PARLIAMENTARY Portfolio and Thematic committees are pivotal in making the Executive accountable, and last week in Gweru during stakeholders meetings between the Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda and members of the public, he was put to task to explain how effective Parliament is in putting to check the Executive arm of government.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
As part of the institution’s constitutional mandate to take Parliament to the people, Mudenda, supported by the Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust (Sapst) on Thursday and Friday, visited the Midlands Province where he met civic society, journalists and the academia to discuss Parliament processes.
During his visit to the Midlands State University, Mudenda was asked to explain how efficient Parliamentary Portfolio Committees were, given that in most instances people had noted that their recommendations on reports they produce are never implemented by the Executive.
Mudenda singled out Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, as having taken recommendations by Parliament and implemented them.
“The Public Accounts committee is chaired by an opposition MP and they look at the Auditor General’s reports on certain government ministries and analyse them, and recently they came up with 18 recommendations directed at Chinamasa’s ministry,” he said.
“Chinamasa accepted all the 18 recommendations which then led to the revamping of his department in order to implement budgetary programmes, and he had to ask for an additional 10 members of staff, which he was given.”
Mudenda said Mphoko had listened to the wisdom of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC), and the people of Zimbabwe who aired their views on the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill in 2015, when it was first introduced in the House for crafting.
The Speaker said it was another example of the Executive choosing to implement recommendations by a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee.
“The NPRC Bill was rejected and there were 22 clauses that the PLC and the Justice committee said were against the Constitution. The result was that Mphoko came to Parliament and withdrew that Bill because of the work of the committee,”he said.
Mudenda said if Zimbabweans feel that a Bill is not properly done, they must not hesitate to take Parliament and the Executive to the Constitutional Court.
“The Local Government Bill was being crafted in the National Assembly, but civic society challenged the issue, saying the public hearings were not done and the matter is before the courts.”
In terms of Parliamentary Portfolio Committees input on Bills, Mudenda said committees made recommendations to amendments of 10 pieces of legislation.
“They also have raised issues on corruption, but it is not for committees to arrest corrupt people. They wait for the Executive to arrest, and then the Judiciary tries them to see if they are guilty,” he said.
Midlands State University (MSU)’s Media Studies department head, Nhamo Mhiripiri, asked the Speaker to explain why alignment of laws with the Constitution was taking too long, and to explain if it were political contestations in the country that were hindering alignment.
“So far 126 laws have been realigned and those outstanding are 228. The pace appears to be slow, but when you align laws you have to be meticulous in terms of provisions in the pieces of legislation, and cross referencing with the Constitution is an onerous task.”
Mudenda said Parliament has engaged the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) to do preliminary drafting and alignment exercises. He said Parliament signed a memorandum of understanding with the LSZ.
“They did 10 pieces of legislation with the Justice ministry, and eight with Parliament. There is no political contestation. We have also asked the Ministry of Justice to engage universities’ law faculties to assist with drafting,” he said.
Civic society and journalists also questioned the Speaker over public hearings — the violence normally experienced due to political intolerance at public hearings on Bills, and the role of MPs in disseminating information on Bills to their constituents.
Mudenda said members of the public must immediately notify Parliament of rogue elements that disrupt public hearings.
National Association of Non Governmental Organisations Midlands branch official Titus Mangoma asked the Speaker to explain why MPs walked out of motions they deemed attacking their political party resulting in lack of quorum. He also asked why there was absence of ministers during question and answer session.
“Absence of ministers is a worldwide phenomenon. Ministers that used to be MPs have a tendency that when they get promoted to ministers, they forget that first and foremost they are MPs. But we have whipped them by threatening them with contempt of Parliament and have written to the President about their behaviour and there is a significant improvement.
“No quorums are just political manoeuvres, where if a party feels a motion is attacking them they move out. The electorate must follow Parliament activities and if they find their MP is not performing they must petition Parliament,” he said.
Tawanda Sibanda of Gweru Ministers Fraternal said there were some MPs who have never reported back to their constituencies once voted into Parliament, adding the constitution needs to add a clause for the system of recall of a non-performing MP.
“During the Constitution-making process I was one of the people advocating for recall of non-performing MPs, unfortunately this was not supported and the phrase was not included in the Constitution. If an MP is not coming to address you, write a petition to the Speaker that the MP is missing,” Mudenda said.
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust executive director John Makamure said section 141 of the Constitution demands that the people of Zimbabwe must have a say in legislative processes.
Makamure said the Speakers’ Forums, where he goes out to meet different stakeholders were part of Parliament’s strategic plan to involve the people in the Legislature’s activities.