Development and democracy: an MP's views

It is very rare that we hear our local MPs talking about development and democracy, especially since most of them belong to the ruling party and some believe that there can be democracy under a one-party state. However, Murehwa North MP, Alois Mangwende, had the opportunity to express his views when he addressed the 86th Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Chile last year on the topic: Human Development: Economic Growth and Democracy- The Role of Parliament in Ensuring the necessary links between Freedoms, Citizen Involvement, Economic Growth and Social Investments. Here is his address as quoted from Hansard of 30 July 1992.

Human development, that is, the development of man's health, knowledge, social status and his general outlook, is closely linked to economic growth and democracy. Economic growth can only be achieved if there is a substantial improvement in the lives of the persons involved because it is only when their lifestyles change for the better that most citizens participate in development.

When there is a betterment of their lives people are prepared to sacrifice, both economically and socially, for development. As their health improves and their mental horizon widens, their whole psychological and moral outlook changes. They become not only more confident and apt to help themselves but also more cooperative and willing to be mutually helpful.

Therefore the development of a human being cannot be separated from economic growth and democracy. Freedoms and citizen involvement, as expounded in democracy, are closely linked to development, be it economic or human. It is therefore necessary to maintain these links, and Parliaments should ensure that such links are established effectively.

The involvement of citizens in the development process reflects not only democracy but more importantly the level of human development of a region. In Zimbabwe, economic development plans reflect more clearly the participation of citizens. People are involved at the earliest and lowest stage of development in the village development committees. These committees look at the development needs at village level, where villages discuss what they consider to be the vital necessity of their area.

When such committees agree on a project, they then submit it to the ward development committees, consisting of six village development committees. At this stage, projects of these villages are discussed and one project which is beneficial to all villages is then submitted to the provincial planning council. The same process takes place until finally a number of projects are sent to the National Planning Council for consideration and approval. Once approved by this council, funds are then released by the Central Government to the same committees for the implementation of the projects.

The most important feature in the process is the democratic procedure to which development plans are subjected. There is an opportunity for every individual to contribute in choosing a development project. Because most people are involved in the planning process, they are in a position to understand the implications of development programmes and the benefits which accrue there from. This brings in the issue of the people being sufficiently developed to understand the concept and also the role that the Member of Parliament can play in all these stages.

A member of Parliament should be involved in all these stages by meeting with viable heads and getting to know their needs. He can also sit on the ward development committees and the provincial development committees. However, his main role when he is in Parliament is to bring the issue of his constituency development plan up for debate. He can also try to raise funds through donor agencies for the projects of this area. If he succeeds, this will result in the establishment of the much-needed link between citizen involvement and economic growth.

More important is the issue of the people being able to grasp the concept of economic growth. People have to be knowledgeable enough to participate in the development of their region and in the democratic process. Ignorance can result in apathy and even fatalism. It is therefore essential for Parliament to work towards the education of the people. No Government, after grappling even briefly with the problems of economic development, is likely to question the need for a wider diffusion of knowledge among its people.

In some countries, economic development programmes themselves begin as mass education programmes -seeking to impart knowledge and also to modify attitudes and build enthusiasm for progress. This brings the issue of human development to the fore.

Social investment is another area which highlights the importance of the link between human development, economic growth and democracy. Government plays a vital role in social investments through the building of schools and hospitals, for there is little doubt that a healthy and knowledgeable community participates more effectively in economic development.

Parliament can play an important role by legislating and debating more effectively issues that relate to social investments. Many schools and clinics were built and staff was trained to man these facilities. As the people's health and knowledge improved, the government then turned its attention to other important fields of economic development. It has been able to do so because people now understand the rationale of government programmes and how they themselves will benefit from them.

It is important that people should be knowledgeable enough to analyse plans brought to them by government. A government can bring up a proposal of development which might entail the participation of the people or even the resettling on land of the said people. If the people have a reasonable standard of understanding, it will be easier to implement the programmes successfully.

Parliaments can also play an important role by explaining the importance of the government's projects to the people and at the same time making it clear how such projects will help them as a community.

It should also be noted that the necessary self-confidence and self-reliance among the people must be based, among other things, on demonstrated achievement. Success achieved after systematic discussion is always appreciated thus showing the importance of democracy - in relation to economic growth and most importantly in relation to human development as a concept of economic growth.

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