Roles and responsibilities of the parliament
By Remijo Lasu Peter (MP)
Parliament is a Political Institution whose members represent the people of South Sudan. The Republic of South Sudan has adopted a decentralized system of governance, whose legislation is decentralized from National to states and local levels of governments. There are questions raised by some members of the civil population in regards to the roles and the responsibilities of the members of parliament. Unfortunately, the questions raised could not distinguish on the roles due to be carried out by the levels of parliaments in the decentralized system of governance in the Republic of South Sudan, namely; the National and states parliaments or councils in the local level of government.
The questions mixed the distinct roles due to be carried out by parliaments of National, states or County councils and the roles of the executive of the same three levels of governments. In other words, who is answerable to which level of government? The other questions assign the responsibilities of the executive who are typically implementing agents, to be the responsibilities of the parliament. In many countries, such questions doesn’t arise, because the activities of the members of parliament are seen live on screen, hence, informing and at the same time educating the public about the role and functions of the parliament and how each individual member perform. However in our situation, we are responsible to answer such questions. If our people feel unsatisfied with the answers, we are their servants; we are ready to share again with them in the best possible ways.
I have written this article to clarify those questions and explain the real activities due to be carried out by the parliament, though some of the activities are carried out in the constituencies, during outreach programs, if the people in the constituency are not displaced by civil war. Initially, the roles and the functions of the members of parliament are ever guided by law. The following are the most crucial roles and responsibilities of the members of parliament:
Representation: This is the first role of any member of parliament in the world. It is based on idea that sovereignty of the nation is vested on the people, so the MP represents the sovereignty and the will of the people in the parliament. They act like the servants of the people, and any act they take should be in the best interest of the people, not in their own interest.
To exercise Legislative Function: The main function of the legislator is to promulgate laws, or to enact laws in consultation with the civil population. For example when we enacted the South Sudan NGOs Act, the South Sudan Companies Act and the South Sudan Investment Act, we made an extensive outreach hearing with the civil population. So the civil population advised us accordingly, especially on the terms of employment, that we should give 80% to local employment and 20% to foreign employment; in the Companies At, 70% to local employment and 30% to foreign employment; In the Investment Act, Foreigners are not to drive taxis or ride motor-cycle business commonly known as (bodaboda) and utmost foreigners are not allowed to sell in retails, but in whole sales. Unfortunately some questions were blaming the MPs for non implementation of these laws. Some says the national members of parliament are suppose to chase away the chapatti makers along the streets, a typical oversight of county councilors, lamed to be the oversight of National parliament. The legislative business includes bills, motions and questions. These laws shall be implemented by the executive and interpreted by the Judiciary. The parliament has done well in terms of passing laws; from 2005 until today, the National Legislative Assembly have passed 130 laws. All our state assemblies and county councils are passing subsidiary laws and by-laws.
To oversee the executive: This function is integral part of checks-and-balances amongst the branches of government in the country, namely the Executive, the legislative and the Judiciary. This is based on the need to give each branch of government scrutiny and control over the other branches in order to prevent one branch from ignoring or overpowering the others. That means the legislature oversee the executive and the Judiciary and the executive also oversee the activities of the legislature likewise.
To promote a decentralized system of government: The decentralized system of governance is enshrined in the Transitional National Constitution and it is the responsibility of the parliaments and the councils to ensure legislation in the three levels of governance in South Sudan., namely: the national, states and local levels.
Amend the constitution: Any change in the government system shall be by way of constitutional amendments either initiated by the legislature or by the executive. Such amendments are normally approved by two thirds majority of the members and only after the introduction of the draft amendment within a month, prior to the deliberations in accordance with the Compromise Peace Agreement 2015.
Discuss statements by the President of the Republic and take any decision: It is a constitutional right for the president to address the legislature. The legislature shall accord priority to such request over any other business of the assembly. The discussion of the statement made by the president is limited only by rules of procedure under the Transitional National Constitution and the Parliamentary Conduct of business Regulations. State legislative assemblies also do discuss statements made by the States Governors in accordance with the rules of procedure under their state constitutions and conduct of business regulations as well. (Art. 78, TCSS 2017)
To approve annual budget and Authorize Annual allocation of Resources and revenues in accordance with the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan (TCSS): The major responsibilities here entails: Approval, modification or rejection of bills on the allocation of resources and revenues presented by the Minister of Finance, before the beginning of the financial Year; to discuss, amend, reject or adopt the general budget bills, chapter by chapter, including schedules as presented by the Minister of Finance to the assembly; to pass in their totality the appropriation bills that contain proposals of the total expenditure; pass financial bills that contain proposals for taxes, fees, and other levies as well as borrowing and investment saving bonds. (Art. 87, TCSS)
However, the president of the Republic can issue a presidential decree on the budget if the legislature fails to pass the budget bill within 45 days; the President may also issue an order that has the force of law providing for the imposition of any tax, or fee or the amendment thereof, pending submission of a bill, requiring the same to the legislature and the latter may approve or reject; expenditure shall continue, pending adoption of the general budget in accordance with the estimates approved for the previous year in case there is a delay in adopting the budget and the appropriation bill; a certain category of expenditure shall be charged directly on the consolidated reserve funds without the need for approval by the legislature such as emoluments of the President, expenses of the State House, emoluments of judiciary, contractual financial obligations of the government, external debts under loans agreements, court order or any other expenses as by law.
Consider a bill, which has been rejected by the President: Bills passed by the assembly, requires Presidential assent, to become law. If the President chooses not to assent and give reasons within 30 days, the bill shall be re-introduced to consider the observations of the President. However, if he withholds assent without reason within 30 days or the legislative passes the re-introduced bill by two thirds majority, the Presidential assent is not required. (Art. 85(2) TCSS)
Approve Appointments by the President: The legislators has the responsibility to approve appointments such as: the appointment of the Vice president by two thirds majority; Council of Ministers by simple majority; President, Deputy President and Justice of the Supreme Court by two thirds majority; Chairpersons and Members of South Sudan Anti-corruption commission, South Sudan Human Rights commission, and South Sudan Public Grievances commission by simple majority; South Sudan Auditor-General by two thirds majority.
To Ratify Bilateral Technical Cooperation Agreements: This is a universal practice that International Agreements and treaties are signed by the executive and ratified by the legislature on behave of the people they represent in order to hold the executive accountable for the commitments it makes on behave of the country.
To adopt resolutions on matters of public concern: These resolutions comes after discussions in the assembly relating to reports of Standing Specialized Committees, urgent and important matters, presentation of documents, statements by ministers, bills, interpellations and debates on president speeches.
To summon and interrogate Ministers on their performance and raise a vote of no confidence: The council of ministers is under a constitutional obligation: to keep the legislature informed about progress in the implementation of their programs and reports upon request by the legislature.
To enact legislation to regulate the conditions and terms of service of South Sudan Judiciary and its oversight mechanism: Although the judiciary is independent under the Transitional National constitution, the provision is valid to the extent that it relates to the performance of their functions without interference to enable the justices and judges to administer justices without fear or favor. (Art. 5 TCSS)
However, matters relating to appointments, terms and conditions of service of justices and judges are subject to legislation by the legislature.
To impeach the president and the Vice President of the Republic: The president and the Vice president may be removed by the legislature on account of: High treason; gross violation of the Interim National Constitution and mental or physical incapacity.
However, there is a rigorous process under the constitution which specifies that: a resolution passed by a three-quarters majority of all legislators in case of the President and two thirds in case of the Vice President for them to be charged before the Supreme Court; The President of Supreme court to constitute a three-bench tribunal of justices of supreme court to investigate and report to the constitutional panel of supreme court; the constitutional panel may convict and the final verdict shall be communicated to the legislature, and President or Vice president shall cease to hold office;
In case of removal on ground of mental or physical incapacity, five qualified and eminent medical specialists shall be appointed in consultation with the Head of South Sudan medical Commission. If the report by the board declares that the grounds are valid the legislature shall pass the resolution by three-quarters in case of the President, two thirds in case of the Vice President for their removal from office. (Art 103-104 TCSS 2015, amended to 2017)
Finally the legislator must foster unity of the people of South Sudan: This means the legislator who comes from a certain geographical constituency of the country to the national level of government, must talk the language of unity in his or her parliamentary roles and activities; denounce ethnicity and racism; promote equality and equitable distribution of welfare policies, including affirmative action.
The author is a Member of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly representing Constituency no.13, Morobo County. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org