Political expediency compromises calibre of legislators

via Political expediency compromises calibre of legislators | The Financial Gazette – Zimbabwe News by Maggie Mzumara 19 Sep 2013

IN a country with supposedly the highest rate of literacy in Africa — 92 percent — and in a generally conservative society where the majority of citizens are not only cultured, dignified and self-respecting, but also law-abiding what would prompt and allow the representation of people at a level as high as Parliament to be carried through by individuals with scanty educational stock or even those of questionable moral standing or mirage-like integrity?

As the newly sworn legislators get ready to tackle the mandate ahead of them as representatives of the people and members of the critical legislative arm of government, speculation on what to expect of their performance is inevitable.

Questions on how some of them made it into the august House also abound.

Amongst the new crop of parliamentarians are a handful with educational achievement that can barely fill the back of a postage stamp; and others with corruption allegations hanging over their heads like a halo.
As if that is not enough, some returning Members of Parliament were fingered in the last round of Parliament for having misappropriated the Constituency Development Funds (CDFs) — apparently coming back to the august House scot free, shame free and altogether remorse free.

And then there are those amongst the honourable members whose honourless romp into power was neither sanctioned nor seconded by the very people they seek to represent, in apparent acts of candidate impositions by the powers-that-be.

With such a cocktail of irregularities and potpourri of misdemeanours stewing and simmering in the calabash to be called Parliament this eighth time round since independence in 1980, questions that beg answers include the following:
What is it that leads to unlikely and seemingly unsuitable candidates being elected into the august House? Is the Zimbabwean society that permissive, naïve or perhaps carefree to the extent that it matters not the calibre of the people that represent them? What kind of processes catapults unlikely elements onto the political high ground? What vetting systems, if any, do political parties have in place? If some semblance of vetting mechanisms were in place, what other factors come into play to muddy up the processes? Whose voices speak these MPs into power — those of the people or those of the party leadership?

These questions relevant and timely as they are now might as well have been asked about the past parliaments.
Some elements in the just-ended Parliament did not inspire. If mishaps, misconduct, misses and ‘slips of the tongue’ of the just-ended seventh Parliament are anything to go by, then due diligence which the parties will do well to undertake in the selections and nominations of members of the august House, is less than stellar.

Either vetting processes were not being conducted at all or selection processes were being compromised.
Hindsight shows that some conduct and utterances of some legislators left a lot to be desired in the seventh Parliament. A number of them had brushes with the very laws they seek to craft and uphold.
Examples are Shuwa Mudiwa (Mutare West) and Eliah Jembere (Epworth) who, during their time in office, were arrested on charges of political violence for Mudiwa and rape charges for Jembere.

They were not the only ones. Others had cases to answer on allegations of massive corruption including abuse of power and access. Others had allegations of various kinds including rape and other crimes and misdemeanours hanging above their heads. Allegations of misappropriation of CDFs affected many of the legislators, yet one would expect their conduct to be exemplary.

Then there were cases of very irresponsible and at times grossly discriminative utterances not at all congruent with what people expect from members of the august House.
Utterances by Simba-neuta Mudarikwa (Uzu-mba) were very sexist and discriminatory when he said, “When I see Deputy Chief Whip, I don’t see a Ndebele woman but I see a beautiful girl.” That coming from an honourable!
Then there was Mor-gan Femai (Chikomo) who proposed that a law be crafted to compel women to have their heads clean shave, and that they (women) not bath in order to reduce the prevalence of HIV infection.

Controversy was also not in short supply in the just-ended Parliament. Thabitha Khumalo (Bul-awayo East) comes to mind when she campaigned for the legalisation of prostitution claiming this helped with the country’s response to the HIV scourge.
Sithembile Mlotshwa (Matobo) also sparked controversy when she suggested that a drug be administered to reduce libido and that prisoners should be provided with sex gadgets to discourage homosexuality.
It is key to appreciate the magnitude and level of the function of a Parliament and by extension that of parliamentarians.

Parliament plays an oversight role on the executive arm of the state. Legislators’ functions include passing laws, ensuring transparency and accountability, monitoring the implementation of government programmes and projects and debating matters of national interest.
According to the Clerk of Parliament, Austin Zvoma, “The role of the legislators is to bring and point out issues by the electorate to the executive.”

Standing Order # 159 provides that at the commencement of every parliamentary session, legislators get into portfolio committees through which they deliberate their business of legislating.
Standing Order 159 (a) reads “At the commencement of every session there shall be as many committees to be designated according to government portfolios as the Standing Orders Committee may deem fit”; while (b) reads, “It shall be the function of such committees to examine expenditure administration and policy of government departments and other matters falling under that jurisdictions as Parliament may by resolution determine”.
The terms of reference for MPs as per Standing Order 160 (a) are to “consider and deal with all bills and statutory instruments or other matters referred to it by or under a resolution of the House or by the Speaker”; (c) “monitor, investigate, enquire into and make recommendations relating to any aspect of legislative programmes, budget, policy or any other matter it may consider relevant to the department falling within the category of affairs assigned to the it”.

And this, says Sibanengi Ncube, programmes manager at Parliamentary Monitoring Trust — Zimbabwe (PMT-Z), is fodder for those with a high degree of appreciation and certain level of critical analysis.
It is up to Zimbabweans to ensure that people of the right calibre are selected, Ncube said.
It is difficult for people to do that when clearly challenges are rampant in these processes, said Grace Kwinjeh, a founder member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) who contested in the party’s primary elections in Makoni Central constituency. She, however, did not win the bid in a development which some called foul because of  alleged rigging and possible imposition of a candidate.
“I think the biggest challenge is that political expediency always comes before a real winning strategy is considered. So you find those who select candidates are by and large also trying to manipulate the process so as to increase their influence in the House of Assembly,” she said, adding that a number of factors compromised the selection process of the primary elections this year. One of them being incompetence on the part of parties in coming up with effective strategies.

“The biggest factor is the total incompetence to map out a credible candidate selection strategy and mechanisms to ensure that the right candidates are vetted for the job who will serve the party diligently,” added Kwinjeh.
Factionalism and patronage are also determining factors in who wins the bid to represent a constituency, according to Kwinjeh.
“We witnessed how the different factions not just in the MDC but ZANU-PF too focused more on establishing alliances based on allegiance more than the quality of candidates and their strategic placing in any particular constituency,” she said.

In ZANU-PF, where it has always been alleged that there is a faction led by Vice President Joice Mujuru and another led by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, there were allegations that in a   number of constituencies those who were deemed to be of the Mnangagwa faction won over those who were considered to be in the Vice President’s camp.

In instances which some cited as cases of factionalism and favouritism by some wielding power in the electoral processes in ZANU-PF’s primary elections this year, Henrietta Rushwaya, and former Mashonaland Central governor Martin Dinha, and others pulled out of the race following intimidation and political tension that threatened to get out of hand.
But Didymus Mutasa, secretary for administration in ZANU-PF, rubbished this, claiming no amount of patronage would help an aspiring candidate who was not considered fit for the job.

“Even if you are mentored or groomed by whoever it is, your connections will not matter if you are not suitable for the job,” he said.
Just what or who is considered suitable? What criteria do the parties use in the selection and vetting process?

Parliament itself has no set criteria for the selections of MPs and senators. Zvoma who is on record as saying setting criteria is the responsibility of the political parties, has also noted that perhaps Zimbabweans missed the opportunity to slot in specific criteria for legislators in the new Constitution.
Beyond stipulating that one be a registered voter and over 21 years of age, Section 125, 1 (a) and (b) of  the Constitution does not say much else about who should be a member of the National Assembly.
Because of this silence parties are left to use their own discretion, each party has its own criteria, however loose.

“We look at the standing of the person, the dignity, the conduct and then we consider whether he or she is suitable along those points,” Mutasa said.
In an ideal world, primary elections take the power of candidate nomination from the party leaders to the people, which therefore means that it is but the voice of the people which should speak in the selections. But this does not usually happen, at least not in this year’s elections, Kwinjeh said.

“In some cases people did speak and resisted candidate imposition, if you take for instance the case of lawyer Arnold Tsunga. In other cases, it is the top leadership who had the final say, so it differed from one constituency to another throughout the country,” she said.
Tsunga could not be reached by the time of going to press. His constituency, Chikanga-Dangamvura caused an uproar when another candidate was imposed and he (Tsunga) refused to step down even after the party leadership advised him to. Tsunga argued that the people of the constituency wanted him and true enough the election result proved him right when he won.

Mutasa said it was only “ignorant people” who peddled tales of candidate imposition. “There was no such thing. A person comes forward of his own volition. Our own consideration is whether or not he is suitable.”
Is the “suitable” criteria adequate enough to vet effectively? Is education a factor at all?
While Mutasa admits education matters, there is no strict educational requirement or prerequisite for legislators to make it into the ring. This explains why Joseph Chinotimba, among a few others with very minimal education, are among the current crop of MPs.

Similarly the MDC-T does not require their candidates to have a prescribed educational level.
“As long as they are able to read and write,” said Jessie Majome (Harare West).
MDC-T party spokesperson, Douglas Mwonzora agreed. “We do not ask for any educational qualification because we do not want to discriminate against those who are good leaders but do not have educational papers. We have people who are very popular with the people who do not have doctorates,” he said adding, “In any case here in Zimbabwe people have very little respect for professors as politicians because of the behaviour of some of certain professors in this country.”

The idea of no emphasis on education brings into question the quality and level of contribution in the august House.
It has been noted over the years that some parliamentarians rarely make any meaningful contribution at all in the debates, with some never even uttering a word at all.
Parliamentary procedures and the law-making processes are complex and therefore need a keen appreciation for which a certain level of advanced education, certainly not just the primary level education, is needed. And indeed for an MP or a senator to clearly articulate themselves in these
matters and effectively represent the aspirations and concerns of their constituency, a considerable educational achievement should be a prerequisite, Ncube said.
“Legal issues by their very nature are very complex and they can only be captured in English and this may be very difficult for someone with limited education,” Ncube said.
There are two main roles for    a parliamentarian the first being to audit the executive and the second, to make laws, Ncube said.

“If you are not properly equipped, you may have problems in auditing the governance. If we have someone who does not have an appreciation of what is happening, you can only expect disaster,” he said.
“We are a country with such high levels of literacy and this should be reflected at all levels including at parliamentary level.”
“Usually those people with little or no contribution to make because of lack of education or whatever reason are very good at heckling in Parliament,” Majome observed.

Although Ncube believes representation of people at such a high level as Parliament requires tertiary education, he does concede that ordinary people of simple existence and academic standing can be more in touch with the masses and their needs than the elite.
“If you are an ordinary person you may be better able to understand the true aspirations of the people as opposed to the elite or professors who may be divorced from the issues of the people,” he said, adding that political parties should, however, strive to field candidates who are educated and credible and guard against fielding people with questionable conduct.

In the absence of constitutional or parliamentary guidance on the selection criteria of legislators, parties are left to the own devices and politics (and all the muck that comes with it) becomes the trading currency. Quality consideration of    the calibre of MPs and the senate is sacrificed at the altar of politics. With popularity and the ability to connect with people weighing more than education; and political expediency carrying                                the day more than clear candidate selections strategies; and dignity, integrity, academic   appreciation are sacrificed. It is no wonder that the calibre of  legislators is not beyond reproach.

“The burden is then left with the Parliament. It needs to  undertake capacity building workshops to raise the conduct and calibre to a level high enough to perform and deliver,” said Ncube.