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Whipping system disempowered parliament

THE creation of the coalition government in 2009 severely emasculated parliament rendering MPs from across the political divide powerless to raise pertinent issues as they feared rocking the fragile government, according to the outgoing chief whips.

Paidamoyo Muzulu

In the last four and half years, parliament failed to pass any legislative reforms or adopt key motions that in any way seemed to unsettle two of the biggest parties in the tripartite alliance, Zanu PF and the MDC-T.

Among the legislative reforms that were left to lapse on the National Assembly’s Order Paper in the past five sessions are the Public Order and Security (Posa) Amendment Bill, Urban Council’s Act Amendment Bill and Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (CPEA) Amendment Bill.

Government also failed to implement any of the recommendations from parliamentary portfolio committees such as the Budget and Finance as well as the Mines and Energy that dealt with sensitive issues.

Budget and Finance committee chairperson Paddy Zhanda moved a motion that called for an investigation in the conduct of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) between 2004 and 2009 on quasi-fiscal activities.
The motion was left to lapse after Zanu PF MPs were whipped into line and stayed away from the controversial motion.

MDC-T chief-whip Innocent Gonese conceded that parliament was hamstrung by the coalition government as only agreed motions and bills could be passed by the House.

“We made so many compromises because everything had to be negotiated by the executive first before it came to the House,” Gonese said.
Gonese moved two Private Members’ Bills, the Posa Amendment and CPEA Amendment bills, in the past four years but they were also left to lapse.

He had proposed amendments that would have made it easier for political parties to conduct their activities without police interference and to remove the notorious Section 121 of the CPEA.

This section allows courts to continue detaining accused persons for up to seven days even after courts grant them bail once the state shows an intention to appeal against bail.

The House further allowed Buhera Central MP Tangwara Matimba’s Private Members Bill to amend the Urban Council’s Act to lapse.
Matimba had argued the Act gave too much power to Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, particularly that the minister was empowered to suspend and dismiss councillors or even entire councils.

Chombo applied to the Supreme Court arguing that under the coalition government, only ministers were allowed to move bills in parliament. The Supreme Court upheld his argument effectively killing all the Private Members Bills.

Zanu PF chief-whip Joram Gumbo concurred with Gonese that the dynamics of the coalition government restricted independence of the House from the executive.

“Our whipping system makes sure MPs have to do as instructed by their political parties hence we only discussed and debated issues from the executive,” Gumbo said.

The House also failed to push for an audit into the RBZ Mechanisation Programme as senior members of Zanu PF attacked it as witch-hunting. Ministers also deliberately avoided responding to questions on the Order Paper that were likely to ruffle feathers.

However, this parliament will be remembered for passing the new constitution to replace the Lancaster House charter and that for the first time since independence, the speaker came from the opposition, with the MDC-T’s Lovemore Moyo and even his deputy Nomalanga Khumalo presiding over the National Assembly.

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