Source: Editorial Comment: Ministers must respect sanctity of Parliament | The Herald May 28, 2019
Cabinet ministers’ failure to attend Parliamentary sittings to respond to questions from backbenchers in the august House is a growing problem that should be dealt with to get rid of complacency from the public officer bearers. Ministers’ no-show, which is increasingly becoming a habit, has courted the ire of Parliament’s presiding officers who feel hard done by such neglect of duty and now want to bring it to the attention of President Mnangagwa.
Absenteeism from Parliament with no genuine reason shows disdain of accountability by the Cabinet ministers, which should not be the case particularly from public officer bearers.
In expressing his disappointment, the Speaker of Parliament, Advocate Jacob Mudenda described the poor attendance by members of the Executive as the “worst” in recent years.
The attitude of the Cabinet ministers to undermine Parliament should be condemned in the strongest terms because it is the very same institution which gives their operations an impetus and a locus standi.
With the majority of Cabinet ministers having been elected into the august House as Parliamentarians, they should surely understand and appreciate processes and the importance of engagement with their constituencies, which need timeous updates on Government policy issues.
On several occasions, Members of Parliament have had to defer asking pertinent questions of national interest to relevant Cabinet ministers, who are usually not in attendance during Question and Answer sessions. Such attitudes smacks on the spirit of progress, which is critical to enable the country to move forward.
Currently, the Government is in an economic transitional stabilisation mode to bring the economy back on its rail, following a long hiatus. The period requires engagement at all levels and Parliament is the ideal nexus between Government and the people, where discussions are held in earnest for the good of our nation.
It would be folly, and highly mischievous for anyone to disregard such institutions that purvey the platform of ideas and discourses that shapes the national discourse, while giving an insight on the nation’s aspirations.
Truant ministers would therefore need to be reminded that their actions are not only retrogressive, albatross to development, but are also in breach of the very same Constitution under which they were elected into office, to serve.
Bunking of parliamentary sessions by ministers is a serious breach of the Constitution. Section 107 (2) requires every Vice President, minister and deputy minister to attend Parliament and parliamentary committees in order to answer questions concerning matters for which he/she is collectively or individually responsible.
It is within the same measure that we also urge Parliamentarians to desist from such practice and attend to the matters of the House, as a matter of priority not as an option.
We believe that a parliament that fails to effectively carry out any of its three main functions is therefore a serious impediment to the development of democracy.
The legislative branch which is the branch under which MPs fall makes laws, the Executive branch carries out or implements the laws and the judicial branch makes sure the laws are consistent with the constitution by interpreting them. Each branch has a way of checking the other two so that no one branch has too much power.
What this entails is that both the Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentarians should nurture a symbiotic relationship that fosters goodwill, premised on the need to serve the nation diligently.
Should the problem persist, it might also be prudent for the legislative branch to invoke contempt of Parliament provisions so that they can begin to take Parliament business seriously.
Charging one minister with contempt of Parliament could actually yield the results that we all want, of ministers honouring up to duty, scrambling to attend parliamentary sessions and committee business.