The Death of a Peoples Parliament

By John Chimunhu

Now Daily Analysis

  • Soldiers guard parliament, people watch from the sidelines

If anyone seriously expects Zimbabwean democracy to flourish from the hallowed halls of parliament, then they are seriously misguided or even confused.

The present parliament is probably the worst that Zimbabwe has had since 2000 when multi-party politics became entrenched with the arrival of the Movement for Democratic Change. Not only do we have a control-freak speaker of the National Assembly, the Zanu PF de facto chairman Jacob Mudenda, who treats MPs like kindergarten kids who need constant hand-holding. We also have legislators with no democratic agenda, who spend most of their time waffling, if they are not crying for perks equal to those of cabinet ministers.

Last week an inordinate amount of time was spent on jokes about the quail bird, a diversion created by the Zanu PF propaganda machine to divert people’s attention from the economic collapse that is now all too evident due to the present currency crisis.

We are told that the main functions of MPs are to represent the people, make laws and to provide oversight over the executive. The present parliament has failed dismally on all counts.

All Zimbabweans are agreed that they never see enough of their elected or unelected representatives in their constituencies. When they are not wining and dining in Harare or at endless workshops, most MPs are out there doing the bidding of their parties, not consulting the people on a non-partisan basis. The few MPs who call for dialogue usually only do so to safeguard their party positions. The meetings are superintended by party thugs who ensure that people of different viewpoints do not have a voice.

I never forget the example set by former Harare North MP Trudy Stevenson. Stevenson’s constituency office was at Mount Pleasant hall. She allocated three evenings each week to spend time listening to the concerns of her constituents. Just listening, not necessarily resolving anything, but just paying attention to the issues. Bookings to see the MP were on a ‘first come first serve’ basis regardless of political affiliation. That system worked not because Stevenson was better paid than other MPs. It was her personal decision to serve the people and that could only be done by sitting in that office hearing them out.

Today, there are no offices in most constituencies because parliament claims not to have money for rentals. And yet we have numerous government buildings in every district that can be used as offices for MPs. The reason why most MPs prefer to conduct business from their homes is in order to limit the number of visitors and thereby lessen their workload. So, why were they elected? Many of the MPs claim they cannot visit their constituents because of fuel. That is a lie. MPs get fuel coupons which they resell. That is a fact admitted openly in the assembly by the MDC’s Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga.

Even if the constituency office is not working, dedicated MPs like Fungai Jessie Majome are making very good strides to pass information to the public via social media. Yet some MPs do not even have an e-mail address, website or public social media account where people can send messages. How do they communicate? They want people to come to their party rallies, where they will be attacked by their thugs for ‘saying the wrong things’. That’s not on.

CONSTITUTION

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Since the new constitution was passed in 2013, very little has been done to make Zimbabweans enjoy its limited benefits. In fact, by now the constitution should have been exposed to the rigours of the legal system and we should be talking in terms of amending it to make it more democratic because the present document has so many loopholes. In any case, the MDC-T promised in 2013 that if people passed the obviously defective Amendment Number 20, we would have an opportunity soon afterwards to change it and make it a usable document with a human face. This has not happened and the people have every right to be offended for being taken for a ride by politicians.

The reason why the ‘alignment’ process is taking so long is not that there is no money to do the job, as claimed incorrectly by justice minister and vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa. The reason is that MPs, especially cabinet ministers are never there to do the work. Most cabinet ministers choose not to attend parliament unless they want something rubberstamped by our pliant legislators. This laziness has permeated the whole system, right down to the lowest civil servant. Recently, we have had numerous instances where parliament adjourns before finishing the business of the day because there is no quorum.

The senate is notorious for early adjournments. Just last week, the senate adjourned after sitting for only 31 minutes. In fact, it was going to be twenty minutes, until one senator stood up to debate, just to push time. The senate president Edna Madzongwe doesn’t seem to care that there is such a huge backlog of motions and debates and that taxpayers are paying millions to house hundreds of our so-called representatives in five-star hotels.

The quality of debates and presentations in the senate is shockingly poor. There is more verve and more purpose in the National Assembly than in the upper house. The reason for this is apparent. All senators were not elected by the people. They were appointed by the two dominant political parties, Zanu PF and MDC-T on grounds that were less than transparent. For that reason most senators feel that they are not accountable to anyone but their party leaders. The amount of ignorance in the upper house is horrifying. For example, the MDC-T chief whip Sithembile Mlotshwa shocked the public recently when, after being a legislator for nearly three years, she asked what a maiden speech was!

SHODDY DEBATES

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Zimbabwe may be said to have a democratic parliament because most MPs are ‘elected’. But does it have a peoples’ parliament? No.

Why do we say so? A peoples’ parliament follows the people agenda, not the government agenda. Typical of all dictatorships, in Zimbabwe’s case, people are supposed to do what the government wants, not what they can to improve their lives. The executive is accountable to parliament in name only.

We can blame Robert Mugabe’s brutality for this state of affairs. But the robust debates and probing that have happened in the past happened while the dictator was in power.

No-one will forget the parliament of 2000, with the likes of Learnmore Judah Jongwe, David Coltart and Welshaman Ncube excelling in keeping the regime on its toes. Even some Zanu PF MPs like Eddison Zvobgo and Margaret Dongo were more dedicated in demanding accountability under very harsh conditions than some of the present crop of lackadaisical opposition MPs, whose business is just to shuffle and complain about allowances and demand diplomatic passports which they need for going shopping abroad like Mugabe.

The public accounts committee of parliament, even under Zanu PF’s one party system had a reputation for demanding answers from ministers, especially with regard to reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Today, how many MPs even bother to read those reports? Despite exposing corruption in detail, the auditor’s reports are never read by most legislators. How can you have oversight over something that you do not know?

Mugabe thrives by abusing parliament. He gets them to approve his budget then refuses to submit his expenses for audit. Our ignorant MPs do not know that just by that act of failure, they have become part of the corruption wreaking havoc on Zimbabweans. Many MPs are good at highlighting the problems and asking for answers from ministers, yet cannot use the legislative power in their hands to make a change. Such MPs should not be surprised when the people vote against them at the next election.

The job of an MP in a democracy, which is also the job of every political party, is not to dish out goodies at rallies. The major task of our representatives is to inform us, the people, about what is going on in government, about the opportunities that we can take advantage of to improve our lives.

The current crop of MPs leaves a lot to be desired. Most debates are based on shocking ignorance. There is no credible research. Most legislators are too busy surfing the internet for new cars, new shoes and new wigs. If they spent half the time doing the jobs for which they are so well paid, Zimbabwe would be a prosperous country even under this harsh political system. China does not have democracy but its economy prospered largely because they had people doing the right things, even for wrong reasons.

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