LEGISLATORS from across the political divide on Tuesday held Finance minister Mthuli Ncube hostage and threatened to derail his 2019 mid-term budget review if he did not increase and pay their sitting allowances, forcing him to postpone his fiscal statement by 24 hours, it has emerged.
ANDREW KUNAMBURA/TINASHE KAIRIZA
Ncube was supposed to present the review and supplementary budget on Wednesday, but was forced to push it to yesterday by angry MPs.
The Zimbabwe Independent’s parliamentary sources said agitated MPs held Ncube to ransom over the issue at a meeting convened by the National Assembly’s Standing Orders and Rules Committee (SROC) at Parliament Building in central Harare.
The legislators also demanded that Ncube substantially increase his budgetary allocation to the august House in the wake of inflationary pressures which have pushed up prices of goods and services multiple times. The annual inflation rate has since hit 175,6%, up from 97,8% Ncube yesterday suspended the issuing of annual inflation figures until February 2020 under the guise inflation rebasing and other technicalties
MPs also wanted Treasury to ensure that parliamentary business gets a bigger fiscal vote, arguing the legislature was failing to fund some of its key activities, a situation which has resulted in some hotels refusing to accommodate them for non-payment of bills.
“We initially wanted him to come to the meeting on Monday to answer questions from the members but he failed to turn up despite the invitation,” a parliamentary official said.
“Everyone was disappointed and we resolved to summon him again on Tuesday, this time we made it known to him that if he avoided us again, we would refuse to pass his mid-term budget review.”
The development led to the postponement of the mid-term budget review statement.
“So when he came to the meeting yesterday (Tuesday), we took him to task over the matter. Right now only three hotels in Harare are taking in MPs. The rest have refused to do so because of huge bills which are still to be paid. The meeting lasted about two hours and in the end he promised that he was going back to consult and work on reviewing our sitting allowances and the parliament budget. So we suppose this is the reason why he had to postpone it,” the source said. “He needs to consult and adjust his supplementary budget.”
Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda, who is also the SROC chair, confirmed the meeting but declined to give details.
“I cannot share with you details of the meeting. I am not going to talk about it, so talk to your sources,” Mudenda said.
In January this year, Ncube was forced to increase parliament’s budget by 80% after MPs demanded an increase.
Parliament had initially been allocated ZW$101 million in the 2019 national budget, but following MPs’ demands, the figure was raised to ZW$145 million.
Legislators again put up a united front as they made demands during the recent budget debate in the National Assembly, leading to an upward review of their allocation.
MPs came under heavy scrutiny at the time after they demanded that they be served three full-course meals a day, plus dessert, while attending parliamentary business.
They also wanted parliament to provide gym facilities or to pay membership and subscription fees for them at sports clubs for recreational purposes.
Currently, MPs are getting ZW$75 per sitting, including for lengthy committee meetings which sometimes take the whole day.
They are also getting US$50 per day as travel and substance allowances when travelling outside the country, a figure which they say is not sufficient to cover their requirements.
Last month, government relented overwhelming under pressure to their demands for expensive all-terrain vehicles.