Lloyd Gumbo Mr Speaker Sir
Zanu-PF MP for Marondera Central, Lawrence Katsiru stirred a hornet’s nest this week when he made unfortunate statements to the fact that Ndebele people must first pay lobola and compensate Shonas “for abducting and forcing into marriage young girls and raiding cattle from the same”.
He made the remarks during a public hearing meeting on the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) Bill in his Constituency on Wednesday.
Katsiru was quoted as saying: “I agree with the Bill for various reasons. Our sisters and cattle were taken in Mashonaland by the Ndebeles.
“They should pay lobola for kidnapping and forcing our sisters into marriage. They should compensate for the cattle they stole from Mashonaland. I was in Bulawayo during the Entumbane uprisings in the 1980s and I saw Shonas being murdered in the streets because they could not speak Ndebele. These people should be compensated, then we should consider paying for Gukurahundi.”
Mr Speaker Sir, these are the words attributed to a Member of Parliament who should know better about the objectives of public hearings and the Bill under consideration.
For someone of such standing to express such sentiments before their constituents is undesirable particularly taking into account that the Bill seeks to bring healing among Zimbabweans.
Being defensive and apportioning blame to tribes will not help achieve the Bill’s objectives.
If anything, it will further polarise the country and open old wounds instead of healing Zimbabweans, which is what the Bill seeks to achieve.
It is important that when the people’s representatives stand up to contribute, they make measured remarks.
But the issue is not really about what Katsiru said or not, it is about whether MPs should contribute during public hearings.
Mr Speaker Sir, MPs are opinion leaders and whatever they say before their constituents, particularly those from their political party, becomes the gospel.
The constituents feel obliged to kowtow to what their MP says, notwithstanding the fact that they might have had different opinions to their leader.
These hearings by their nature are meant to allow members of the public to contribute to the governance of the country by making their suggestions in the lawmaking process.
Section 141 of the Constitution on public access to and involvement in Parliament states that the legislature must facilitate public involvement in its legislative and other processes and in the processes of its committees, ensure that interested parties are consulted about Bills being considered by Parliament, unless such consultation is inappropriate or impracticable; and conduct its business in a transparent manner and hold its sittings, and those of its committees, in public, though measures may be taken (i) to preserve order in parliamentary proceedings; (ii) to regulate public access, including access of the media, to Parliament and its committees…”
The import of this provision is that ordinary people out there must be able to contribute to the lawmaking process, but if MPs are then allowed to contribute during the same events, it sways the constituency’s opinions particularly for those who initially held different views.
It is inconceivable that an ordinary member in the constituency would stand up after the MP has spoken to contradict what the latter has said.
Knowing our politics, the constituents are expected to be subservient to their leaders, so mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that MPs do not make contributions during public hearings.
Allowing MPs to make contributions is in a way gagging ordinary members of the public from making their own independent views known.
Mr Speaker Sir, after public hearings, MPs are allowed to contribute to the Bill when it is tabled for debate in the House during the Second Reading.
So why compete for talking space with ordinary members of society when MPs have another opportunity to air their views particularly in the House when the Bill is brought to Parliament?
That is the platform where they can make as much noise as they want, either supporting or shooting down the Bills.
For MPs to engage in squabbles with ordinary members of society in their contributions is demeaning the status of parliamentarians.
Mr Speaker Sir, there are also concerns where MPs, including those in the respective committees, publicly approve or disapprove of contributions from the floor despite warnings from chairpersons against such behaviour.
Sometimes you have committee members standing up to express their views on the Bill that they have brought before the people, yet their only role should be to listen to what people say.
Committee members even go to the extent of expressing their views on social media either supporting or shooting down Bills that they should be taking to the people.
When conducting public hearings, committee members must be seen to be fair where the general public can be assured that their contributions will be treated with fairness.
But that is not possible when you have committee members, having already expressed their views about the same Bill, trying to fight for attention with members of the public.
Mr Speaker Sir, how can one contribute freely already knowing the views of some of the committee members as expressed through social media, especially if they hold a different view?
They obviously would assume that their views will not make it to Parliament, which may at the end of the day result in public hearings being a waste of time.
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