Zim Parliament: A Hopeless Legislature

By Prince Tongogara

Harare, December 17, 2013 – Despite the enlargement of Parliament after the July 31 election to a bloated one, Zimbabwe’s august house has remained largely emasculated and a mere rubber stamp of the executive since its inauguration in September.

The new Parliament comprises of more than 300 members of the National Assembly and the members of the Senate.

The National Assembly was enlarged from the previous 210 members after the inclusion of 60 women legislators elected through proportional representation and an additional 5 appointed by the President. Senate consists of 60 senators elected on proportional representation, 10 chiefs, 10 ministers of state for provinces and 2 representing the disabled.

The resultant legislature is comparatively equal to the United States Congress, United Kingdom Westminister and the South African parliaments despite Zimbabwe having a population of just 13 million.

However, the enlarged house has not in comparison improved the quality of debates or number of bills passed by the eighth parliament since it assumed office.

It remains a surprise that parliament is yet to debate a single bill from the 26 Bills mentioned by President Robert Mugabe during the official opening ceremony in September.

Neither has the house prioritised the debate of six important bills that are needed to fully operationalise the new constitution gazetted in May this year.

The new constitution created provincial councils and independent commissions such as the National Prosecuting Authority, the Gender Commission, the Peace and Reconciliation Commission and the Land Commission. These commissions have largely remained institutions on paper but without any enabling Acts that set the parameters of their functions.

Political analysts argue that the emasculation of parliament is a reflection of the disdain in which the house is held by the all-powerful executive.

“Parliament in Zimbabwe is not independent of the executive especially now that one party (Zanu PF) now makes up more than two-thirds of the members. It’s difficult for MPs to flex their muscles particularly with the whipping system in place and the powers that allow a party to recall its MPs,” said Munyaradzi Mukonza, a political analyst.

Veritas, a local lawyers’ grouping concurs that the overwhelming majority enjoyed by Zanu PF means the party can practically get away with anything by simply abusing its majority.

The country’s bloated parliament adjourned to next year amid claims from MPs that the legislature is desperately trying to cut unsustainable expenditure by reducing sittings.

MPs query why out of the three arms of government only the legislature is almost shut down due to cash-flow problems while the executive and judiciary continues to discharge their mandate.

“Parliament is shutting down, but the executive and judiciary continue to operate as normal,” said Mbizo legislator Settlement Chikwinya from the MDC-T party.

The eighth parliament has for most of the time been adjourned than debating bills, motions and making the government accountable in portfolio committees.

Committees like in the previous parliament are pliant to the executive. To date, more than 120 days after being sworn-in no committee has grilled any of the ministers responsible for water, health, finance or energy despite the fact that all these deficiencies are common on the ground.

Zimbabwe is going through a liquidity crisis with industry still operating below 50 percent of capacity utilisation while electricity and water supplies are still erratic.

Last month, the respected Human Rights Watch released a report which revealed that the country is on the verge of another cholera epidemic within the scale of the 2008 disaster if the water supply issue is not attended to urgently particularly now that the rainy season has started. Strangely Parliament has not demanded answers and solutions from government.

Perhaps the answer to Parliament’s inaction can be located in the National Assembly Speaker Jacob Mudenda’s acceptance speech where-in he said Parliament was an institution that will be run on the basis of majority decisions.

Mudenda confirmed the perception that he was a willing tool in implementing Zanu PF’s political projects without any qualms when he told the house what parliamentary democracy meant to him.

“While the minority will have their say (in debates) the majority will have their way,” he said to applause from Zanu PF MPs.

For now Parliament remains a mere rubber stamp of President Mugabe’s Zanu PF government except if the spirit and convictions of firebrand legislators like the late Edward Chindori-Chininga and now promoted Paddy Zhanda can be aroused in the current crop of legislators.