SPEAKER of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda Wednesday angered MDC-T MPs when he blocked them from asking Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko over his lengthy stay in a Harare hotel at the expense of tax payers.
Mphoko, wife and some grandchildren have been ensconced in a plush suite at Harare’s Rainbow Towers since his appointment as co-vice president in December 2014.
He has resisted pressure from the opposition NGOs and some citizens to vacate hotel accommodation for a more affordable government house.
His wife also made headlines last year when she reportedly dissuaded the former Zimbabwean ambassador to South Africa from moving into some upmarket properties he was offered, insisting they were not befitting someone of Mphoko’s status.
The vice president’s hotel bill has never been made public although general calculations based on the prevailing hotel rates have suggested Mphoko could have gobbled hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But MDC-T legislator James Maridadi on Wednesday took the onus to bell the cat when he asked VP Mphoko if it was government policy for him to spend tax payers’ money on hotel accommodation when the country faced economic difficulty.
Mudenda, a Zanu PF appointee to the Speaker’s job, told Maridadi his question never related to policy issues as is required by parliamentary rules and could not be answered.
Maridadi rephrased his question, asking Mphoko if it was government policy to accommodate its officials for long in expensive hotels when the rest continued to wallow in poverty.
Mudenda insisted the question could not be answered immediately, adding that the legislator should submit a written question instead to the under-fire VP.
“Do not argue with the chair,” Mudenda said, “I have given you the opportunity. I have asked you to put your question in writing.”
During the exchanges, which were drowned in a cacophony of protests from MDC-T and jeers from Zanu PF MPs, MDC-T chief whip Innocent Gonese stood up to challenge Mudenda’s ruling.
“I believe that when we are in this august House, we are mandated to take the business of the House seriously and also issues affecting this nation seriously.
“I believe that, with your guidance…” Gonese could not finish as the noise grew bigger.
Mudenda threatened to order Maridadi out of the legislative chamber if he remained on his feet against his orders.
“The question relating to the honourable Vice President staying in the hotel may be asked as a policy question in writing. So, you are not excluded; put it in writing,” said the Speaker.
MPs have complained about Ministers ignoring their written questions and in most case bringing them weeks after they were asked by backbenchers.
Mudenda has also been accused before of failing to bring President Robert Mugabe for grilling in parliament as was the case with other countries.