Of mute MPs, disservice to their constituencies
DURING the countdown to the 2018 harmonised elections, most parliamentary aspirants articulated their manifestos with aplomb in front of thousands of supporters at rallies, but the dexterity and linguistic acrobatics they displayed at the time has somehow vanished after they were sworn in as legislators.
One is left wondering if it is down to difficulties in mastering the Queen’s language or lack of confidence in the august House that boasts a number of erudite members.
A microscopic look at the country’s Constitution and how the Parliament of Zimbabwe operates shows that there are 16 official languages permissible in the House.
A member can rise to table a motion, a matter of national importance, ask a question or provide information on a pertinent matter in any of the official languages. Language, certainly cannot be a barrier!
Parliamentarians may also stand on the floor to raise a point of privilege or point of order in addition to contributing to the debate on the floor.
But alas, despite all these platforms available to the legislators, some of them have barely uttered a word in the House since elections almost two years ago.
Others have only made maiden speeches, and only get animated in the chamber when jeering at rival party MPs or clapping for fellow lawmakers.
This has not gone unnoticed!
Jacob Mudenda, the Speaker of the National Assembly, once warned mute MPs that there was no place for bench warmers in Parliament — a place where laws are promulgated or abrogated.
It is also a chamber elected officials from 210 constituencies across the country play a representative role as defined by the Constitution.
Mudenda, a lawyer by profession, last year bemoaned the lethargic MPs’ preparations for Parliament business.
“I wish to express my concern at the apparent lack of preparedness for the business of the day by members when there are several platforms for them to access information on the business of the House before the sitting.
“These include the Order Paper itself, the Parliament website www.parlzim.gov.zw, Veritas and Open Parly websites. Members are reminded to take their work seriously by being always ready to debate on all items on the Order Paper.
“The apathy that obtained during yesterday’s sitting is totally unacceptable as it is anathema to the taxpayer and the people of Zimbabwe from whom we draw authority to be in this august House and receive some remuneration which we must deserve,” fumed Mudenda.
Both parties in Parliament — the ruling Zanu PF and the MDC — have their mute brigades.
From Zanu PF, some of the legislators who have barely uttered a word include MP for Gutu East Berita Chikwama, Newton Kachepa (Mudzi North), Patrick Chidhakwa (Marondera East), Chido Madiwa (Mutasa North), former Cabinet minister Supa Mandiwanzira (Nyanga South), Norman Marikisi (Mount Darwin East), Precious Masango (Mhangura), Ephraim Gwanongodza (Chivi Central), Tavengwa Mukuhlane (Mhondoro-Ngezi), Denford Masiya (Chiredzi East), Albert Ngulube (Beitbridge East), Edmond Mhere (Masvingo Central), Joosbi Omar (Mwenezi East), Tongai Mnangagwa (Harare South) and Prosper Machando (Chirumhanzi-Zibagwe).
From the opposition MDC party, Unganai Tarusenga (St Marys), Peter Matarutse (Chinhoyi), Wesley Tose Sansole (Hwange East), Machirairwa Mugidho (Masvingo proportional representation), Jane Nicola Watson (Bulawayo Central), John Roland Houghton (Kariba), Peter Moyo (Southerton), Charles Moyo (Mpopoma) and Dorcas Sibanda (Proportional), among others, rarely utter a word.
Mudenda has threatened to name and shame MPs who come to the House just to register their presence.
“In the House it’s very easy, we will carry out an audit, those who remain silent perpetually, we will advise the respective political parties because you are not representing the interests of that party. You are there, just there keeping quiet.
“So, in committees, it’s the same, tell me who is giving problems, tell me who is perpetually absent, and tell us! You have a register, if you read the rules they clearly tell you that there must be an attendance register. We must do self-cleaning,” Mudenda fumed.
According to parliamentary records, most of the MPs listed above and others not mentioned either made very few and negligible contributions or did not utter a single word.
In the Senate, while the majority of members make attempts at participation, it is the quality of their contribution that has been a major cause for concern.
There is evidence of a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the economic and political situation in the country, resulting in most senators exhibiting glaring failure to argue and articulate on important Bills which come before them.
The Senate thus lacks vibrancy and on various occasions rubber stamp what is passed by the National Assembly.
Some of the senators who make little contributions are Zanu PF’s Sydney Sekeremayi (Mashonaland East), Joseph Chirongoma (Mashonaland West), Alma Mkhwebu (Matabeleland South), Otilia Maluleke, Molly Ndlovu (Bulawayo), Clara Shumba (Masvingo), Rejoice Timire, MDC’s Rosemary Nyathi, Christine Rambanepasi and Helen Zivira, MDC-T’s Mildred Reason Dube, Chief Enias Mapungwana, Chief Themba Mathuthu and Chief Abel Mbasera ( Chundu).
Parliamentarians are required to perform three basic functions — legislative (lawmaking), representative and oversight.
It is noteworthy though that while some MPs are seemingly inactive during normal sittings, some tend to come to life during committees where the majority of the oversight role is played.
While there has been widespread criticism over the other two roles — legislative and representative — not much has been said about the oversight function, despite it being just as equally important as the other two.