MPs must behave honourably in public

The moment MPs fight among themselves in the presence of members of the public, they make ordinary people lose respect for the legislature, which is unfortunate, as what happened recently when the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy took a tour of Marange diamond field

The moment MPs fight among themselves in the presence of members of the public, they make ordinary people lose respect for the legislature, which is unfortunate, as what happened recently when the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy took a tour of Marange diamond field

Lloyd Gumbo
Mr Speaker Sir

There is a growing disturbing trend among Members of Parliament who are given to fighting or arguing among themselves in the presence of witnesses who will be giving evidence before them be it at Parliament or during public hearings out in the field.Instead of speaking with one voice before members of the public, MPs flatly argue, some of them blatantly challenging the portfolio committee chairpersons, thereby rendering them useless in the eyes of the ordinary folks.

Mr Speaker Sir, when portfolio or thematic committees summon witnesses to appear before them, legislators must behave honourably during the meetings instead of trying to outdo each other in the presence of members of the public.

The moment MPs fight among themselves in the presence of members of the public, they make ordinary people lose respect for the legislature, which is unfortunate.

Agreed, our MPs come from different backgrounds and they make it to Parliament due to different reasons. For some, it is due to their honourable status, others it is because the electorate voted for the party whose ideology they believe in and not the MP as an individual.

The majority of MPs do not earn their election but it is thanks to the political parties that they represent, which results in their collateral benefit, which is why it is rare for independent parliamentary candidates to make it to Parliament during elections.

Yes, some of them are sponsored by their political parties to contest because of their loud voices when it comes to singing at party rallies or because they were brave enough to contest in a polarised political environment. But when one decides to be in Parliament, they must let go of their past and respect the fact that the legislature is an honourable House.

Mr Speaker Sir, Parliament should be different from a commuter omnibus terminus where touts are always fighting or arguing over nothing. Indeed there should be a difference between Parliament and a political party rally, the former should always portray decency while the latter has no religious requirement for etiquette.

During the recent tour of Marange diamond fields by the Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy after the chairperson had excused himself, committee members embarrassed themselves as they argued and heckled in the presence of members of the public, including officials from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the new Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company and the resettled families at Arda Transau.

Here were honourable MPs whom resettled families expected to behave honourably but were busy taking away their dignity by behaving like touts!

If MPs can fight over nothing in the presence of members of the public, how would one expect the resettled families to think the arguing MPs will be able to answer their problems?

It does not inspire confidence in members of the public at all.

Mr Speaker Sir, oftentimes, when witnesses see that there is friction within portfolio or thematic committees, they manipulate it to their advantage by making sure they align themselves with one side to court support, especially when the committee is on their case.

Sometimes witnesses do not believe their luck as some committee members start defending them when they are put in a corner. Some of the MPs even go to the extent of questioning fellow committees why they ask witnesses difficult questions.

They take the role of explaining on behalf of witnesses, despite committee chairpersons rebuking them against behaving that way. One would assume, those particular MPs will be conflicted and want to use their positions in Parliament to defend their interests.

To make it worse, some committee members go to the extent of passing comments of who is correct and wrong when they have different people appearing before them.

They make conclusions in the presence of witnesses when that should be subject to closed door deliberations.

There are fears that some of the MPs defend witnesses in their presence so that they use it as bargaining strategy when they ask for favours in return.

Mr Speaker Sir, this is what Parliament must guard against. MPs must follow and respect the rules if Parliament is to play its oversight function without fear or favour.

Just like the Speaker’s rulings, committee chairpersons must always be respected in the presence of witnesses. If an MP has a problem with how the chair is managing the session, they must raise their concerns in closed door meetings not in the presence of witnesses.

The moment that is allowed to continue, committee chairpersons will be rendered useless and witnesses will find it difficult to respect them. While possible abuse of their positions should be guarded against, committee chairpersons should be respected during oral evidence.

If committee members see that their chairperson is abusing his or her position, they must take the matter up with the presiding officers but not challenge them during oral evidence.

It is equally important that legislators do not exhibit their political affiliations during oral evidence or public hearings as outlined in their rules.

The moment they do that in the presence of members of the public, the meetings end up losing their independence as everything becomes political and at the end of the day, rendering their oversight functions useless.

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