HomeOpinionWhere is parliament, Mr Speaker Sir?

Where is parliament, Mr Speaker Sir?

THE speech by President Robert Mugabe at the opening of parliament on Tuesday was uninspiring, not least because the president rarely changes the tone of these types of addresses to parliament and they have been far too many for one to recall how they are supposed to be different in the first place. 

The only peculiar trait of this speech was that it was his third after the formation of the inclusive government in February 2009. On the first occasion parliament was hostile because of the slim majority the MDC had over Zanu PF. On the second occasion, the tension was not as apparent as on the first, and on the third, the tension did not exist at all.

If I was a foreigner I would have easily got the impression that parliament and the executive branches of government are functioning almost in unison or at least with mutual respect.

The truth of the matter is that parliament, within the context of both the inclusive government and the Global Political Agreement has now clearly gone back to the institution of old, an institution that merely rubber-stamped the wishes of the executive.

One might be quick to ask the question of whether or not it had changed anyway, and a reply to that would be that indeed the change in its composition would have led many to expect a different culture around the way parliament functions.

The seventh parliament of Zimbabwe, in listening for a third time to the speech by Mugabe even before having fully debated the previous two speeches, seems to serve no other purpose than that of being a doormat of the executive.

This may sound harsh or, in the lingo of the Parliamentary Standing Rules and Orders, “unparliamentary”, but it should be said. And not because of Mugabe’s unquestioned speech at the opening of the third session of the seventh parliament.

In fact a number of successive defeats of parliament by the executive point to this truth.  The subordination of parliament within the context of the inclusive government began with Constitutional Amendment Number 19 which brought into being an ineffective prime ministership which in any event rarely interacts with the august house. The second was the process of the appointment of the commissioners for various statutory bodies by the Standing Rules and Orders Committee, whose interview results were never followed by the executive.

The third was the formation of the parliamentary committee in charge of the constitutional process, Copac, wherein the authority of the Speaker was deliberately undermined by the overarching influence of the management committee. The latter has compromised any semblance of independence in the work of that particular select committee, or the Speaker’s office.  To this day, the parliament is now more subordinate to the management committee’s arrangement with United Nations Development Programme than it is fulfilling its constitutional mandate.

The fourth defeat of parliamentary independence and, if one can hazard to add, democracy, has been the perpetuation of a culture within which parliament continues to be subject to the whims of the executive.

This point is made with particular reference to the fact that parliament in the last 18 months has had irregular sessions that are called for by the executive.  The argument given by the Ministry of Finance and the Speaker’s office is that there are no resources, a reason which betrays the contempt with which the executive holds the legislature.

Even in countries that pretend to be democracies, parliament meets regularly to monitor the manner in which the executive is running the country.

If one were to hope that there shall be a departure point from this undemocratic functioning of the legislature, it would understandably be viewed as wishful thinking.  This is because the Speaker’s office is no longer visible for reasons best known to itself.

This has meant that with each session of parliament instigated by the executive, the Speaker loses both political and moral authority to rectify the situation.  The fact that the Speaker’s office was elbowed out of the Copac  process which has turned out to be a disaster means that even if that good office were to deny involvement, the responsibility for failure would be firmly at its doorstep.

In the same vein, the raft of laws to be introduced in the current session will be negotiated by the three political parties and merely rubberstamped by parliament in a rare sitting, thus undermining the democratic role of the legislature.

In my personal interactions with a number of parliamentarians, I am sure that they would argue about the pragmatism of their politics at the moment.  Those on the Zanu PF side would argue that things have not really changed for all the proclamations of the MDC formations.

The MDC argues that so long as the agenda is to remove dictatorship, they do not see much wrong in the current state of affairs. And both sides generally tend to talk more about how they are being short-changed in terms of resources either by way of their salaries or by way of the Copac process.  All of this being a demonstration of a patent negation of their legislative function vis-à-vis reining in a rampant executive branch of government.

Takura Zhangazha is contactable at kuurayiwa@gmail.com.

 

By Takura Zhangazha

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