Ministers abscond Senate question time

HARARE - Ministers are undermining the Senate by bunking scheduled question times in the august House, the Daily News can report.

A recent question time in the Upper House was almost stalled because of the ministers’ absence.  Only Lazarus Dokora, the Primary and Secondary Education minister, showed up.

The rest never bothered to set their feet in the august House, drawing opprobrium from senators. Legislators from both Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations protested the absence of ministers to temporary president of the Senate, Chief Fortune Charumbira (pictured), who was in the chair.

“I have got a very serious objection Mr President that the bench for the ministers is empty,” Midlands senator, Morgan Komichi, said.

“There is only one good minister who has come. I propose that we must protest on the behaviour of the ministers by allowing the minister of Primary and Secondary Education to go so that we can adjourn the House because it does not help us. There is serious disrespect.

“...We feel very much belittled because on Wednesdays, ministers are full in the Lower House, and come Thursdays, they do not even bother to come.

“So, they underrate and belittle the Senate. I think we should stand up and voice against that kind of behaviour. Today I propose that instead of bothering the minister of Primary and Secondary Education who has come alone, can we give him leave.”

In the National Assembly, Wednesdays are devoted to questions for ministers to answer; while the Senate holds its question time on Thursdays. On the set days, there is a session for questions with notice and another for questions without notice.

Yet, in a worrying trend, some Cabinet ministers have decided to leave the entire job to their deputies who have a difficult time when hit by a barrage of questions from the legislators.

Manicaland Zanu PF Senator Shadrach Chipanga opposed the motion to “chase away” the minister.

“He has been referred to as a good minister.  Since he is here, let us do business with him and when he has done his job, he can go.

“We cannot protest against him because he is here.  So, my proposal is that we ask the minister the questions and when we are done with him, he may leave,” Chipanga said.

Senator Misheck Marava, who is also the MDC deputy chief whip in the Senate, said: “Mr President if you are ploughing, you do not do it with one cow but with two cows.

“So, we cannot just keep the minister on his own, we should let him go and when others come, then we can pose our questions to him.”

MDC Harare Senator James Makore backed Komichi.

“Mr President, I would like to second this particular thinking, particularly raised by Senator Komichi here.  In fact this is a very dignified House; it is an august House that has to be respected.

“We are not by any way belittling the very honest minister of Education, ...Dokora here, if at all we thank him for coming almost every time, he attends, we see him all the time here.

“However, the fact that the majority of these ministers do not seem to respect this House in terms of them taking this as a very important occasion to attend this Question and Answer Session, we therefore feel exactly like what was raised in the lower House.

“...Honestly, these are most important questions for the nation.  Senators are not only asking their questions from head but they are coming from their relevant constituencies and they need to be answered.”

Beitbridge Zanu PF Senator Tambudzani Mohadi said she was against Dokora leaving.

“He does not stand for all the other ministries, he is standing in for his own ministry and he has the right to be asked questions,” she said.

“If we are through with him, then he will leave but we cannot say that he should go because this is a way of chasing him away, saying that we do not need him here because some of his colleagues did not come.  Let him do his job and then he goes after he has finished.”

The acting president Charumbira noted that the House was divided.

“I do not see that pattern changing, so you will all agree with me that these are just repetitions and it shows political dynamics of Parliament,” he said.

Nyamayabo Mashavakure, a senator representing people living with disabilities, said the minister should not go.

“...like what the honourable President has said, there is now a division of the House.

“However, I think the issue at stake here is not about the ruling party or opposition but what can our Standing Orders do in order to address this issue to ensure that those who are supposed to come and answer questions come and do so.

“We can divide the House and vote but when we come back, it will not be a solution because the Ministers will still not come.

“So, we need to see how we can address the issue to ensure that ministers come for Question Time and also to respond to motions,” Senator Mashavakure said.

Charumbira said: “I think we have a crisis which our administration and the presiding officers should look into so that the ministers can respond to all the motions.  They should come to respond to both Questions without Notice and Questions with Notice.

“I want to go back to the original proposer honourable Senator Komichi and thank him for that position.

“This is not what is expected of us by Zimbabweans.  We do not come here to simply talk for no purpose.

“So, we stand guided in future but clerk of Parliament, if there was a way of having a resolution or a motion adopted as Senate to ensure that we call upon ministers who do not come, somehow they are reprimanded in terms of the Standing Rules and Orders like we do for committees, contempt of Parliament, because a minister has gone for more than three times without coming to answer questions.”

He said a committee should be set up by Parliament to investigate why minister were bunking Parliament and responding to motions.

“.. I think finally we give the minister the floor.

“Those that want to raise questions with the minister are welcome and those who feel that we are over burdening him can withhold their questions for next time,” Charumbira said.

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