Lloyd Gumbo: Mr Speaker Sir
Following President Mugabe’s official opening of the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament yesterday, there are a number of things particularly behaviour one would expect to be a thing of the past. Mr Speaker Sir, Parliamentarians derive their authority from the people who elected them.And by electing them, the electorate had its expectations, which disappointingly has not been forthcoming from some of their representatives. First, the major concern is lack of quorum in the House resulting in the House prematurely adjourning on several occasions during the last session.
By bunking parliamentary sittings, legislators across the political divide have been putting to waste the little resources that Government and Parliament’s development partners such as the United Nations Development Programme and Southern African Parliamentary Trust have been sacrificing to allow the Legislature to carry out its work.
Clerk of Parliament, Kennedy Chokuda last year revealed that the legislature spent about $420 000 per week every time Parliament sat, which goes to show how much some of our legislators waste the country’s resources every time they walk out of the House forcing it to adjourn prematurely.
Mr Speaker Sir, Parliament pays accommodation and sitting allowances for MPs when they are in Harare on parliamentary business.
So they should not waste the State resources bunking parliamentary business, which they will be here for.
It is therefore gratifying that the Speaker of the National Assembly Advocate Jacob Mudenda is coming up with mechanisms to curb this dishonourable behaviour.
In an interview I had with the Speaker last week, he expressed his disgust at the behaviour of MPs in this regard.
“I have appealed to the caucuses through the chief whips of the two major parties, Zanu-PF and MDC-T that in their caucuses they must whip in their Members of Parliament to attend parliamentary sessions and not to come in for 30 minutes and disappear,” he said.
“That does not speak well of the MPs in their individual capacities and of Parliament as an institution because we are there at the behest of the legislative authority of the people of Zimbabwe in terms of the Constitution.
“We derive our authority to be legislators and makers of the law from the people of Zimbabwe, that legislative authority and mandate should not be betrayed.”
Added the Speaker: “Secondly, we should not betray the taxpayer who expects maximum contribution by MPs. By being there committed debating, bringing up issues from their constituencies from the public and staying in for as long as it is possible.
“Staying there for one or two hours and the House has no quorum, I think it does not speak well of us as an institution and of us individually as MPs.
“Thirdly, lack of quorum is indicative of our failure to respect the people who elected MPs to come and represent them. That has been a shortcoming we hope will not show its ugly head in the Fourth Session.”
As was noted by the Speaker, it is important that MPs respect the House because they took oath of serving the people who elected them.
And they do that through contributing to debates, not by going into the House for 30 minutes so that they get the day’ sitting allowance.
Mr Speaker Sir, if the MPs have other business that they consider too important than attending to parliamentary business, then they must do the honourable thing and surrender their constituencies.
They should let those who are interested in serving as MPs do so instead of abusing taxpayers’ money by coming to Harare to stay in hotels for their private business.
The second issue of concern is the independence of the legislature in the execution of its mandate.
During the last session, some MPs always complained that they were treated as poor cousins compared to the other arms of the State in particular the executive and the Judiciary.
Some quarters have even gone to the extent of saying parliament was the weakest link in the tripartite structure of the State.
But Advocate Mudenda thinks otherwise as he reveals how important the legislature is and correctly avoids the tendency of joining the crybabies’ attitude.
“That observation could be exaggerated to the extent that some of those MPs who are saying that may not have read the Constitution properly and understood it properly.
“Section 119 of the Constitution is very loud and clear. It tells us that Parliament shall protect the Constitution and make sure that all institutions of the state are accountable to Parliament.
“Now, the Constitution as a supreme law bestowing such constitutional mandate at the highest pedestal, why should someone doubt that Parliament is a very important pillar of the State among the three pillars of the State? It’s a question of self-appraisal that is negative.
“Secondly Parliament will be respected by making sure that it deserves to be respected by the quality of the performance of the Members of Parliament themselves.
“If people bunk parliament sittings and go away, obviously you are reducing the dignity of parliament. You are not taking parliament very seriously because each member is a constituency member of the institution.
So, if people are not taking parliament seriously as MPs, how can the public take parliament seriously?”
Who would have said it better than Advocate Mudenda?
Mr Speaker Sir, the major weakness with some parliamentarians is that they do not value themselves to the extent of the power that the Constitution gives them.
They have allowed themselves to be bullied by the executive when they should be the ones with more authority given that the Constitution makes it clear that every institution including the executive is accountable to Parliament.
But what is disappointing is that Parliamentarians themselves have taken away their authority and surrendered it to the executive.
For instance, when ministers are summoned to appear before portfolio committees, some MPs turn against their colleague-MPs by nodding and applauding when some ministers are not saying anything in many words or deliberately avoiding responding to specific questions.
Some even go to the extent of laughing at their colleagues when some ministers or witnesses pass bad remarks to MPs who would have asked questions that they are uncomfortable answering.
Mr Speaker Sir, it is important that MPs appreciate their worthiness if they are to meaningfully carry out their mandate because Parliament is an elevated institution the world over with authority to make and scrap laws. So the buck stops with MPs worth their salt.
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