ONCE ELECTED, a Member of Parliament is expected to be available to his constituents. Constituents expect to have access to their MP whom they expect to be able to make representation on their behalf in Parliament, to ministers, the Prime Minister and government agencies. Members of Parliament are therefore expected to operate through an office that is accessible to not just party members and supporters, but also to other members of the electorate. Constituents expect that the office will be a place that they can call and make an appointment to see the MP.
Those MPs who are appointed by the Prime Minister to the Cabinet have less time to focus on their work as MP. Government provides for the employment of personal assistants (PA) to assist in coordinating the political work in the minister's constituency. Unfortunately, some ministers forget that persons actually elected them to represent them, and pass on too much of the decision-making functions to these personal assistants.
The personal assistant assumes - in some cases - an almost god-like personality. They treat the constituents - who are usually poor, unemployed persons - with little respect, forgetting at all times that their names were never on the ballot that elected the MP. Over time, constituents lose faith and confidence in their MP, and on some occasions when they do come face to face with the MP, the situation can be almost explosive.
Some MPs are in a state of shock when some situations are related to them by their constituents. In times like these the PA usually vanishes and allows the MP to suffer the abuse and torment alone. Sometimes the action of the PA is the result of forgetfulness, wilful neglect, and yes, in some cases, plain dishonesty.
When constituents believe for whatever reason that they are not just competing with each other for assistance, but with the PA, the problem becomes more burdensome. Here develops a relationship that is built on lack of trust, and the MP's credibility begins to go straight down the drain.
However, it isn't just paid employees of the government who create problems for the MP's re-election. Secretaries and advisers are equally capable of turning off constituents. The tone that is used to answer a minister or MP's office phone has a lot to do with 're-electability'. Failure to deliver a message received can be equally devastating, as is failure to complete a task to which one was assigned.
Political intermediaries are not all paid by taxpayers' money. Some are volunteers who work simply because they want to see their country a better place, and their MP re-elected. Some of those who are employees of the state need to treat these volunteers with more respect, especially since these persons make great financial sacrifice to do the political work that they do.
EMPLOYMENT DEPENDENT ON ELECTION
An employed political intermediary must now begin to understand that their employment is solely dependent on the successful election of their MP or minister.
They need, therefore, to treat constituents with respect, and do everything that is possible to raise their political consciousness. There is no point in making promises that the MP cannot keep, and they should also remember that the same way that they treat the constituents is the same way that they will be treated by the constituents.
The possibility of being alienated from the people is real, and MPs should not accept paid help for such a development. In any case, some MPs need to listen to the constant complaints of their constituents about these intermediaries, as well as it can only be in their best interest to realise that MPs cannot be substituted. MPs are replaced.
Heather Robinson is a life underwriter and former Member of Parliament.