The problems of fused parliament-cabinet membership in Somalia
By Farhan Isak Yusuf
Separation of powers (t is a fundamental principle for modern states, and is devised to equally distribute responsibilities and authorities among government organs. It is used to serve as guarantee that no arm of government overpowers another arm and, as result, provides checks and balances.
As far as separation of power is concerned, it is a mistreated concept in most of the continent of Africa. This has created breeding grounds for the unbridled rules of authoritarian executives that deny the fundamental rights and freedoms to citizens, misappropriate state coffers, contravene the rules of the land, and impoverish populations.
Political system viz-a-viz the fusion
The poorly checked power of the executive branch has been a conundrum and problem within the Somali political system since its formation. It has often left the system paralysed and defunct. The dominance of the executive arm over other government branches, particularly the legislature, is exacerbated by fragile institutions of the governments, the lack of a popularly approved constitution, an ill-devised 4.5 model for clan political representation, money-dominated politics, and a weak judiciary.
The executive’s dominance over the legislature is not de jure but has been a de facto situation in our political landscape for almost all of Somalia’s political life.
Somalia’s current provisional constitution doesn’t clearly specify the type of the political system for the state. This could demarcate the degree of intermarriage of the two organs of government, – the parliament and executive. However, it can be construed from practice that Somalia’s hybrid structure leans toward a parliamentary system.
Under this system (for instance in the UK) parliament seats are occupied by MPs who are (usually) members of political parties and are elected by the population. The party that wins a majority in the parliament has the opportunity to form the cabinet headed by the party leader or any other senior party member. In this regard, members of the cabinet are drawn from the party’s members in the parliament and confidence is accorded to it for commanding a majority in the parliament.
A majority party’s MPs are compelled to behave in line with the party’s policies in parliament sittings and any MP who showed disregard and defiance to his/her party’s line meets a punishment as (s)he would not be elected on that party’s list in next election. This means that MPs and cabinet members are primarily accountable for the party and the electorate represented by the party, not the parliament.
Somalia’s MPs under the civilian governments in the 1960s were drawn from the parliament mostly from Somali Youth League (SYL) card carrying members and others from different parties. Under these circumstances, parliament was reduced to the role of rubber stamping un-scrutinized cabinet programs and policies.
The appropriation and encroachment of parliament’s authority by the executive was aggravated and worsened in the succeeding governments formed post-civil war.
Parliament–cabinet fusion: what rationale?
The odd spectacle holding back progress in Somalia’s stalled politics, which other states don’t share, is a parliament with members not elected through one person one vote, who are not affiliated to an operational party, are unaccountable to electorate, exchange loyalty for personal interests, and hold ministerial positions.
Parliaments are purported to give oversight to the implementation of executives’ policies and programs and to represent the interests of common people and circumvent the excesses of the executive. But Somalia’s parliament is mixed with and swallowed by the executive through incorporating MPs into its line-up, which allows the executive to exercise free reign in its behaviours.
This can be evidenced from the composition of the current cabinet, one of the longest serving cabinets in the recent history. About 50 of its members are from parliament. It embodies the only cabinet that accommodates such a number of MPs within its membership compared to the previous government, which had three prime ministers.
The blurred spaces between the legislature and executive emanates from two pronged justifications: legal and political.
In a legal sense, there is a provision in the Somali provisional constitution, which allows the executive to incorporate MPs in cabinet formation. This stipulates that cabinet members can come from within or outside of the parliament. This provision seems incompatible with the current unsettled state of politics in Somalia. It needs to be amended until competitive parliamentary elections can be held nationwide with operational political parties. This could then produce a cabinet formed by majority winning party or a coalition. The opposition could guard against any wrong doing by the ruling party by questioning them critically about their performance in regard to programs and policies.
Politically, members of the parliament are packed in the cabinet to render their confidence for the nominated prime minister and his/her cabinet. They also protect them from any due or undue criticism, questioning, accounting or a motion of no confidence arising from the parliament. Likewise, the cabinet membership represents a leverage availed by president(s) to reward MPs who campaigned for his presidency.
The overlapping membership has deactivated the parliament’s core oversight mechanisms, including interpellation and portfolio committees, to mention a few. These mechanisms are put in place to keep the executive accountable to the parliament. The atrophy of these mechanisms is manifest in the number of times ministers were called on to appear before the parliament to answer questions by the MPs in relations to their performances.
Likewise, portfolio committees responsible for investigating and monitoring ministers’ performance are not heard from publicly. Reporting on the cabinet has only occurred in a few committees who dared to confront ministers on issues related to budget, finance and security. However, they were later pressured and then became dormant. Moreover, the portfolio committee on foreign affairs has not questioned publicly the concerned parties about treaties that have been signed in the last two years.
Unfortunately, this indicates how the executive is infused with the parliament, weakening the parliament’s most important function of holding the executive in check.
An unrepresentative MP-dominated cabinet makes an indelible imprint since the executive is the principle agent that drives the socio-economic and political change in society. It obstructs the injection of qualified technocrats who are trustworthy, self-sacrificing and capable of steering ministries towards attaining tangible results. Qualified individuals are not in short supply, but it is likely that the political will is lacking.
Agendas tabled for deliberations on the floor are allegedly manipulated by the executive and are crafted very carefully in favour of the executive. Any item submitted for inclusion on the agenda by those deemed to be opposition critics may be postponed. This is partially due to forcible resignation by former veteran speaker of the House of the People of Somali Federal Parliament and his replacement with a soft-spoken minister.
Accountability is undermined by this illegitimate intermarriage. The smooth running of the House’s business is hampered by double members by not showing up to scheduled parliament sittings to delay the deliberation of issues they consider critical to their collective responsibilities.
The way forward
In order to avoid the executive incursion into responsibilities of the legislative arm, the provisions in the constitution consenting to the selecting of cabinet member from inside of the House should be rescinded until competitive multi-party elections can be held. Until that time, cabinet membership could be restricted to the competent and qualified individuals outside of the House. This will bring an effective cabinet with a greater chance of forcing accountability. This will be because they know that their fellow MPs will be monitoring them closely and any deviation from the agreed blueprint will cause them to withdraw their support. Somalia’s 2000 Transitional National Charter did exactly that. It had an article that stipulated that any MP who joins the government automatically loses membership of the parliament.
Farhan Isak Yusuf is a researcher at Somali Public Agenda. The opinion piece was first published in their website He tweets @FarhanShabel