MPs paying lip service to electorate

Ruth Butaumocho Managing Editor
Growing up in the high-density suburb of Mufakose, more than two decades ago, life was a potpourri of events.

Seemingly with no form of entertainment to fill up the mundane township life, we spent most our formative years, dreaming about fast cars and big offices.

As secondary education opened our minds to the socio-economic and social issues of Zimbabwe and its special place in the southern region, we began to map our career choices, naturally inspired by our neighbourhood heroines and heroes.

As a young girl I would huddle around a small battery-operated black and white TV, watching news reports of well-attended political rallies, which would eventually built up to elections.

I remember vividly the 1990 election which ushered in Cde Sabina Thembani as the Member of Parliament for Mufakose representing the ruling Zanu-PF.

Her victory was a significant and enduring moment for me — not because she was the first female MP I had seen at a close range, but because of the palpable realisation that she would actually be joining the august House, a revered platform of ideas and discourses that shapes the national discourse, while giving an insight into the nation’s aspirations.

With little exposure to what was happening beyond the borders of Zimbabwe, we would read about the Parliament debates from old newspapers, and also get titbits from current affairs programmes on radio. These discussions in Parliament became the rallying point for our school debates during our high school years.

And naturally legislators from different constituencies became our local heroes and heroines, a dream most of us aspired to achieve later in life. What the MPs lacked in academic qualifications, they obviously compensated in good moral behaviour, love for their people, political astuteness and maturity. Regular visits they made to their varied constituencies to fulfil their obligations to represent the electorate endeared them to the people.

The finesse in the women and men elected into power — from the two major political parties, the ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change — was distinct in the robust and mature debates they held in the august House.

So stupendous were the activities and level of engagement in Parliament that it was the proper thing to add the honorific “Honourable” to these high-flying MPs.

Suffice to say, my heart bleeds when I look at the current crop of MPs that sit in the august House.

Apart for their rouble-rousing attitudes that have reduced meaningful parliamentary sitting’ to charlatanic “allowance earning” escapades, the majority of MPs have been disappointing, to say the least.

They have become imbued about self-aggrandisement, demanding off-road terrain cars, and review of sitting and living allowances, while ignoring the prevailing economic environment that has adversely affected their electorate.

Their ferocious appetite for fine dining, at a time the Government is calling for austerityby everyone, smacks of sheer hypocrisy and insensitiveness, considering that the people who elected them into power have less of what they are clamouring for.

This indifferent attitude has not gone unnoticed by the Speaker of Parliament, Advocate Jacob Mudenda, who recently expressed his disappointment at the level of engagement in the House on economic issues.

Speaking at the CEO roundtable in Victoria Falls in February this year, Adv Mudenda had no kind words for the current crop of MPs’ economic literacy rate, which he said was shockingly low, something which deters them from contributing positively to the national dialogue processes.

“Most of them are not good material for dialogue processes. I once asked what a budget is, and very few understood it. I was shocked. So, these are the people I was given by the Constitution into Parliament and it is sad issue because they lack intellectual capacity. The Constitution of Zimbabwe allows them to be Members of Parliament, because it only asks for one to be above the age of 21, a registered voter, among the qualifications,” he added.

This probably explains why instead of focusing on issues besetting the electorate, they spend time berating and chastising each other on morality issues, instead of focusing on progressive discourse that touches on people’s lives.

Every Wednesday when the National Assembly sits, the first session is dedicated to questions without notice and written ones. In the Senate, that session is slated for Thursday when the Upper House sits. This presents an opportunity for backbenchers (MPs who are not ministers) to ask ministers questions on a number of issues that may be affecting their constituencies or the country at large.

Sadly, the majority of MPs have since developed a tendency to bunk these critical sessions.

The electorate is livid over this tendency which does not only defy protocol and the checks and balances that go with a democracy like Zimbabwe but also smacks of something between cowardice and outright contempt.

Speakers of Parliament have over the years read the riot act to errant MPS but to no avail. This obviously raises questions of whether the parliamentarians consider Parliament as an autonomous pillar of the State or just a junior partner in governance whose relevance comes only when they want them to rubber stamp Bills or protocols?

Currently, the Government is in an economic transitional stabilisation mode to bring the economy back on track, following a long hiatus. The period requires engagement at all levels and Parliament is the ideal nexus between Government and the people, where discussions are held in earnest for the good of the nation.

It would be folly, and highly mischievous for anyone to disregard such an institutions that purveys the platform of ideas and discourses that shapes the national discourse, while giving an insight on the nation’s aspirations.

Errant, greedy and highly mischievous and outright dishonest MPs therefore need to be reminded that their actions are not only retrogressive, an albatross to development but are also in breach of the very same Constitution under which they were elected into office.

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