Fond memories of the late Augustino Lyatonga Mrema
The Holy Bible says this about “death” in the Old Testament, (Ecclesiastes, 9:11) “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave where thou goest”. The late former Minister, Hon. Augustino Lyatonga Mrema, Member of Parliament, who died in the early hours on the morning on 21st August, 2022; was the kind of person who dispatched his responsibilities “with all his might”. He was a political maverick, whose political roller coaster record includes his having held, among others, the powerful position of Minister for Home Affairs in 1990, in which he ‘hit the ground running’ by spearheading a successful crackdown on all sorts of wrongdoers; and this, apparently, is what earned him the unprecedented elevation, in 1992, to the specially created new position of ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ (that was not provided for in the constitution); which was done presumably in order to give him ‘more teeth’, while retaining his Home Affairs docket. The Augustino Lyatonga Mrema whom I knew
I first got the opportunity to work closely with the late Augustino Mrema soon after the 1990 general election, which brought both of us into Parliament; wherein he was elected to represent the Moshi Rural constituency; and I was elected to represent Ukerewe Constituency. As a result of which, Mrema was appointed Minister for Home Affairs; and I was elected Deputy Speaker.
Hon. Mrema’s first term in Parliament was generally uneventful, in the sense that there was nothing spectacular, or perhaps unusual, in the performance of his duties. But during the leadership period which followed immediately thereafter, he was made to suffer the punishment of being suspended from the service of Parliament for forty days, as will be explained below.
As this was the first time ever in the history of the Tanzania Parliament, for such punitive action had been taken by Parliament against one of its member; inquisitive questions were therefore raised by interested observers, who were wondering whether, in fact, Parliament had the legal power to do so. At that material time, I was the Speaker of the House, and I felt obliged to give a public explanation in defense of this unusual action by Parliament; which I did in a special article that was published in the then circulating journal titled “BUNGE NEWS; as well asin the most widely circulating newspaper at that time, the DAILY NEWS. But because of this column’s editorial space limitations, I can only provide an abbreviated version of the vast information contained therein. The relevant event, and the circumstances surrounding it. As already stated above, Hon Augustino Lyatonga Mrema was, at the relevant time, a Member of Parliament for the Temeke constituency in Dar es Salaam. He was suspended from the service of the House for a total of 40 days; for the reason that he had failed to produce convincing evidence to substantiate some serious allegations which he had made on the floor of the House, that “there was a plot to kill him” which, he alleged, “had been hatched at a meeting of unnamed senior government officials held on 4th April 1996”; and had continued to say that “three specified persons, including himself, were to be assassinated before the 2000 general election; and that one of them, retired Army General. Imran Kombe had already been killed by the Police, in implementation of that evil scheme of causing death by assassination”. In view of the serious nature of these allegations, on a motion moved by Prime Minister Fredrick Sumaye, Mrema was ordered to produce relevant documents which would substantiate them, and was given a period of five days within which to assemble and present his evidence. Hon. Mrema dutifully complied with this Order, and presented to the House the documents on which he was seeking to rely as his evidence, on the due date. In accordance with the Rules of Parliamentary procedure, adequate time was allocated for the debate on the matter to take place, which would determine whether, or not, these documents provided convincing evidence to substantiate his allegations. At the end of this debate, the House voted, and unanimously decided that the said documents did not produce convincing evidence. Consequently, another motion was moved for Hon. Mrema’s immediate suspension from the service of the House, for the remainder of the Budget session that was then in progress, which was a total of forty days. Augustino Mrema goes to court. However, the matter did not end there, because veteran politician Mrema would not take that punishment ‘lying down’. He was ordinarily a man of strong will and determination, and a man of action. So he decided to go to court to challenge the legality of this relatively minor punishment. I call it ‘minor’ simply because, under the circumstances, he could have easily qualified for a much more severe punishment; in view of the fact that Parliament has other alternative options, which it could have adopted in order to punish him for the said offence. The law of Parliament vests on all Parliaments, the power of penal jurisdiction. Thus, Parliament has the power to punish persons who commit offences within its walls. For example, in Hon Mrema’s case, alternative action could have been taken by relying on the British House of Commons precedent, whereby, in 1948, Hon. Mr, Garry Allighan, MP, a member of the Labour party (which was the ruling party at the material time), had lied to a Parliamentary committee meeting, when he accused his fellow MPs of having accepted money “for disclosing to the Press the proceedings of his Parliamentary party caucus”, when, in fact, he himself had done exactly the same. Thus, in response thereto, the Leader of government business in the House moved a motion, proposing that Hon. Allighan be suspended from the service of the House for six months, without pay. But another Member moved an amendment proposing that Hon. Allighan be expelled from the House, which was a more severe punishment, and which was unanimously carried, and the offending member was duly expelled. Another alternative is the use of the applicable statutory provisions. For example, section 12(3) of the Parliamentary Immunities, Powers and Privileges Act, provides as follows:- “the Assembly or, as the case may be, a committee thereof may, in relation to any act, recommend to the Speaker that he requests the Attorney General to take steps necessary to bring to trial before a court of competent jurisdiction, any person connected with an offence under this Act”. There is also was the alternative provided by the Penal Code, whose section 26 provides that “any proceedings before the National Assembly or Committee thereof, in which any person gives evidence or produces any document, shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings for the purposes of sections, 106, 108 and 109”. Section 102 of that Act provides that “any person, in any judicial proceeding knowingly gives false testimony touching on any matter in that proceeding, is guilty of a misdemeanor termed perjury”; whose penalty is “imprisonment for seven years”. Hence, in view of all these alternatives which were available to the House, one can say that Hon Mrema was hugely lucky, to have escaped a more severe punishment. For instance, had the House opted to direct the Attorney General to “bring him to trial in a court of competent jurisdiction” under the Parliamentary Powers, Immunities and Privileges Act; a similar conviction would have qualified him for the stipulated seven years behind bars ! Augustino Mrema in the High Court. Hon. Mrema’s High Court petition eventually was dismissed. But it reminded me of Shakespeare’s words which appear in his Troilus and Cressida, Act 111, scene 2, in which Achilles said to Patrloculus:- “I see my reputation at stake. My fame is shrewdly gored”. Mrema must have realized that “his reputation was at stake, and his fame would be shrewdly gored” if he did nothing about it. Hence, understandably, he went to court, presumably in order to salvage his reputation and fame. In his court pleadings, Mrema contended that his suspension for 40 days was invalid because, he claimed, “it does not comply with the Parliamentary Standing Order which states that for a first offender like him, the suspension should have been for only five days”. He also quoted some other Standing Orders, which he claimed had been violated. But these matters were not subjected to inquiry by the Court, simply because of the prohibition imposed by article 100 (1) of the Constitution of the United Republic, 1977; namely, that the proceedings of Parliament “shall not be questioned in any court, or any other p-lace outside Parliament itself”; was also the reason for the failure of his petition. The Presiding Judge Katiti said: “In obedience to article 101(1) of the Constitution of the United Republic, I hereby declare that this court has no jurisdiction to hear this petition”. Thus, any Member of Parliament, is subject only to disciplinary action taken by the House itself. This is confirmed by the Canadian case of Bradlaugh v Gosselt (1884), 12 QBD 271; in which the Order of the Canadian House to suspend its member, Hon Bradlaygh from the service of the House, was challenged in court; but which held that “the jurisdiction of the House over their own members, and the right to impose discipline within its walls, is absolute and exclusive”. A quick look at the general power of Parliament to punish its members. It has been authoritatively said, that “laws are meaningless unless there is power to enforce them by imposing penalties on those who break them”; to which Professor Thomas of Syracuse University aptly added: ”if he who beaks the law is not punished, he who obeys it is cheated”. We have already stated above, that in addition to relying on the courts, Parliament is also vested with its own penal jurisdiction. There are two forms of punishment which can be inflicted on MPs who commit offences in the House:- One is expulsion from the House; which effectively terminates his membership of Parliament; and this is the ultimate sanction against an MP, which, essentially is more than mere punishment. The other is suspension from the service of the House for a specified period; which is usually imposed as a mild disciplinary measure. There are numerous examples of the exercise of this power by Parliament around the Commonwealth. In the said article, I presented examples from the other Commonwealth Parliaments of Canada, which has power to even commit persons to prison; Grenada, where a Member was suspended from the service of the House for a month; New South Wales Australia where the Minister of Finance was suspended from the House for the remainder of the day’s sitting; because of his failure to comply with an order by the House requiring him to table certain Papers which were held by the government; and Zambia; where a journalist was committed to prison for publishing articles “which exposed Parliament to public ridicule”. This is only a part of the long story of Augustino Lyatonga Mrema as a Member of the Tanzania Parliament. May his soul rest in eternal peace. Amen. firstname.lastname@example.org / 0754767576. Source: Daily News & Cde Msekwa today.