HARARE – Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has implored the National Assembly to get tough on ministers who abscond Parliament.
Questions of national importance posed during Parliament’s question and answer session are going unanswered due to the non-appearance and in some cases, late arrival of cabinet ministers.
The sessions, held every Wednesday, consist of questions with and without notice, generally covering any issues under a particular minister’s jurisdiction.
“In Zimbabwe, there is no specific law that sanctions ministers who fail to honour their parliamentary obligations,” Mnangagwa told legislators on Wednesday. “I believe that it is high time we had one.”
He said the new constitution provided that all ministers should attend to National Assembly business. The proposal comes as parliamentary questions — one of the most important accountability tools at an MP’s disposal — are increasingly treated with contempt by ministers.
Mnangagwa said there was no mechanism in place to enforce the constitutional clause.
“Section 107 of the new Constitution specifically provides that every minister and deputy minister must attend Parliament and parliamentary committees in order to answer questions concerning matters for which he or she is collectively or individually responsible,” Mnangagwa said.
“While the doctrine is a constitutional convention, there is no formal mechanism for enforcing the rule. The constitution does not state the sanction to be imposed on those who fail to do so because it is the work of the legislature to come up with such or provide a ministerial code of conduct which will be binding on all ministers and encourage them to conform to some standards. In our parliament system, it is not easy to hold individual ministers to account.”
The minister cited countries that had ministerial codes of conduct.
“For this to be operational, parliament should make a law or come up with a code of conduct for ministers like in other jurisdictions such as Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand,” Mnangagwa said.
“Other jurisdictions have ministerial codes of conduct that clearly state the ministers must comply with the codes of conduct for their respective houses and they may be subjected to sanctions and penalties for failing to do so. In Zambia, they have what is called the parliamentary and ministerial code and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act, chapter 16.”
Parliament’s question and answer time generally reveals how a minister is well versed with issues under his or her portfolio, judging by the way he or she tackles questions posed.
Jacob Mudenda, speaker of the National Assembly, in July read the riot act to government ministers and their deputies who bunk parliament.
“The chair would, therefore, like to serve notice to all honourable ministers and deputy ministers that the house will not allow this situation where some of them neglect their parliamentary duties to continue unabated,” Mudenda said.
Observers say the planned interventions will go a long way in stopping question-dodging and restore parliament’s central role in holding the executive to account. Currently, Parliament has been reduced to a rubber stamp of executive decisions.