MPs For Hire
So they came to Jerusalem, and Jesus went into the temple and began driving out those who bought and sold in the temple. He upset the tables of the money changers and the seats of the dealers in pigeons, and he would not allow anyone to use the temple court as the thoroughfare for carrying goods. Then he began to teach them and said: ‘Does not scripture say my house shall be called a house of prayer for the nations? But you have made it a robbers’ cave.’
When one of the Members of Parliament for this 10th legislature arrived at the National Assembly in the winter of 2020 after winning the by-election following a re-run in one of the constituencies in Cameroon’s North West Region, he told me he received some curious advice upon arrival at the Glass House. The newly elected ruling CPDM MP was told by his fellow backbenchers that at the National Assembly, there were only two political parties – those in the bureau and the floor members. His colleagues made him understand that regardless of the political party ticket that brought one to the National Assembly, once elected into the bureau, one reason like those of the ruling party while all those who do not have posts (and regardless of the political party), become the opposition at the National Assembly.
Most voters will be bemused to learn that being a Member of Parliament in Cameroon’s National Assembly today is not necessarily in the interest of the ordinary constituent. Of the 180 MPs in Cameroon’s National Assembly, over 100 of them pursue their private, rather than public interests. A lot of paid business interests go in there. And, it is these paid interests that are threatening to strike at the heart of Cameroon’s chequered democracy. The National Assembly has since become a marketplace with the politicians and government ministers who come to defend their bills as the commodity.
Last week’s scene at the National Assembly where some ‘opposition’ MPs blocked the Prime Minister, Head of Government, Chief Dr. Dion Ngute, for over two hours from presenting the 2024 government economic, social, and political action plan (on grounds the Finance Law wasn’t tabled in parliament 15-days before the opening the session as required by the law), demonstrated in triumphant detail that MPs are increasingly hiring themselves out to business gains as immediately brown envelopes from the politicians reached out into their pockets, they called off the resistance and allowed the Prime Minister to go ahead with the presentation of the Finance Bill. Not that this was the first time that had happened.
It was during the parliamentary session that welcomed the first batch of multi-party MPs in 1991 where the leading opposition political party, the SDF had boycotted, and the opposition parties led by Bello Bouba’s NUDP and Diakole Diasala’s MDR were having majority MPs and therefore likely to torpedo the CPDM at the National Assembly to form a government, that the National Assembly was infected by the stench of corruption. CPDM politicians and government ministers introduced a favorite ploy by discreetly slipping ‘parcels of guineas under the dinner plates’ of opposition party MPs during banquets and in the corridors.
When last week the ‘opposition’ MPs attempted to justifiably block parliamentary business to send back the Finance Bill, the money-changers entered the temple and the MPs immediately turned a blind eye. Beyond trading public interests for private ones in parliament each time the government bench is in a difficult situation, most MPs who are on House Committees spend their time in planes on government delegations. This was more exacerbated during the eighth and ninth legislatures where influence pedlars within the National Assembly and in government usually tactfully placed leading opposition SDF MPs on missions abroad each time serious business was to be discussed in parliament. It was documented that the late Hon. Mbah Ndam Joseph could attend two meetings in two different countries on the same day and time.
Some MPs usually find themselves on official delegations abroad to improve trade relations between Cameroon and other countries, rather than make sure their more private commercial interests are being pursued, not the public’s. During the numerous receptions and seminars with the foreign government and businessmen and women, some of them embarrassingly introduced themselves by asking questions not about the host country’s economy and how it could be beneficial to Cameroonians. Instead, they present details of their own financial and company portfolios. In the process, some quietly handed over their business cards, which had been specially printed in preparation for the trip. That is when they care to stay on for the receptions and seminars. Otherwise, they use the opportunity to check their already existing investments in neighboring European countries. During the all-expenses trips paid for them from the public purse, MPs spend their useful time looking to the foreign government and companies ready to come invest in Cameroon, for lucrative consultancies.
There are several MPs in the current legislature, and especially from the two restive English-speaking regions who have forgotten about their constituencies, yet haven’t forgotten about their private interests. There are equally others whom their constituents cannot even remember their names, talk less of ever seeing them in the constituency. When recently North West MPs petitioned their boss at the National Assembly for not appointing MPs of North West extraction to Select and Standing Committees, it was for their private and not for the public interest. The government seems to even encourage such behavior. MPs are sometimes put in Select and Standing Committees to monitor areas in which they have financial stakes. There is no clause obliging them to declare their interest.
Most MPs have abandoned their sacrosanct role of guiding, warning, advising, and more importantly, saying no and blowing the whistle on government transgressions. When they do, as they attempted blowing the whistle last week, it is simply to ‘raise their value in the guinea pig market’ by setting up money-changing tables.
Last week’s volte-face that made parliament look like a sham and a facade brought out one underlying issue: the fact that most of the MPs in the current legislature have placed “For Sale” signs against their names. Rather than being the custodians of democracy and making sure laws even passed by them concerning the functioning of their chamber are respected, they are subverting it. The fact that they missed the unique opportunity to send back the Finance Bill thereby reassuring Cameroonians and their electors of their relevance, they would continue to be seen as robber stamp MPs.
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