Parliamentarians will come under closer scrutiny following the setting up of KuvakaZim, a watchdog that uses internet-based interaction to make legislators and parliament accountable to voters.
Members of parliament have long been accused of abandoning their constituencies once voted into office, with the electorate complaining that their contributions in the upper and lower houses have been shoddy.
The Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), in a November 2013 report, condemned MPs’ output in the last year of the sixth parliament, which started in 2008 and ended in July this year.
“The levels of participation and debate among parliamentarians were generally low, with some members spending the entire year without contributing anything to pertinent discussions,” said the RAU, which also called for “greater transparency and accountability” among MPs.
Several MPs have been accused of abusing the Constituency Development Fund, which is meant to enhance the livelihoods of people in areas represented by the MPs and senators.
Veritas, another legislative watchdog, indicated that MPs were shortchanging voters by sitting in parliament for short periods and failing to adequately deliberate on bills and other parliamentary proceedings.
“There was no excuse for not having used the ample parliamentary time available to dispose of pending motions more promptly. MPs and senators simply took the easy way out, frequently knocking off after sitting for only 10 minutes instead of putting in four hours or more of solid work to finish debates and motions and pursue questions in the public interest,” said Veritas.
KuvakaZim, which translates as Building Zimbabwe, describes itself as “a citizen-driven platform that uses technology to advocate for a more open society through keeping track of Zimbabwe’s parliamentarians’ activities”. It started with friends coming together to debate the need for enhanced democracy and social inclusion in the digital age.
They then decided to set up an internet platform to engage MPs and publicise debates and activities in parliament.
“While discussions (among the peers) created a lot of excitement and enthusiasm regarding solutions shared, it also became apparent that many
Zimbabweans lacked basic knowledge of the duties of their MPs. This consequently left politicians to act opportunistically, to shirk in their duties and ignore the needs of those who vote for them,” said KuvakaZim in a statement.
“A system that requires a much deeper process that goes beyond merely voting parliamentarians into power is required to enhance accountability and citizenship building in Zimbabwe,” it added.
The lobby group has created a website (www.kuvakazim.com) on which individuals can ask their respective MPs questions, leave comments about them and other issues and give their input regarding bills being discussed in the two houses.
The online advocacy group was launched on December 4 and comprises volunteers with various skills. It hopes that, with 4.1m Zimbabweans now able to access the internet, the public will take advantage of its website to hold legislators accountable.
“We are firmly convinced that there is no more perfect time to start engaging our politicians than now in order to clear the climate of mistrust that clouds our political space in Zimbabwe,” said the organisation.
The KuvakaZim site takes advantage of Zimbabweans’ increasing participation in social media, and offers the public the chance to participate in wide-ranging debate through Facebook and Twitter. It also offers democracy resources on citizens’ rights and freedoms, the constitution and the electoral law, while at the same time providing history and facts on political parties and parliament.