Critical to rein in errant ministers

Zvamaida Murwira Senior Reporter
Parliament should assert its authority on members of the Executive who fail to come to the august House to respond to questions and motions raised by backbenchers on behalf of the electorate.

Mr Speaker Sir, complaints have been raised for a long time that Cabinet ministers should attend Question Time every Wednesday in respect of the National Assembly and Thursdays for the Senate.

Last week, Mr Speaker Sir, you expressed the same concerns that some members of the Executive are not fully discharging their obligations to attend Parliament to respond to questions during your interaction with ministers and their deputies.

That engagement with Cabinet ministers and their deputies last week should be used as a basis for enhanced cooperation between the Legislature and the Executive.

Question Time in both the National Assembly and Senate is now characterised by complaints from backbenchers about the absence of Government ministers to field questions.

While it is also true that some backbenchers are truant in that they rarely attend sittings or just make cameo appearances in the Chamber, it has to be emphasised that members of the Executive have an obligation to attend Parliament.

Mr Speaker Sir, you were spot on last week during the induction workshop when you said Cabinet ministers were duty-bound to fulfil the legislative agenda laid out by President Mnangagwa when he delivered the State of the Nation Address during the official opening of the First Session of the Ninth Parliament three weeks ago.

During the induction workshop you said the following: “I wish to allude to the fundamental fact that during the subsistence of the Eighth Parliament, certain omissions which were in dissonance with the law were observed, particularly the non-attendance to parliamentary business by certain ministers.

“In this context, it is imperative that we find common ground if Zimbabwe is to enhance and sustain the democratic governance trajectory envisioned by President Mnangagwa.”

You went on to implore Cabinet ministers to prioritise parliamentary business, saying in doing so the ministers would be fulfilling the mandate that was bestowed on them by the electorate.

It ought to be mentioned that attending to Question Time, while appreciated, might not be enough if ministers do not respond to questions with notice that would be on the order paper.

Mr Speaker Sir, an observation has been made that some questions are on the order paper for several weeks without being responded to by the relevant minister.

That should not be accepted Mr Speaker Sir as it is not tenable.

It is common knowledge that questions with notice are those that would have been given to a minister in advance to allow him or her to make necessary research since they would be specific and not of a policy nature.

In order to curb unreasonable delays in responding to such questions, Mr Speaker Sir, there must be a prescribed period within which a question with notice should be on the order paper without being responded to.

If for example, a question goes for one month without being attended to, the relevant minister should be summoned by a committee set up for that purpose, which of course should be constituted by chief whips, among other members.

Another thorny issue is non-compliance with Standing Orders that a minister or deputy minister should make apologies if he or she is unable to attend Parliament for one reason or the other.

Mutare Central Member of Parliament, Mr Innocent Gonese (MDC Alliance), is one such legislator who has often raised concerns on the unavailability of ministers during Question Time in the last Parliament.

While the last part of the Eight Parliament saw ministers eventually taking heed of that requirement, there seemed to be no full compliance with those rules.

It is therefore incumbent, Mr Speaker Sir, that members of the Executive seek leave of absence in terms of the rules and that should be read out in the Chamber as had become the tradition during the last stages of the last Parliament.

The other issue is that ministers should respond to motions that would have been raised during debates.

Portfolio and Thematic committee reports are not responded to by the relevant ministers.

The reports would have raised several grey areas and concerns in respect of an issue that falls within the purview of a given minister that would be crying out for a response.

It is imperative, Mr Speaker Sir, that measures be put in place to ensure compliance with Standing Orders in respect of that provision.

In addition, Cabinet ministers should cause their ministries to submit regualr financial returns to Parliament in terms of the Public Finance and Management Act.

The law is very clear in respect of that legal requirement which is meant to enhance transparency and accountability.

You will reckon, Mr Speaker Sir, that in terms of the Public Finance and Management Act Ministries should make, at the very least, quarterly returns to Parliament outlining how they would have utilised their budget.

This allows legislators to interrogate the reports as part of measures to enhance accountability.

That is one other area that the Ninth Parliament ought to pursue vigorously if the objectives of the Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa are to be achieved.

The final aspect, Mr Speaker Sir, that the electorate will be on the lookout for, is the presentation of the 29 Bills outlined by President Mnangagwa as you correctly pointed out during the induction workshop.

Inasmuch as it is appreciated that there is need for comprehensive preparation before the 29 Bills can be tabled, the expectation is that some of them should be tabled in the near future to show commitment to fulfilling the legislative agenda.

It is therefore hoped that there will be synergies between the Executive and the Legislature that should help the country achieve its national objectives.

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