HARARE – New Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Happyton Bonyongwe (pictured) had a baptism of fire in the National Assembly yesterday.
Along with other new ministers in President Robert Mugabe’s bloated Cabinet, the former director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) had a torrid time, trying to respond to questions from Members of Parliament who had a field day in Parliament.
As Justice minister, Bonyongwe is supposed to be the leader of government business in the House. This is, however, still to be made official.
Bonyongwe will take over from Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who was removed from the portfolio last week.
While still trying to learn the ropes, Bonyongwe had to learn the hard way as fellow lawmakers bombarded him with difficult questions yesterday.
MDC Glen View North Member of Parliament Fani Munengami opened the floodgates when he demanded to know who the leader of the House was since Mnangagwa had just been dethroned as Justice minister.
“We had a very good relationship with Honourable . . . Mnangagwa, but we would want to know who do we direct our questions to,” enquired Munengami, in jest.
Deputy Speaker of the House Mabel Chinomona retorted: “It’s going to be announced by the president but another duty of the Justice minister is to be the leader of government business in the House”.
For now, according to Chinomona, MPs could direct their questions to Mnangagwa.
More drama followed as MDC Binga North MP Prince Dubeko Sibanda directed another question to Bonyongwe in his capacity as director-general of the CIO.
He had Chinomona to thank after the deputy Speaker quickly came to his rescue.
“We don’t have the director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation in the House,” she bellowed, amid remonstrations from a section of parliamentarians.
“Honourable Member you are out of order,” she added.
Tempers continued to flare with Zanu PF Harare South MP Shadreck Mashayamombe frothing in the mouth, as he vehemently objected to Dubeko’s line of questioning.
Mashayamombe pleaded to be recognised by Chinomona on a point of order but was denied.
The ruling party’s Bikita South MP Jappy Jaboon also remonstrated that there were no CIOs in the House.
Zanu PF Chief Whip Lovemore Matuke failed to quell tempers.
It took Mnangagwa to cool down tempers that threatened to spill over.
He said: “The composition of this House (is such that) we do not have the director of CIO. You cannot ask the question (in here). He (Dubeko) can write to the Office of the President”.
Bonyongwe had to cast a wry smile amid an avalanche of questions.
During the session, he also stood to answer a question on the Biometric Voter Registration exercise as members wanted to inquire on what appears to be voter apathy in the face of inadequate voter education.
And as he attempted to respond to the question, he was advised by Chinomona to stick to one language for the purposes of Hansard recordings.
He urged Zimbabweans to register to vote, adding that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was doing all it could to educate voters.
The new ministers’ nightmares were not done yet as Zanu PF Hurungwe East MP Sarah Mahoka stood to enquire from new Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu on government policy towards rape victims before evidence is destroyed.
Mpofu pleaded for more time to allow “handover-takeover” procedure.
At that point, independent Norton legislator Temba Mliswa rose on a point of order, saying there was no time to wait for familiarisation processes of Cabinet ministers while the economy implodes.
“Ministers should not wait for a handover and takeover procedure, another reshuffle may happen while they are waiting for that,” he said.
New Finance minister Ignatius Chombo was also at the end of some abusive chirping from legislators as he rose to answer a question on what government was doing to address the high taxes that are making fuel unaffordable for many.
This came after it was asked why Zimbabwe continues to have the highest fuel prices in the southern African region despite getting the fuel from the same source as the neighbouring countries.
As he stood, lawmakers jeered, shouting “kupinza gonzo mudura (putting the rat into the grain store)”.
Chombo, however, remained composed, informing members that ongoing budget consultations would address their concerns.
Guns were also turned on Industry and Commerce minister Mike Bimha with regards to what government was doing to address the price hikes.