Questioning Institutions

The status some of our formal institutions, what they stand for and most importantly who they stand for is a question that plagues my mind.

Having a legal educational background, my focus is often on our legal institutions. Judicial systems, law enforcement as well as the law making process are key elements of the governance structure of any country. Parliamentary debates on draft laws are one of the means through which the people get to participate, indirectly nonetheless, in the law-making process. So one must expect to hear views and opinions representing different sections of the population, whether popular or unpopular.

I was reading up on news related to parliamentary debates in two countries. The first one is for the draft law in oil and gas sector in Liberia. Before discussing the news, let remind you of an important development regarding the oil negotiations Liberia has had with oil companies. It has been disclosed that the concession agreement made without consultation with the people resulted in the Liberia government receiving as low as five percent of the profits. A huge blow considering that the many African countries have negotiated higher than 30 percent.

This incident further proves the dire need of a law on the oil and gas sector. As this draft law is being debated upon in parliament, a group of “experts” were flown in from Alaska to make a presentation on the Alaskan model and how to copy that. Getting aise from international experts is not uncommon, actually it’s encouraged. But the interesting part is that these experts happen to be high school students in Alaska, one of which happens to be President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s grandson. When asked why, the house representative stated that it was citizen participation, a concept included in the draft law. The second piece of news happened in Kenya.

The Kenyan parliament passed an amendment to the family law regarding marriage. The debates in the parliament were quite fierce and ended in women parliamentarian storming out. The amendment relates to changing the requirement for a husband to consult and get consent from his first wife while marrying additional wives in customary marriages. The parliament was divided by gender, the women parliamentarians were against this amendment and the men were for, and since the majority of the parliamentarians are men, the amendment passed and the women stormed out in protest.

These two occurrences are part of the many reasons I cannot stop but question whether we have fully grasped the importance of our responsibilities in these formal institutions. Who are we representing when voted to take that seat, who is our constituency?

Are men parliamentarians representing the men? Have women not voted for them? Do we truly understand the meaning of citizen participation? It seems that we have learned to work the system without necessarily working for the ideals represented by the system. In my opinion the only thing that can bridge the gap between our formal institutions and the people is the traditional and customary institutions that govern us de facto. Our formal institutions are failing us. Our biggest failure is that we keep denying the important role our customary and traditional institutions are playing in our society and in supporting the not so well functioning formal institutions. I truly believe that there is a crisis in our formal institutions and this crisis is not one that our formal institutions are equipped to deal with on their own.

Source : The Reporter

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