Zim Parliament finally finds its voice

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THE robust debate in the current parliament, especially over corruption and poor corporate governance in parastatals, has come as a pleasant surprise to most Zimbabweans who believed the Zanu PF-dominated legislature would only serve to rubber-stamp decisions of the executive as has become the norm over the years.

Owen Gagare

Buoyed by new blood that includes outspoken individuals such as fiery Hurungwe West MP Temba Mliswa, and the not-so-young but equally combative war veterans leader Joseph Chinotimba (Buhera South), there has been an injection of much-needed vibrancy in parliament.

The relatively new faces that include the likes of Willias Madzimure (Kambuzuma), Settlement Chikwinya (Mbizo) and Irene Zindi (Mutasa South), among others, have brought a breath of fresh air that has shaken parliament from its deep slumber.

The august House had over the years gained a reputation for producing more heat than light, especially during the inclusive government era where parliamentarians debated issues hamstrung by party blinkers.

But now it seems legislators across the political divide are keen to reclaim their crucial oversight role and ensure that decisive action is taken against, among other issues, rampant corruption and all manner of vice, in stark contrast to lip service the executive has paid over the years to issues around graft, especially in diamond mining, the economy and other issues.

The legislators have even proposed the formation of an ad hoc parliamentary committee to investigate the rot in parastatals and the role played by ministers, some of whom allegedly received vehicles, fuel and monetary benefits from struggling parastatals which were woefully failing to meet their national mandates while perennially bleeding the fiscus.

However, analysts have warned there is real danger of parliament spreading itself too thin and even duplicating roles and functions which fall within the domain of bodies like the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) which has a constitutional mandate to investigate corruption.

The need to capacitate parliamentary portfolio committees to carry out their oversight role and ensure good corporate governance is understandable in the context of the apparent failure by the Zacc to investigate and nail culprits owing to underfunding and lack of independence, among other things.

The MPs’ action and the no-holds-barred approach has shaken the executive to the extent that Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda — who typifies the Zanu PF old guard that believes party interests are paramount and should be protected at all costs — has tried to limit debate by gagging the legislators. Needless to say, the attempt has met widespread criticism from a nation reveling in a parliament that has found its voice.

The demand for action on a wide range of issues by the legislators is in sync with the thoughts of many long-suffering Zimbabweans they represent. Rampant corruption wrought by greed, mismanagement and misallocation of resources, opacity in diamond mining and policy inconsistency have contributed immensely to the country’s economic meltdown and Zanu PF’s insistence that sanctions are solely to blame has lost much traction.

Clearly, parliamentarians are not in any mood to slacken and allow the executive to take sole control of the country’s socio-economic revival agenda which includes the fight against corruption.

Government has formed a task force in the Office of the President and Cabinet to “co-ordinate and monitor operations of parastatals and local authorities” as a way of curbing corruption and the awarding of mega-salaries — widely described as “obscene” — to executives.

Dubbed the Corporate Governance and Delivery Agency, the taskforce will “ensure” compliance with the Corporate Governance Framework and the National Code of Corporate Governance in Zimbabwe are implemented — policies which have gone unimplemented for many years.

But like Binga North legislator Prince Sibanda said: “We cannot trust the executive to act on corruption because we have had some people there trying to muzzle the media for reporting on corruption.”

Apart from Vice-President Joice Mujuru’s apparent attempt to gag the media from discussing corruption, which was widely slammed, government has also over the years demonstrated its inability or, worse still, unwillingness to deal with a host of burning issues, so its sincerity is doubted.

Besides the Willowgate scandal, which claimed the scalps of several ministers and led to a prominent nationalist, Maurice Nyagumbo, committing suicide after being implicated, government has been sweeping corruption issues under the carpet, allowing graft and impunity to take root.

“I feel so sorry for the late Honourable (Maurice) Nyagumbo who took his life after the Willowgate scandal. Imagine … he died for a Cressida which is now a taxi yet others are smuggling tonnes of gold from Zimbabwe,” said Madzimure, who moved a motion on the deteriorating corporate governance system in Zimbabwe on February 27.

The fact that Nyagumbo was so embarrassed to be caught up in a corruption scandal that he decided to commit suicide, shows the high moral ground that some politicians at that time had.

In 1996, eight years after the Willwogate scandal, then education minister, the late Edmund Garwe, resigned in embarrassment after his daughter gained access to a Grade 7 examination paper before it was written.

He remains the only government minister to resign after being caught on the wrong side of the law, although some ministers have been implicated in worse scandals than his.

After Willowgate, a number of corruption cases involving bigwigs have made the headlines in Zimbabwe among them the Samson Paweni grain scandal; Ziscosteel blast furnace scandal; Air Zimbabwe Fokker plane scandal; Zimbabwe Republic Police Santana vehicles scandal; War Victims Compensation scandal; Grain Marketing Board scandal; the VIP Housing Scheme scandal; Boka Bank scandal; Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority YTL scandal; Harare City refuse tender scandal; the housing loan scandal and the VIP land-grab scandal.

This amplifies the need for parliament to play its oversight role to ensure good corporate governance is adhered to.

Like Chinotimba said during debate on March 6, corruption was tarnishing the image of the country while also contributing to the loss of confidence in the leadership. He said all corruption allegations should be treated in the same manner as the Willowgate scandal.
“I once stated in this House that in the past, this country suffered the Willowgate scandal. People of Zimbabwe were happy because of the way investigations were carried out. The whole nation was pleased, despite the fact that in the process we lost one of the most dedicated sons of the soil,” he said.

“People were also pleased by the fact that the nation was under good control and good leadership. When such steps are taken to correct such problems, people will have confidence in their leadership.”

Chinotimba and other legislators have called on parliamentarians, ministers and those with public positions to declare their assets when they assume office.

“As leaders, we should declare our assets. If we follow this rule, eyebrows will not be raised if an individual acquires some property while they are in a position of leadership. We will not accuse that individual of being corrupt or being a thief,” said Chinotimba.

But like political analyst Dr Ibbo Mandaza observed, the legislators should avoid falling into the trap of just talking without taking any action.

He said the executive had moved swiftly to take charge of the fight against corruption, as shown by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa’s presentation in the National Assembly where he revealed the government had formed a task force to look into the matter.

“At the end of the day, the executive may manage the situation. We have to ask ourselves where is the parliamentary committee to probe these issues. Why is it taking too long to be formed?” asked Mandaza.

Mandaza said the portfolio committees need to be more focused so that they play their oversight role and interrogate the executive.
It is therefore important for MPs to maintain the unity of purpose they are demonstrating on national issues and ensure that the executive is held to account on a variety of issues and pass laws which ensure corrupt officials are brought to book.

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