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February 17, 2019

How MPs suffer in silence

Yes man
Yes man

The days ahead will not be easy for the MPs. It has been tough for the legislators, who suffer delusions of grandeur. MPs have to display a sense of class. But for some the image is faltering, as stress and strain compete.

Last week, I called on an MP in Parliament at his invitation. It was not for lunch, but the timing - 1.30pm - suggested the possibility of something to eat. Three other MPs joined us. They looked strained and tried to suppress signs of fatigue, such as yawning.

The host sent his assistant to buy lunch for the six of us. This was a welcome idea. The assistant returned and placed six plastic bottles on the table - one by one. The host also looked like he was auditing the items. There were two bottles of Afya juice, a Stoney, a Fanta, a Coke, and a Sprite. The messenger then fished out a loaf of bread, and three rolls of hard buns.

The host said, “Help yourselves.” There was no grace. The three MPs ate the bread and gulped the liquids like that was their first meal of the day. One MP spoke, addressing the host, “Mjumbe, at least there is something to swallow whenever we come to your office.” Another talked about their problems. He was oblivious of the two strangers - a friend and I.

The MP said his mortgage was running behind. His three children were three weeks into the term, and he had not paid a third of their private school’s high tuition fees. He had three fees notes waiting to be honoured. Calls from his political family - the constituents - were increasing, with frantic pleas for e-handouts. He cursed the inventor of M-Pesa.

The August-September season for fundraising for fresh university students was here. Harambee invitation cards were piling on his desk. The election date was drawing near, and his chances of reelection were diminishing.

The number of rivals for the seat was soaring. Some were asking him to take political responsibility for misuse of public funds in his constituency.

It was like the world was collapsing around the Mheshimiwa. It was unclear whether he wanted sympathy, or he was merely expressing a sorrow he shares with his colleagues.

Meanwhile, the eyes of the host darted from one coat stand to the next. He was probably wondering which coat to put on next. The man had five multi-coloured coats and assorted ties hanging in a corner of the office. The coats looked worn out, just like their owner. They must have seen better times since they were bought, probably from Gikomba or a secondhand shop. Quality had been subordinated to quantity.

The change from the Constituencies Development Fund to the National Government Constituencies Development Fund on February 29 has further complicated matters for the mendacious legislators. The CDF Acts 2003, 2007 and 2013 had MPs as either patrons or ex-officio members of CDF committees. Then, they controlled the kitty.

This has changed: The NG-CDF Act, 2015 came into force on February 29. MPs can oversee the NG-CDF, but they do not have a direct say in the constitution of committees that manage the fund.

The MPs who can sustain the image of class are those with established careers and businesses. The jobseekers, who are now queuing for parliamentary seats, need to know the times have changed. They also better know wananchi are monitoring public expenditure. There is a check on theft of public funds.

Poor MPs are likely to pander to the whims of the ruling clique or run petty errands for their richer colleagues or the governors. The Sh1.2 million that MPs get in salaries and allowances seems a lot, but that is before they start on the steep slide of spending.

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