Lloyd Gumbo Mr Speaker Sir
Question Time every Wednesday and Thursday in the National Assembly and the Senate respectively is an invaluable opportunity for the Legislature to hold the Executive to account. Vice Presidents and ministers are expected to be in the chambers of both Houses on a weekly basis whenever Parliament is sitting to answer questions about Government policy on various issues, often on behalf of their constituents.
Mr Speaker Sir, since the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation started broadcasting live Question Time on television and radio, the session has created so much interest among Zimbabweans who had grown accustomed to enjoying the vibrancy of the South African parliament on the small screen.
Every Wednesday afternoon, those with an interest on what happens in Parliament spare time to watch their representatives ask the executive Government policy on various issues.
This is an opportunity for backbencher MPs to ask the Executive policy issues including those that affect their constituencies without necessarily being too specific during the Questions without Notice session.
For about an hour and half, MPs are expected to interrogate the Executive on various issues though policy-related and imagine how many questions they should be able to ask in about an hour and half?
This Wednesday, just over five full questions were asked in about two hours and that took about 20 minutes only, while the rest of the time was lost on pointless point of orders and unnecessary squabbles on unnecessary supplementary questions.
Mr Speaker Sir, this has resulted in Question Time falling short of expectations and in the process losing its shine.
For instance, on a day when legislators should be asking ministers questions, MPs suddenly develop an interest to raise several points of order just because the session is being broadcast live on television.
This is an opportunity for some of those without questions to appear on television raising pointless points of order when they should be appearing asking reasonable questions.
Why should MPs waste most of the time they have to ask questions raising unnecessary points of order?
There is no justification for MPs to abuse the television broadcast to score cheap points by denying voters an opportunity to see the Executive respond to policy questions.
The day for Question Time should not be interfered with by the raising of pointless points of order.
This could be the reason, the Speaker in the chair sometimes is left with no choice but to turn down never-ending points of order especially when it appears their thrust is to stall Question Time.
What MPs should appreciate is that voters want to see ministers respond to serious questions so that they can judge for themselves whether they are good or bad.
At the moment, Question Time is the only opportunity for voters to get closer to what their representatives are up to when they are in Parliament.
It is therefore unfair for MPs to then deny the voters that only opportunity to listen to their MPs questioning ministers on Government policy.
Mr Speaker Sir, what is ironic is that the same MPs who waste time raising pointless points of order have the audacity to stand up and propose extension of Question Time after it lapses, yet they are the ones who would have wasted time on trivial issues.
MPs have in the past accused some ministers of being notorious for bunking Question Time and the general belief was that, those who do not show up for the session do so because they were inept, as such did not want to embarrass themselves on television failing to answer questions.
Several pleas have been made to Leader of Government business in Parliament, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who himself has religiously attended Parliamentary sessions to implore upon ministers to attend Question Time.
And when the majority of the ministers who were accused of snubbing Parliament came in droves during Question Time on Wednesday, legislators ended up not asking pertinent questions because they were raising pointless points of order and unnecessary supplementary questions until the time for Questions without Notice session expired.
On the same note, unnecessary supplementary questions are raised and the ministers keep repeating the same things that they would have explained already because MPs would have asked the same questions using different words.
This is also the reason, the Speaker often regulates the number of supplementary questions that can be asked.
A lot of time is lost as MPs argue with the Speaker as they keep raising supplementary questions despite the chair’s ruling against such.
Without this strict regulation, the Houses could sit for one question only and several supplementary questions that in principle would not solicit new responses than the ones that would have already been given in the principal question.
MPs cannot blame the Speaker for not according them chances to ask questions when they are the ones who waste time raising pointless point of orders and unnecessary supplementary questions.
Mr Speaker Sir, the other evident development has been the planting of questions by ministers so that legislators ask them questions whose answers they already have as a way of presenting themselves as articulate to viewers.
At the end of the day, genuine questions end up not being asked because time would have been wasted on trivial issues and planted questions.
We even have MPs asking the Leader of Government business in Parliament operational questions that they expect him to answer.
Sometimes we wonder what moves MPs to ask some of the questions they raise in the chamber.
It is important that MPs understand that operational matters can best be answered in written form because one cannot expect, let’s say the Minister of Local Government to know how many kilometres of roads that Mudzi Rural District Council would have rehabilitated in the last week or month.
We also have some MPs asking ministers to comment on something that is already in the public domain.
For instance, Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi has been campaigning for the position of secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and has addressed on this in Parliament and addressed Press conferences on what it is about, then you find an MP asking him to repeat the same things.
Mr Speaker Sir, some MPs have the tendency of debating, instead of asking a straight forward question that respective ministers can easily comprehend.
By asking long-winding questions, they lose the minister who will ultimately respond to the bits that they would have picked.
Getting a proper answer requires a proper question.
It is therefore important that MPs ask short and precise questions that will make it difficult for ministers to dodge responding.
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