to endorse a motion from the Chamber of Deputies’ Bureau suggesting that all members go on a month-long field tour as part of their oversight function.

The motion was moved on floor of Parliament by the Deputy Speaker in charge of Finance and Administration, Abbas Mukama.

The proposal had been backed by both the Bureau (Speaker and her two deputies) and the Conference of Chairpersons (composed of both the Bureau and heads of all the Chamber of Deputies’ standing committees).

However, MPs reckoned that the countrywide tour, which is scheduled for January 2018, would cost large amounts of taxpayers’ money yet it may still not achieve tangible results over a packed agenda.

“It does not make sense to go on a tour of 30 days and use over Rwf200 million yet there are more efficient ways that can lead to better results,” MP Francesca Tengera said shortly after deputy speaker Mukama had moved the motion.

Tengera said the proposal falls short of keeping with the government’s policy of reducing costly travels. “We cannot be seen to be undertaking highly costly domestic trips at a time the government is reducing on foreign trips in the spirit of ensuring value for money and efficiency,” she said.

Tengera was quickly backed by several colleagues, including Jean Pierre Hindura, who warned against possible duplication of roles since development projects that are being lined up for scrutiny during the field tour are under the responsibility of other organs of state.

“I’m not opposed to the exercise but do we need an entire month for this? Remember there are institutions that are in charge of the day-day running of these projects,” he said.

While Mukama said that it is within the mandate of Parliament to inspect development projects with view to preventing possible abuse, Tengera insisted that the House’s role is holding the executive to account in case of abuse and not to interfere with implementation, especially where such an undertaking is costly.

“We should be summoning those in charge of these programmes and put them to task in case of any misuse of public resources, instead of spending heavily trying to get involved with someone else’s role. Are we looking at the cost side of things?” she asked.

MP Juliana Kantengwa, while backing the motion in principle, warned against possible conflict with local governments in the event that parliament is seen to be getting deeply involved with the implementation of development programmes.

The lawmakers proposed that rather than spend hundreds of millions of Rwandan Francs in oversight tours, parliament should concentrate on clearing pending bills and instead draw on the House’s standing committees’ routine field visits to push for value for money and accountability in public spending.

“We should allow the local governments to do their work and then we hold them accountable when things go wrong,” said Kantengwa.

MP Gloriose Uwanyirigira questioned the schedule of the planned field tour, saying that the time allocated to visiting the projects was not sufficient (between 8a.m-10a.m), while meeting residents during the morning hours (10:30a.m-midday) is not appropriate because that would mean that residents would not be productive in morning hours on those days.

“We should dedicate morning hours to one project and meet the residents in the afternoon,” she suggested.

Some MPs also criticised the fact that the tentative schedule includes weekends, which both the legislators and residents should be dedicating to family matters. Others said it was not appropriate for lawmakers to go on field tours at a time schoolchildren will be returning to school, reasoning that MPs should be exemplary when it comes to caring for the family.

“That’s around the time children will be reporting to back to school, as leaders we should take the lead in strengthening family,” said Kantengwa.

After some members expressed reservations and others open opposition to the proposed duration of the planned nationwide tour, Speaker Donatille Mukabalisa withdrew the proposal, promising to integrate their suggestions and concerns, including the duration and daily schedule of the exercise.

An adjusted proposal will be tabled again for endorsement by members.

The Chamber of Deputies is composed of 80 members and each one of them but the Speaker goes for such field tours.

A source at Parliament said that if the MPs were to go on the tour, the House would have to release some Rwf187 million over the 30-day period (including allowance, accommodation and drivers) in addition to the cost of hiring SUVs to move them around.

Members of the Chamber of Deputies have less than a year to serve out their current term of office.