It is common cause that contesting a constituency seat to get into Parliament is a personal choice. In the case of Zimbabwe, the individual either bears all the costs involved in the campaign or they are helped by the political party they represent. Government has outlawed foreign sponsorship of political parties, and rightly so, for obvious reasons.
But once a member is elected into Parliament, his business ceases to be personal. Members of Parliament play a central role in their representative role in the operations of a democratic state.
Their primary role is legislative, making laws for the proper functioning of the State. They must ensure the Executive acts in the best interests of the people, that policies are legal.
Members of Parliament also exercise an oversight role in the use of national resources, public finances, the taxes collected and how such resources are distributed among the country’s regions and populations. In a functioning democracy, MPs can block passage of a national budget if they feel the minister responsible for resource allocations got his priorities wrong or upside down.
Similarly, MPs have a duty to ask ministers in Parliament to explain how resources they have been allocated are used, why certain projects have been abandoned midstream.
Outside Parliament, MPs interact with their electors to gather their views on Government policy, their local requirements such as roads, clinics, schools or learning materials. They bring such matters to the attention of Government. Often this influences their contributions to debates in Parliament, particularly concerning budgetary allocations.
Beyond waiting for resources from Government, some Members of Parliament go out of their way to mobilise funds from outside the country for the development of their constituencies. This could be books, medicines, the building of schools or clinics.
We have made this long exposition to demonstrate the important role our MPs play in the development of the country and the localised welfare of their electors. This is to support their plea for the restoration of their dignity as people’s representatives.
In a story carried in this paper yesterday, legislators across the political divide spoke in unison about their shared plight. (We wish they would maintain the same spirit on major national issues instead of focusing on party affiliations.) The MPs spoke of how they were not taken seriously by the Executive.
They complained of not getting their seating allowances, fuel coupons to return to their constituencies, especially those from remote rural areas, and how at times they are ridiculed by hosts when their hotel bills are not settled on time. Many say they are owed thousands of dollars in unpaid allowances.
The least we can say is that we find these ordeals embarrassing to the nation.
We have no illusions about individuals making personal choices to contest for parliamentary seats. Unfortunately, there are those, often misguided like local council aspirants, who assume that parliamentary business is a form of employment rather than an offer to serve.
But we must acknowledge that not everyone who can serve the people must have a college degree or be a successful business person. That would make our Parliament too elitist. There are people who are committed to serve the interests of the people as agents of political parties or Government.
In that light, once they have been elected, it is the duty of Treasury to meet its obligations towards them. They must be treated with dignity and respect for the great work they do for the country. At the end of it all, they are the country’s ambassadors and flag-bearers. They have every reason to complain when they are reduced to the state of begging. That doesn’t speak well of our priorities.
One MP put it bluntly when he said: “There is no way we can have sovereignty when parliamentary programmes are sponsored by donors. When a donor sponsors you, you have to play their tune and you will have to follow what they have to say.”
That is the reason Government came up with the Political Parties (Finance) Act. Let’s protect the dignity of our MPs by giving them what is due and to avoid exposing them to temptations by donors.