When I tweet about what’s happening in Parliament, I usually get few reactions. But when the NA started discussing a bill to end our practice of winter time, people were very interested. Media houses tweeted about it too, and a vocal subsection of Namibian twitter sounded off — mostly in the negative — about this decision:

(Though of course some were fine with change)

Even the Members of Cabinet present in Parliament that day did not fully agree on the issue, with several highlighting arguments for the winter time change.

On the Sample

I wanna talk here about a point raised by the Minister of Finance, Calle Schlettwein, who took issue with the sample. His comment referred to the “sample size” – which, at over 3,000 people I’d say is fine if the survey had been representative, but I agree more broadly with his statement that we can’t take the results as a representation of the Namibian people’s wishes.

Let’s look at the consultation process. The Ministry sent letters to Ministers, Regional Governors, and “Captains of industries” (the Chamber of Commerce, Council of Churches, and so on). In addition, print media ran ads saying that people could email in or send letters. And out of 3507 responses, 97% said they wanted to do away with winter time.

We Can’t Trust that Number

What type of person is likely to respond to a general call to weigh in on winter time? First, that person has to be someone who can read, is comfortable writing a letter or email to government, and has the time and means to do so. (this is a prerequisite, and already excludes many Namibians). Second, what kind of person is likely to respond? I think it’s likely that people upset with the current way of doing things are more likely to get in touch.

So already we have a biased pool of respondents in many ways. How could government get an opinion from the public that does a better job of being representative?

The best way would be to run a national, randomized survey much like the Afrobarometer or the recent corruption perceptions survey. But those are expensive – far too expensive to do on a regular basis for legislation.

Still, government could make it easier for people to respond – using phones, sms, social media, therefore lowering the barriers to giving input. And secondly it shouldn’t just wait on responses, therefore inviting only highly motivated (i.e. anti-status quo) views but also reach out to people – again, the internet and sms can be used relatively cost-effectively here, and could make a difference.