In 1991, Zambia changed its system of governance from a single party state to multi party democracy. Consequently, and as a way of enhancing democratic governance, the National Assembly of Zambia found it prudent to realign the functions of Parliament with the demands of plural politics. This called for the introduction of Parliamentary reforms with a view to addressing some of the limitations which existed in the Institution.
The Reform Programme was, therefore, conceived in order to enhance parliamentary oversight of the activities of the Executive and also to allow for increased participation of the citizens in the affairs of the country. In addition, the reforms in the National Assembly were designed to enable the Zambian Parliament bring about accountability, transparency and good governance in the government system. Furthermore, the need to realign the handling of the business of the House arose out of the current trend that exists in most legislatures where most Parliamentary business is dealt with in Committees. In addition to relieving pressure on the House, the reforms were also intended to deal with specialized matters in the most efficient manner.
In order to get a sense of how reforms should be targeted, an Ad hoc Reforms Committee was appointed on 3rd February, 1999. This Committee’s task was to undertake a study and make recommendations in the key areas of reform. The Committee made seventy-three (73) reforms recommendations in the following areas:
1. Member – Constituency Relations
2. The Legislative Process;
3. The Committee System;
4. The Administation of the National Assembly;
5. Support Services to Parliament and its Members;
In order to ensure that the proposed reforms were implemented without undue delay, Parliament immediately started implementing some areas of reform, such as:
(i) the Parliamentary Committee System which saw the introduction of Departmentally Related Committees replacing the old Sessional Committees which did not provide for the oversight of all Government ministries and departments;
(ii) extension of live broadcasts of parliamentary debates on FM radio from 20 to 50 kilometers radius. Subsequently, Parliament Radio was created and currently broadcasts Parliamentary debates live to all towns on the line of rail;
(iii) introduction, on a trial basis, of live television broadcast of parliamentary debates by the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC).
(iv) creation of the Parliamentary Website, www.parliament.gov.zm; and
(v) relaxation of the dress code for members of the public wishing to visit the National Assembly, which in turn led to more visitors attending sittings of the House.
In 2002, the Parliamentary Reforms and Modernisation Committee (PRMC) was appointed with the mandate to examine and propose reforms to the powers, procedures, practices, organization and facilities of the National Assembly in line with the Ad hoc Reforms Committee recommendations. The Committee was constituted as one of the House-Keeping Committees.
2.0 THE PARLIAMENTARY REFORM PROJECT
The National Assembly of Zambia and a consortium of co-operating partners signed a Statement of Intent on the Parliamentary Reform Project on 21st November, 2002. The consortium of donors comprised Canada, the Republic of Ireland, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States of America. Subsequently, Canada withdrew from the project whilst Denmark also joined the group of co-operating partners.
The statement of Intent outlined the stages of the Parliamentary Reform Project by as follows:
(a) PRPI - this was the period during which designing and planning the project was undertaken. This period was dedicated to the development of a bankable project document that defined the goals, vision and approached to reform.
(b) PRPII – this was the period of implementation of the Project.
Stage I was broken into the Design Phase during which the project document was drawn up and the Bridging Phase during which activities such as establishing pilot constituency offices and implementing other immediate initiatives were undertaken while the project document was being developed.
The goal of PRPII was a “REAL Parliament for Zambia” – a Parliament that is :
§ Representative and Responsive
§ Efficient and Effective
§ Accountable and Accessible
§ Legitimate and Linked
The development objective of PRPII to achieve the goal of a “REAL” Parliament was to increase the independence and effectiveness of the National Assembly as a representative agent of oversight, change and reform in the democratic governance system of Zambia.
The over-arching intended result was increased responsiveness to stakeholders so that Parliament could fulfill its roles of representation and oversight. In support of this goal, the project worked towards increased interface, interaction, communication and consultation. The Project worked towards four modalities of responsiveness:
§ Between the MPs and their constituents;
§ Between the National Assembly and the general public and interest groups in civil society;
§ Between the National Assembly and the Executive; and
§ Between the Office of the Speaker and the MPs regarding the management and administration of the National Assembly.
As a result of efforts to fulfill the objective of PRPII, a number of successes were scored, including the following:
· Several amendments were made to the Standing Orders to improve the Legislative process of approval of the Budget by the National Assembly as well as to strengthen the exercise of the oversight function of the Members of Parliament over the Executive wing of government.
· Twenty-eight (28) constituency offices were established. This served to improve the Member-Constituent relationship. The Government provided funds to establish offices in the rest of the constituencies in the country. There are now Constituency Offices in all 150 Parliamentary constituencies in Zambia.
· Several workshops were held for Oversight Committees with a view to exposing them to best practices. This enhanced the capacity of the Committees to execute their oversight role.
· Staff who support the Committees were trained to enhance their capacity.
· Mechanisms were put in place to enable the general public and civic organizations to participate in Committee proceedings by way of making submissions. This was made possible by increased publicity of Committee sittings and relaxation of rules that served to restrict the public’s access to Parliament.
3.0 PARLIAMENTARY REFORM PROGRAMME PHASE THREE (PRPIII)
Though PRPII was concluded, not all the items on the reform agenda envisaged by the Ad Hoc Committee on Reforms had been realised. The PRMC looked at the original recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee to ascertain what was outstanding. The conclusion drawn was that a number of the objectives of the reforms had not been attained while some areas of reform are on-going with no clear distinction of a beginning or an end. The latter underscored the need to have a reforms programme which would encompass a series of interventions aimed at achieving the overall reform agenda.
In this regard, planning for the third phase of the Parliamentary Reform Project commenced in September 2006 and a Project Document was developed for purposes of sourcing funding. The planning was guided by the Committee’s assessment of outstanding reform areas and recommendations of the PRPII Mid-Term Evaluation. The Committee made the decision to adopt the recommendation of the PRPII Mid-Term recommendation that a “programme” approach be adopted rather than the “project” approach used under PRPII considering the magnitude and diversity of the activities envisaged.
Therefore, PRPIII was conceived to continue the pursuit of Parliamentary Reforms. It is intended to achieve the same goal as PRPII, i.e., to increase the independence and effectiveness of the National Assembly as a representative agent of oversight, change and reform in the democratic governance system of Zambia.
4.0 CAPACITY BUILDING COMPONENT OF PRPIII
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed for support of a Capacity Building Component of PRPIII. This MoU was signed between the National Assembly and the Department for International Development (DFID), the European Commission, Irish Aid and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Under this agreement, the Cooperating Partners pledged US$6.5 million in support of capacity building under PRPIII. The component will be implemented from 2008 to 2011.