Zvamaida Murwira Mr Speaker Sir
A holistic approach is needed to deal with the unending tiff between Senators and Members of the National Assembly on the distribution of Constituency Development Fund, as those in Upper House feel they are being short-changed by their exclusion in directly handling the money.
Mr Speaker Sir, while it is laudable that Parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders Committee came up with CDF Constitution, which ensures that there is no abuse of the funds through introduction of tough accounting measures, another pertinent aspect was left unattended.
As Presiding officer, Mr Speaker Sir, you announced last week tough measures aimed at filling possible gaps that could be utilised in abusing CDF, something that was quite commendable.
It is not helpful to repeat the measures here, suffice to say, if they are implemented to the fullest they would achieve the desired objectives. But there is another simmering problem whose time to resolve by the administration of Parliament has come.
Last week, Senators rekindled debate on the distribution of CDF. As a matter of background, Senators were livid when Senate President Cde Edna Madzongwe announced in the Chamber that they were ex-officio members of CDF committee with full voting rights.
“In other words, they hold membership to such committees by right of their offices and promotions, eminent positions,” she said in reference to Senators. ‘Senators and PR members are, therefore, members of all CDF Committees falling under their jurisdiction in terms of Article 9 (2) and (3) of the CDF Constitution. They have full voting rights as members and are accorded the same participatory rights as other members of the CDF.”
By way of response, Senators protested, arguing that they needed equal share on the distribution of the money as they were equally legislators, with the same role and obligations to the electorate. They said it was a contradiction to say one was an ex-officio member, while at the same time had voting rights.
Matabeleland South Senator Tambudzani Mohadi (Zanu-PF) said: “It is really disappointing because at the Standing Rules and Orders, the last meeting that we had, this issue was deliberated on and it was explained.
“Finally, it was agreed that an MP is an MP, whether it is a proportional Member or a Senator, they remain an MP. As a result, we have more than 350 MPs here who are liable to get the CDF and the same issue was discussed when we were in Victoria Falls. It was agreed upon that the issue is over.”
She continued: “I read that Constitution, it says that Senators and Proportional Representation are ex-officio members. An ex-officio member, from the little knowledge that I have is just an ex-officio member. You do not have the voting right and you do not have any say on that. They can even do it alone without us and we cannot report anywhere.”
Matabeleland South Senator, Sithembile Mlotshwa (MDC-T) concurred with Sen Mohadi and complained that, as Senators, they had been sidelined for a long time.
Efforts by Cde Madzongwe to further explain that Senators had voting rights and that the money would be controlled by Parliament failed to persuade them. This is not the first time there has been bickering on how CDF has been structured.
Last month, leader of the opposition, Ms Thokozani Khupe demanded that non-constituency MPs be given money for CDF, an argument that was supported by her colleagues. Mr Speaker Sir, there is no doubt that as head of the institution of Parliament, it is not your wish to preside over followers who are disgruntled. Either way, the issue has to be resolved.
Of course, Mr Speaker Sir, the problem might not be addressed during this current Parliament, but it would be good that by the time the Ninth Parliament comes into office, the problem would have been resolved.
One source of the problem is that there is a perception that handling CDF presents an opportunity to build one’s political profile. In any case, this has been said by members of the National Assembly when they demanded to have the CDF disbursed, as they would argue that they wanted to leave some legacy through the utilisation of the money in their constituencies.
And that is not difficult to achieve given that the chair of the CDF committee is a Member of the National Assembly, with a geographical constituency. The problem is in turn compounded by the fact that Senators appear to play a peripheral role, thus denying them some opportunity to build their own political profiles.
With this scenario, it creates a divided Parliament, with Members of the National Assembly with geographical constituencies on one hand and Senators and Members of the Proportionate Representative on the other.
Mr Speaker Sir, a number of scenarios could be explored on resolving this impasse. One option was to amend the CDF Constitution and probably take away what appears to be sweeping powers on the Member of the National Assembly and give it to a District Administrator or some other neutral office holder like a traditional leader.
This would leave legislators, be it Senators, non-constituency or those with constituency on an equal footing, with no one enjoying an upper hand over another as is the situation at the moment.
There is no doubt that Members of the National Assembly with geographical constituency enjoy that upper hand in administering the fund and the CDF Constitution actually acknowledges that by conferring chairmanship to them and making Senators ex-officio members.
The above is just one of the several suggestions that could be explored, but after everything has been said and done, a solution has to be found which achieves parity among legislators.