Legislators letting down electorate
CHIVI South MP Charles Majange this week identified a major flaw in the country’s lawmaking process by his ruling Zanu PF party.
In a televised interview with Newsnet on Monday, Maj
ange said it was important for leaders to go to the people to explain proposed changes in policy and legislation, instead of MPs encountering Bills at party caucus meetings.
Majange was speaking on the sidelines of a Zanu PF caucus meeting at which President Mugabe warned that legislators who do not visit their constituencies regularly should not cry foul when they are rejected by voters in next year’s election.
Just five months before the end of their parliamentary term, Zanu PF legislators are being reminded of what they should have been doing during the past four years.
It would be transcending uncharted plains of optimism to assume that Majange’s comment on Monday would result in a sudden policy change in Zanu PF. It is not the first time that we have heard complaints of legislation being bulldozed through parliament without national brainstorming. In fact, the legislature has in the past been accused of rubberstamping executive fiat.
The fact that the comment is coming from a Zanu PF MP makes it a serious indictment of the party. The process of lawmaking has become a preserve of a few hawks seeking to advance personal agendas in the name of nationalism or patriotism. Lately, there has been a new form of psychosis among ministers presenting intended laws to parliament or those speaking on policy issues.
Legislation is being passed to correct colonial imbalances — 24 years later — and to form a buffer against imperialist forces embodied by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as a front for Britain and the United States.
That has become a major inspiration for pushing through repressive legislation such as the NGOs Bill or purported amendments to a wicked law like the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa). The raison d étre for making laws in the interest of the people has been sorely perverted and the representative role of parliamentarians compromised.
Responding to questions in parliament on the opening of airwaves to opposition parties two weeks ago, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa openly advertised this notion. He said government was not “stupid” to allow the MDC access to the state-controlled media. He said doing so would enable the opposition party to propagate British and American propaganda to “effect an illegal regime change against a popularly-elected government”.
This notwithstanding the fact that Sadc principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, among other provisions, stress the need for political tolerance and bids member states to allow all political parties equal access to the public media.
In short, government is not “stupid” to abide by tenets endorsed by President Mugabe in Grande Baie, Mauritius.
It therefore follows that the agitation for legislative amendments, repealing of laws and promulgation of new legislation, are not coming from legislators, let alone voters. There is a more compelling need — to consolidate political hegemony.
As Majange pointed out, there should be broader consultation before a bill is presented to parliament. The role of the MP in such a scenario is to explain to the electorate the laws government is bringing to parliament. The MP’s contribution to debate on legislation should therefore be informed by the popular will and not the interests of a few ministers.
But our MPs are apparently unaware of this simple legislative role. The results are obvious. Retrogressive and tyrannical bills have over the past four years been brought to parliament where MPs — some of them too ignorant to know what is going on — have voted them through. This has fuelled authoritarianism — adults nodding through repressive laws as long as that enables them to secure a vantage position on the feeding trough!
We have heard Zanu PF MPs in far-flung rural constituencies complaining that they do not get adequate media coverage. Do they know that part of the explanation is because they blindly passed Aippa and the Broadcasting Services Act? The electorate has deliberately been kept ignorant of laws being passed. This is not surprising.
At various workshops and seminars, certain MPs have not made any attempt to disguise their little knowledge of laws and how they affect their constituents.
One MP at a parliamentary seminar in Kariba recently, summed up his role this way: “I have to win the election, that’s first and foremost.” He is not alone in this mindset.
It was therefore not surprising that only a handful of Zanu PF MPs were in the House on Tuesday when Information minister Jonathan Moyo was trying to hoodwink the nation that the proposed amendments to Aippa were in the spirit of the Sadc electoral protocol. Zanu PF MPs do not need to follow debate on a bill. They will be whipped into line and vote for the legislation when time is right. They are the vanguard of repression.