MPs behaviour under spotlight

HARARE - Absenteeism and unruly behaviour often characterised most sessions in the National Assembly, reducing the respectable House to a circus.

In most cases, the legislative assembly will be full during the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)’s live coverage of the question and answer session on Wednesdays. But immediately after that, most Members of Parliament (MPS) will troop out of the chambers.

On several occasions, debate in Parliament has had to be adjourned because the numbers would have been depleted to the point of failing to reach a quorum.

According to Standing Order Number 56, a parliamentary quorum requires at least 71 MPs, which should never be a tall order considering that the new Constitution increased the number of legislators from 210 members to 270. The unity government of between 2009 and 2013 also agreed to create an extra 60 seats for women.

Recently, the deputy speaker of Parliament, Mabel Chinomona, was forced to issue a stern warning against absenteeism and unruly behaviour during debates.

“I think members should know that they are representing the taxpayers who are very much disappointed with what is happening in this august House,” she said.

“It is sad that we can have two days of no quorum, but we are being paid by their tax.”

Last year, Kuwadzana East MP Nelson Chamisa suggested that ZBC’s television cameras should continue rolling throughout debates to curtail absenteeism.

“I want our Parliament, if it were possible, to be able to consider the issue of coverage of parliamentary debates be done 24 hours per day as the case in other countries like South Africa and Kenya,” he said as a point of order.

“I am raising a point of order, because once the live coverage ends, people leave this Chamber,” he added.

Chamisa said most lawmakers were no longer treating Parliament business with the respect that it deserves.

As far as most of the legislators are concerned, Chamisa said parliamentary business was only taken seriously when there are live television broadcasts.

“We should not only be in the House when ZBC is in the House. When ZBC leaves, we should also (continue to) debate. The majority of the MPs have left the chamber, I do not know if they are seeing off the ZBC crew to Pockets Hill or maybe this is just a bad practice that we now have,” said Chamisa.

Analysts canvassed by the Daily News on Sunday said legislators needed proper grooming to enable them to fully appreciate their role as one of the three arms of the State, after the Executive and the Legislature.

Political analyst, Maxwell Saungweme, said it was unfortunate that most of the legislators are career politicians who see Parliament as an employer.

“But they are either very incompetent or don’t even know what Parliament should do. They sleep in Parliament or they waste time discussing useless stuff that waste time, for instance getting bogged down in issues such as so and so is not circumcised. Only a handful discuss sense in that house,” said Saungweme.

He said the country needs to have a proper grooming regimen for new lawmakers to help them understand the issues they should be focusing on in Parliament.

“They need a briefing on what community development is, what policy issues are etc for them to debate sense. It’s not even about education. Most of those with degrees also discuss nonsense in that House or pass useless motions. They need grooming,” opined Saungweme.

Shakespear Hamauswa, another analyst, said to bring about maturity in the august House there should be age limits for legislators.

“I think, the behaviour is unfortunate and we should have age limits to the MPs. There is no need to have MPs who are above the 70 years. Those absconding can be dealt with through regulations but it looks like the current regulations are weak and have loopholes that can be exploited,” said Hamauswa.

“The political attitude should also change and there is need for citizens to vote for people who have shown seriousness in Parliament. Minimum educational requirements can also help to have serious legislators,” he added.

The Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SARST) is of a different view.

SARST executive director, John Makamure, believes that the MPs are actually doing a great job.

He said for the first time, Parliament managed to influence significant changes to the 2017 and 2018 national budgets and has moved on from rubber-stamping the budget as before.

The National Assembly has also developed quarterly budget performance and reporting guidelines that are now being used extensively by portfolio committees to monitor and track implementation of the budget in line with provisions of the Public Finance Management Act that require ministries to report to relevant portfolio committees on a quarterly and month basis.

He said Parliament also managed to amend several bills that came before the House, thanks to public hearings that were conducted.

“Examples are the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill; National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill; the Electoral Amendment Bill; Public Debt Management.

“Parliament has fully opened up its proceedings to the public and media in line with section 141 of the Constitution. Petitions are now flooding Parliament in fulfilment of section 149 of the Constitution.

“Motions and questions posed during question time are of pertinent public interest. Participation of women MPs in parliamentary proceedings has significantly improved.

“Areas for improvement are as follows: Better publicity of the public hearings. More members should contribute to debate. Committees must conclude their inquiries so that the responsible ministers respond within time frames stipulated in the standing orders,” said Makamure.

 

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