Zvamaida Murwira Mr Speaker Sir
For the past two weeks, Members of Parliament have been preoccupied with discussing their conditions of service where in some situations the business of the House has been disrupted. Mr Speaker Sir, the question that needs interrogation is while legislators are entitled to demand what is due to them, is it prudent to make such demands during plenary at the expense of parliamentary business?
At least two crucial sittings meant to deal with pertinent national issues were aborted as legislators haggled over their conditions of service. A workshop called to debate the 2018 National Budget was delayed by about two hours a fortnight ago as legislators demanded to be told when the Executive would pay them their sitting allowances and when the Constituency Development Fund would be disbursed.
It goes without saying, Mr Speaker Sir, that legislators need the CDF to improve their communities, something that would go a long way in enhancing their political profile as the 2018 harmonised elections beckons. During the budget workshop, MPs took advantage of the presence of Finance Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo, who had come to hear their views on the 2018 National Budget to ask him when he would pay them their sitting allowances and fuel coupons.
For the avoidance of doubt, Mr Speaker Sir, there is nothing wrong with legislators demanding what is contractually theirs particularly when it appears to them that the Executive is procrastinating or dragging its feet for whatever reason. It is not the intention of this column, Mr Speaker Sir, to condone the delay in paying allowances to legislators by the Executive given that it is now almost five years, and the term of the current Parliament is now close to its end.
The question, Mr Speaker Sir, that needs to be asked is: Are there no platforms to discuss such issues and not in the Chamber or during a pre-budget seminar as witnessed in the past few weeks? Is it fair for legislators to hijack, for lack of a better word, the business of the House and hold such discussions, deviating from pressing issues at hand.
It is a fact that there are two organs that deal with issues raised by Members of Parliament and is it being suggested that they have failed to deal with them. The first one is that Members of Parliament have their own welfare association made up o legislators from across the political divide while there is also the Standing Rules and Orders Committee which is the decision-making organ of Parliament.
Mr Speaker Sir, the SROC is a powerful decision-making body of where everything relating to the business of te august House, including conditions of service, is discussed. By discussing issues of the welfare of backbenchers in the Chamber or during 2018 National Budget consultations, is it being suggested that the SROC has failed to in its mandate.
Is that not a waste of taxpayers’ money when MPs turn the Chamber into a welfare platform reminiscent to a works council meeting?
Are they not holding the taxpayers and the electorate to ransom by demanding their dues during those platforms?
By discussing issues about their allowances, demanding residential stands, fuel coupons in the public glare are the backbenchers not demeaning themselves as well?
It has to be made clear, Mr Speaker Sir, that the bone of contention here is not that they should not make such demands. It is not in dispute that the issues being raised are legitimate and require immediate attention.
The issue here is that are we sure the platform being used is the correct one?
Are we sure, Mr Speaker Sir, that by spending three hours in the Chamber haggling over conditions of service for legislators, we are not shortchanging taxpayers who are the electorate, who are the ultimate judge of Members of Parliament.
Is it in the interest of the electorate to spend the whole sitting of a given day quarrelling why allowances had been delayed, or why residential stands for legislators have not been made available, among other grievances?
Is it beneficial to the electorate, Mr Speaker Sir, for legislators to spend the whole sitting discussing why Government is taking long to allocate them residential stands?
What was more disturbing, Mr Speaker Sir, was that Wednesday – which is earmarked for Question Time – was turned into platform to discuss backbenchers’ welfare issues. The electorate was expecting that their concerns, as raised through their representatives, would be responded to through the responsible Government minister. Indeed, most members of the Executive, including Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, were in the Chamber ready to respond to questions.
I am sure, Mr Speaker Sir, that you will agree with me that Parliament has adequate platforms for such issues. The SROC, which you chair, if it does not deal with such issues then one would be tempted to question its relevance. There has not been any suggestion from the discussion that ensued that the SROC had failed to deal with the issues raised by MPs.
During the pre-Budget workshop, MPs took Minister Chombo by surprise when they demanded to have their grievances addressed. The issue ate into the bulk of the time earmarked for deliberation on the 2018 National Budget where Minister Chombo would have wanted to know about their expectations. By deviating from the core national issues in the public glare, Mr Speaker Sir, are legislators not taking the electorate for granted?
It is high time Mr Speaker Sir, that as Head of Parliament, Mr Speaker Sir, you put your foot down and ensure that taxpayers’ money does not go down the drain by allowing backbenchers from deviating from the issues at hand and smuggling in their personal albeit collective grievances. Parliament, Mr Speaker Sir, must put in place enough platforms where welfare issues are discussed to their logical conclusion. If that is not taken heed of, Parliament risks taking the electorate for a ride.