Zvamaida Murwira Senior Reporter
The arrest of several Members of Parliament from the MDC-Alliance was lawful as legislators are not above the law and there is no legal provision affording them special treatment when an arrest is effected, Speaker of the National Assembly Advocate Jacob Mudenda has said.
He said it was not true that Harare West legislator Ms Joana Mamombe (MDC-Alliance) was arrested during Parliament business as she was picked up when deliberations had already been concluded.
Adv Mudenda said this in the National Assembly yesterday while responding to Harare East legislator Mr Tendai Biti, who had risen on a point of privilege to complain that Parliament, and in particular presiding officers, were not doing anything to stop “unjustified” arrests of MPs from the MDC-Alliance.
Mr Biti said there was need to respect Members of Parliament and cited f Ms Mamombe, whom he said was arrested while on parliamentary business.
Adv Mudenda said legislators were liable for criminal prosecution.
“All of us are not above the law,” he said. “We can be offenders if we have committed any offence and the due process of criminal or civil procedures can be entertained and proceed accordingly.
“When honourable members are within the premises of Parliament, the Privileges Act is very clear, nobody will touch them, but when they are outside there, Parliament is not aware of the activities of every member. On that score, it may be difficult to come in between the Judiciary and the law enforcement agencies. If Hon Biti is appealing for some measure of how the arresting officers can or should approach MPs who are suspected of committing some offences, then we need to tighten up our Privileges Act so that it clearly states what Hon Biti has said.
“Until we amend the Privileges Act to say there must be some degree of respect given to honourable MPs, that they should be approached in a decent manner, a manner that does not impugn on their dignity.
“On that score, the approach to honourable MPs should have some measure of decent and respect of the status of honourable MP in society. This is how I think we should approach the matter.”
Adv Mudenda said as Parliament’s presiding officer, he could not stop police officers from arresting a Member of Parliament as that would be interpreted as obstruction of justice.
“If for example Hon (Job) Sikhala is suspected to have committed a crime and I hear that police are looking for him, I cannot say police stop looking for Hon Sikhala,” he said.
“I will be accused of obstructing the course of justice. I think what Hon Biti is raising is the manner in which the honourable members must be treated, that is fundamental, but for Parliament or the Speaker to intervene when the law enforcement (agencies) are looking for someone who is an MP, I need to respect the sacred arrangement that the three arms of the State must act differently, respecting their roles, the separation of power principle must be respected.”
Adv Mudenda said Mamombe was arrested for allegedly trying to subvert a constitutionally elected Government and was treated with respect during her arrest in Nyanga at the weekend.
“Let me correct one misconception about Hon Mamombe,” he said.
“She was not picked up during the committee business. We had completed the business and on our way to Harare, the officers who came were very civil. They approached me and said they wanted Hon Mamombe to present herself and make a statement at the charge office.
“I took some detail of one of them who was leading that group and indicated to them I did not want any harassment of the honourable MP. The officers admitted to me that they would not harm the honourable member.
“If they had come during committee business, they would not have touched her. She was not even touched, neither was she handcuffed at all. I even indicated to the officers that ‘you are going to put the Government in an invidious position in the process of re-engagement’.
“When they were leaving, they said aiwa Hon Speaker, honourable member ndishefu wedu, they even carried her bag.”
Mamombe has since appeared in court and was formally charged for treason for leading some people in her constituency to engage in violence in January with the aim of overthrowing the Government.