THE performance of ministers in Parliament, particularly in the Senate, has been so dismal that senators have expressed concern over their “unbecoming” conduct. BY VENERANDA LANGA
Source: Red flag over ministers’ conduct, truancy – NewsDay Zimbabwe December 24, 2016
The ministers have been accused of failing to respond to motions by legislators and for perennial truancy during Senate’s Thursday question-and-answer sessions.
On Thursday, December 1, all ministers, with the exception of Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora, failed to turn up in the Senate for the question-and-answer session.
This really vexed the senators.
The dismal performance of ministers was even worsened by the fact that since 2013, only one has responded to motions raised by senators and yet the Standing Rules and Orders (SROs) require ministers to respond to motions in the House and to attend to Parliament business.
Parliament’s SROs stipulate that at the conclusion of debate on a Parliamentary committee report or motion by backbenchers, a minister, under whose portfolio the matters raised in that report pertain to, is required to provide a comprehensive response.
No such thing has ever happened in the Senate, and the only minister who has responded to a motion since 2013 is Oppah Muchinguri, when she was Women’s Affairs minister, and she was responding to a motion to celebrate International Women’s Day.
The Senator representing people living with disabilities, Nyamayabo Mashavakure, raised the issue in the Senate on December 1 when only Dokora had turned up in Senate, saying ministers were acting irresponsibly.
“In my memory as a Senator, since 2013, there has been one motion that was responded to by a minister and that motion was requesting for a holiday to celebrate International Women’s Day,” Mashavakure said.
“We need to address the issue to ensure ministers attend to answer questions from backbenchers and to respond to motions.”
Section 107 (2) of the Constitution requires that every Vice-President, minister and deputy minister must attend Parliament and Parliamentary committees in order to answer questions concerning matters for which they are collectively or individually responsible.
But this has not been the case and in the National Assembly, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been taking questions from MPs every Wednesday, yet always conspicuous by his absence is Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko, who has never taken any questions from backbenchers in Parliament since he was appointed to that post.
In the National Assembly, MDC-T Chief whip Innocent Gonese has also raised the issue that Mphoko and other ministers have been avoiding Parliament question-and-answer sessions.
After numerous complaints by opposition MPs, Mphoko has now tried to turn up on Wednesdays in the National Assembly, although he usually turns up around 4pm when the House would already have adjourned after the questions without notice.
Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust director John Makamure, in his recent paper on duties of ministers to attend Parliamentary sessions, clarified the issue, saying it is the duty of both Vice-Presidents to attend Parliamentary sessions and not only one VP.
In this case, it is Mnangagwa who has been taking the task of answering questions.
Mnangagwa is the leader of the House, but the Constitution provides that all VPs must always be available to take questions from MPs during question time.
“Let me clarify that it is not only one VP who is required to attend parliamentary sessions, but the two VPs.
The Constitution says, ‘every’ VP and not one of the VPs. Furthermore, the VPs are expected to attend parliamentary committee meetings when invited, and not plenary sessions only. My interpretation of this constitutional provision is that it is within the right of committees to summon the two VPs to appear before them if they feel the issues on the agenda can only be adequately addressed at that level,” he said.
Mphoko only spoke once in the National Assembly when he presented the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill, and when adjourning the House.
In Senate, senators have made it clear that they will not entertain absenteeism by ministers, and when Dokora was the only minister to turn up on December 1, 2016 for a question-and-answer session, Midlands senator Morgen Komichi condemned the bad practice of absenteeism by ministers.
“I propose that we must protest on the behaviour of ministers by allowing Dokora to go and we adjourn the House because there is serious disrespect by ministers. This did not happen only today (December 1), but we have been watching for the past four to five months that ministers are failing to attend question and answer,” he said.
Harare Metropolitan Senator James Makore added: “We thank Dokora for attending, and he attends, we see him all the time. We are not belittling Dokora by asking him to go, but by doing so, it is a call for other ministers to come and attend question-and-answer sessions.”
The issue sparked heated debate in the Senate to the extent that the temporary Speaker Chief Fortune Charumbira called for the presiding officers of Parliament, Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda and President of Senate Edna Madzongwe, to look into the issue and rein in truant ministers.
“The Parliament Standing Rules and Orders say that if a minister does not attend question- and-answer sessions it is contempt of Parliament, and I think a committee should be set up to investigate why ministers are behaving like that,” Charumbira said.
Last week, Mudenda read the riot act on ministers and MPs, saying ministers were in the habit of bunking question-and-answer sessions, while MPs left the House during debates, resulting in lack of quorum.
Since 2013, when Madzongwe and Mudenda took up posts as presiding officers of Parliament, ministers have been constantly berated for bunking question-and-answer sessions, but there has been very little improvement in correcting that anomaly.
Ministers Ignatius Chombo (Home Affairs), Samuel Undenge (Energy) and Sithembiso Nyoni (Small and Medium Enterprises), who were at one time notorious for truancy, have been faithfully attending sessions.
Opposition MPs have said the most truant ministers during National Assembly question-and-answer sessions are Simbarashe Mumbengegwi (Foreign Affairs), David Parirenyatwa (Health and Child Care), Jonathan Moyo (Higher Education), Christopher Mushowe (Information), Nyasha Chikwinya (Women Affairs), Patrick Zhuwao (Youth), Simon Khaya Moyo (Policy Co-ordination), Kembo Mohadi (State Security) and Sydney Sekeramayi (Defence).
Although Sekeramayi attends Senate on Thursdays during question-and-answer sessions, he rarely attends Wednesday’s question-and-answer session, while Mumbengegwi only shows up when President Robert Mugabe is in Parliament.
Those that attend regularly question-and-answer sessions include ministers Dokora, Saviour Kasukuwere (Local Government), Joram Gumbo (Transport), Walter Mzembi (Tourism), Makhosini Hlongwane (Sports), Supa Mandiwanzira (Information Communication Technology), Prisca Mupfumira (Public Service) and Mike Bimha (Industry).
Mnangagwa’s attendance has been excellent, and he has taken questions pertaining to the ministries of truant ministers in their absence.