Welcome to Parliament

13 April 2021 | Politics

Rivaldo Kavanga



Parliament is a neutral place where legislators meet to talk, discuss and consult frankly with each other on political, social and economic issues and their legal implications on society. It consists of elected and/or nominated representatives responsible for making and changing the laws of the country.

The Namibian Parliament forms part of the legislative branch of the government along the judiciary and executive branches. The legislative branch is responsible for making laws which are implemented by the executive branch and interpreted by the judiciary branch.

The legislative branch has two houses - the Parliament that forms the National Assembly and the National Council. The Parliament is made up of 104 members in total, 96 voting members that are elected through the presidential and parliamentary elections by the Namibian people and eight non-voting members elected by the President of Namibia. The eight non-voting members can be any ordinary citizen of the country who are 21 or older. The 96 members of Parliament are elected on a proportional presentation basis, which means that each political party submits a list of its preferred candidates before an election. After the election, parties will be represented in the National Assembly in proportion to the number of votes they received, e.g. if a party receives 60% of the votes, it will receive 60% of the seats in the National Assembly. The members of Parliament must represent all the people of Namibia.

Point of order

Parliamentary sittings are scheduled and members of Parliament usually attend parliament every Monday to Thursday from 14:30 to 17:45. The members of Parliament usually enter the Parliament first and then wait for the Speaker of Parliament to arrive. When the Speaker arrives, they all stand. The Speaker is usually accompanied by the sergeant-at-arms and the National Assembly’s secretary as he enters the Parliament; the sergeant-at-arms carries the mace. The sergeant-at-arms then places the mace on the top of a two layered structure and only when the mace is placed there can parliamentary proceedings start. If the mace is placed at the bottom, no debate or parliamentary procedures can take place. The mace of the House of Representatives serves as a symbol of authority. It serves as a guarantee for the sergeant-at-arms in enforcing peace and order in the House upon the Speaker's instruction. When the Speaker sits, he then reads the oath and then a prayer. The Parliament has an order of the day - these are the items of business written down on the order paper which set the agenda. The normal parliamentary day looks as follows, unless Standing Orders otherwise permit:

The prayer, oath and mace

Swearing in of new members

Announcement by the Speaker of the National Assembly

Notices of motions

Message by the speaker of the National Assembly

Order paper

Adjournment procedures.

Whenever a member wants an issue to be discussed in Parliament, he/she first gives notice of a motion. The notice is to let the other members read up on the issue and prepare for the debate. The order paper of the day schedules how debates on motions are going to take place. When a member tables a motion, it needs to be seconded by another member in order for it to be recognised - if no member of Parliament seconds the motion, it is not recognised.

Once a notice of a motion is given, tabled and a member seconds it, the Speaker will then allow the member who tabled the motion to elaborate. When the member is done elaborating on the motion, the Speaker then opens the floor for discussions and debates. Members usually raise their hands to inform the Speaker that they wish to speak. The Speaker of Parliament gets to pick who speaks. If a member says anything that is out of line with the motion or not in the rules of Parliament, any member can interject through a point of order.

How laws are made

Laws are a system of rules that everyone in a country or society recognises as regulating the actions of its members and which can be enforced by the imposition of penalties. The purpose of laws is to maintain peace and order within a country.

The Namibian Constitution is the supreme law in the country. No Namibian law may contradict the constitution.

The Cabinet, a line ministry or government department, a member of Parliament, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), or any private citizen can propose a law. In the case of a government bill, the responsible ministry must draft a proposal and submit it to Cabinet for approval.

Once verified by the Attorney-General as in line with the Namibian Constitution, approved by Cabinet and tabled before Parliament, the draft is called a Bill. A Bill tabled by a member of Parliament who is not a minister is called a private member’s Bill, and needs no Cabinet approval.

The Bill is introduced in the National Assembly in what is known as a first reading stage. It then becomes a public document and is available to any member of the public who is interested in it.

During the second reading stage, the minister or the private member who tabled (sponsored) the Bill explains why the Bill is needed.

Members then discuss the principle of the Bill and may approve or reject the Bill in principle. If rejected by a majority of the members, the Bill is taken ‘off the table’. It may be re-introduced within 30 days with or without changes.

If its principle is approved, the details of the Bill are then discussed during what is called the committee stage by the committee of the whole assembly, where all members consider it clause by clause. During the committee stage, any member may propose an amendment to a clause which is then discussed and voted on. If there are serious objections, the Bill can either be voted on or be referred to a standing committee. Standing committees are smaller groups of members of Parliament elected from all political parties to examine Bills and other documents in detail.

Standing committees are appointed for specific subject matters such as economics, human resources and international relations - or any subject matter necessary or required. Committees seek input from experts and the broader public by calling in individual persons or by holding public hearings. Based on its findings, a committee may recommend changes on specific aspects of the Bill to the House. Committees are not mandated to pronounce themselves on the principle of the Bill.

Once the National Assembly adopts the recommendations, the Bill goes to the third reading stage. At this stage, a majority vote of the House is necessary to approve the Bill and no further debate is allowed.

The Bill is then referred to the National Council for review. The legislative stages followed in the National Council are the same as those in the National Assembly.

If the National Council passes the Bill with amendments, it goes back to the National Assembly for further discussion. However, the National Assembly is not compelled to adopt the amendments proposed by the National Council. If, after reconsideration, the members of the National Assembly reject the amendments of the National Council, the proposed amendments are disregarded.

The Bill must be signed by the president before it becomes a law. It is then published in the official government newspaper – the Government Gazette – as an Act of Parliament. The law comes into force either on the date of publication of the Government Gazette or a specific date to be published in the Government Gazette by the minister responsible for that Act of Parliament.

Infographic

The Namibian Parliament has 104 members, 96 voting members and eight non-voting members.

Parliamentary sessions are public and anyone is allowed to watch the debates

Parliament starts at 14h30 and usually ends at 17h45

Make a dictionary sort of structure:

Motion: A proposal by a member to have the House discuss an issue.

Petition: A document presented to Parliament, signed by a person(s), requesting that a certain course of action be taken or not be taken.

Point of order: An interjection on the correct procedures to be followed.