You overlooked us, MPs tell Speaker

HARARE - Female National Assembly members have accused Speaker Jacob Mudenda of “overlooking” them during heated debate on the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 1) Bill which, if signed by President Robert Mugabe, would restore powers to him to appoint the chief justice and judges.

Already the National Assembly has passed the controversial Bill.

In an open letter, MDC women legislators Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Nomathemba Ndlovu, Jasmine Toffa and Jessie Majome said Mudenda consistently overlooked women at the expense of Zanu PF and MDC male legislators during debate on the Bill in the National Assembly.

Mudenda could not be reached for comment yesterday and did not respond to questions sent to him.              

“We, the undersigned Members of Parliament, wish to express to you our utter disappointment with the manner in which you exercised your discretion as chair in preventing women members from speaking during the debate on Constitution Amendment No. 1 Bill on Tuesday July 25, 2015. We noted that you ruled that you would not entertain any points of order in refusing to recognise first . . . Misihairabwi-Mushonga, then . . . Majome but you proceeded to recognise (MDC vice president) Nelson Chamisa, who is a man.

“You maintained that position even when you were approached by the two honourable members at your chair, insisting that you knew in advance what they intended to say which amounts to prejudice,”  the MPs wrote in their joint letter to Mudenda.

“You proceeded to refuse to recognise . . . Toffa and . . . Ndlovu but proceeded to repeatedly recognise Chamisa, Temba Mliswa (Independent MP) and (MDC MP) Innocent Gonese, who are all men.

“Even the Hansard of July 25, 2017 (Vol. 43 No. 78) invisibilised and anonymised women MPs as it totally left out honourable members Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Ndlovu and Majome’s sustained point of order interjections, only honourable Toffa is recorded as having raised a point of order,” they further complained.

They added that they were not happy “at being discriminated against on the basis of our gender, being equally members of Parliament who must also enjoy the right to hold office as guaranteed by Section 67 of the Constitution as read with Section 56”.

“Women also have views that are valuable to it and should not be dismissed as predictable. As women MPs, we find it unfair to be deprived of audience in Parliament yet are often subjected to public criticism for allegedly not speaking in Parliament,” the quartet added.

The draft Bill has been sent to Mugabe for his assent and signature.

Once assented to and signed by Mugabe, the Bill will have to be published in the Government Gazette as an Act of Parliament.  Only then will it become law.

In the new law, Mugabe would be given powers to appoint the chief justice, deputy chief justice and judge president of the High Court of his choice whenever there are vacancies for such posts.

The amended section in the new Constitution had taken away those powers by opening up the selection process to the public by empowering the Judicial Service Commission to hold public interviews where it would then draw up a shortlist to be presented to Mugabe for appointment, based on merit.

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