Ministers to be charged for bunking Parliament

HARARE - The Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda has sternly warned ministers that systematically fail to appear at parliamentary sessions or committee meetings, with opposition legislators demanding that they be charged with contempt of Parliament.

This comes amid complaints from parliamentarians that ministers were contemptuously bunking Parliament without a valid excuse, both from sessions and from the gatherings of parliamentary committees which the lawmakers are members of.

Section 107 (2) of the new Constitution requires every vice-president, minister and deputy minister to attend Parliament and parliamentary committees in order to answer questions concerning matters for which they are collectively or individually responsible. It is not optional, but an obligation.

The list of legitimate reasons for failing to attend includes standard ones such as holiday, illness or death of relatives, and more specific ones such as “carrying out party business,” and various insurmountable circumstances, such as delayed flights, traffic jams and home emergencies.

"The clerks will make the appropriate roll call and we will deal with the absent ministers during this session," Mudenda told the National Assembly last week.

The main sponsors of the motion, Innocent Gonese, the MDC MP for Mutare Central and Musikavanhu MDC MP Prosper Mutseyami, said it was important to purge all shirkers and loafers from the parliamentary halls and set an example for everyone so that those who take part in the elections would not even think about copying such behaviour.

Ministers must request leave of absence in writing to the Speaker and Mudenda is obliged to make an announcement to the House to inform of those who have applied for such leave and have been granted.

Gonese said ministers were "playing truant."

"We have ministers who have persistently been in flagrant violation of those Standing Orders," the MDC chief whip said.

"I believe that you had also assured us that going forward, each time you would inform us of the ministers who would have applied to you in writing because the provisions in that Standing Order are very clear. They must seek leave of absence in writing. There are some ministers who are not here and we need to know those who have complied with the provisions of Standing Orders so that those who have not, can be charged with contempt of Parliament as provided for in that Standing Order."

Mudenda said only Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa and Public Service minister Priscah Mupfumira had sought leave of absence.

"I have not received any other notice of leave of absence," he said.

Mutseyami said: "You have pointed out ministers who have requested for leave of absence. Now that we have the rest of ministers including honourable ministers Chombo, Kasukuwere and many others and their deputy ministers absent; Cabinet comprises of more than 36 ministers. If deputy ministers are included, they are about 69. Check your record.

"Through you Mr. Speaker, what is the position now with regards to the ministers who are absent without leave?  Basically, I am looking at the aspect of charging them for contempt of Parliament bearing in mind that they have been absent for a very long time."

The Act governing contempt of Parliament is the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act. The General Laws Amendment Bill, recently gazetted by Parliament, has amended the Act. The Act gives Parliament, when sitting as a court, power to impose not only fines for contempt of Parliament, but also imprisonment for up to two years in default of payment of the fines.

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