Home / Opinion / Online-views /  Views | Helping our MPs learn

There was a (short-lived) furore recently over reports that Members of Parliament (MP) were planning to push a proposal seeking to elevate their status in the Warrant of Precedence (the list that determines the order of importance of dignitaries). Predictably, this was met with cries of ‘shame’ from the media and of course the MPs did their cause no good by being in the midst of yet another ‘let’s-stall-Parliament-to-make-our-point’. Such incidents have repeated themselves often enough in the last year over multiple issues, including in August 2010, when Parliament passed the Salary Allowances and Pensions of MPs’ Bill and more recently, when the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) allocations were hiked to 5 crore per annum.

One issue that hardly ever comes up for discussion amidst all this is – do our MPs have the support they need to function effectively? A policy note by PRS Legislative Research points out that our MPs get only 28,000 per month for hiring assistants – contrast this with their counterparts in the US, who get $ 70,000 (over 35,00,000) per month, just for hiring assistants.

People arrive to witness sessions at Parliment House in New Delhi. PTI

Also, if MPs don’t fully understand potential legislation, power becomes centralised in the hands of the few that do. This then increases the chances that MPs will herd together irrespective of the merits of the issue at hand and toe the party line. In addition, it means that the quality of legislation is reduced because fewer eyes are scrutinizing potential laws. The Legislative Assistant to Member of Parliament (LAMP) programme by PRS Legislative Research is one example of a civil society initiative that recognises this gap. The great reviews this programme gets from MPs who have received some office support clearly shows the demand that exists among our legislators. There is no reason for the government not to mainstream such a programme nationally. Not only would this increase the performance of MPs, it would also engage more youth into politics and give them an opportunity to appreciate the nuances of policymaking.

Some people may still argue that allocating more money to MPs amounts to throwing good money after bad. In fact, this is where we have an opportunity to put to better use funds spent on schemes such as the MPLADS. The MPLADS provides a mechanism for MPs to recommend works of developmental nature for creation of durable community assets and for provision of basic facilities including community infrastructure, based on locally felt needs. We see MPLADS as an ill-conceived scheme that should not exist in the first place, so MPs can focus on their primary function – to legislate. Instead of continuing with such misdirected schemes, it would be better use of money if a small portion of these funds could be redirected to boost office support for MPs. The political reality of the day may well be that schemes such as the MPLADS are here to stay, but the questions being raised on the quality of their implementation are yet another sign that our MPs could do with better quality of support staff.

Perhaps an inadvertent outcome of Anna’s Lokpal movement has been that everyone has been reminded that it is the sole prerogative of Parliament and state legislatures to legislate. It is easy to blindly rubbish MPs and easier still to write them off, but it would be timely to review our systems and structures to see how equipped they are to discharge their constitutional duties.

Suvojit Chattopadhyay is a development professional with over six years of experience in India, UK and Ghana. Doug Johnson is a development consultant with experience in microfinance, impact evaluation, and payment solutions. Doug has worked in China, India, and Nepal.

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