SPEAKER of Parliament Jacob Mudenda haa advised legislators that they had the power to tighten laws against Cabinet Ministers who continue evading Parliament.
Mudenda made the remarks this week after complaints by MPs that some Ministers had now perfected a habit of “perpetually” excusing themselves from being grilled by the legislators in Parliament. One of the three key duties of MPs is to play oversight role on the Executive.
The matter came under the spotlight when Mudenda on Wednesday read a long list of Ministers who had excused themselves from the day’s Question and Answer session, which presents MPs the opportunity to get answers on burning issues.
Veteran CCC MP Innocent Gonese (Mutare Central) expressed concern that almost 80 percent of Cabinet had bunked the day’s session, adding that the trend has been going on for long. Gonese cited Health Minister Constantino Chiwenga and Local Government Minister July Moyo as the major culprits in absconding Parliament sessions.
Gonese also cited Foreign Affairs Minister Frederick Shava as yet another Minister who is “never here”.
“Is there any limit to the number of times that one seeks leave of absence because we have seen for example, the Vice President and Minister of Health and Child Care, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Mines, Minister July Moyo are never here,” Gonese complained before Mudenda.
“So if we have a scenario where week in, week out, ad infinitum, certain Ministers are always seeking leave of absence, will they ever be in attendance?
“My belief is that when you are seeking leave of absence, it should be for a specific day when one has a specific commitment, not a situation where you are perpetually on leave of absence. Today, it is particularly poignant because the list is long.”
Gonese asked Mudenda to rather save time by reading only names of present Ministers since they would be fewer.
“We cannot have a situation where those who are not there heavily outnumber those who are present; to me it does not make any sense.
“I know that there is no quorum for Hon. Ministers in terms of Question time but we cannot have a situation where more than half, if not 80% are absent even if it is on leave, otherwise that is the point which I seek clarity on, is it not something which needs to be addressed,” Gonese fumed.
Mudenda agreed with Gonese that absenteeism by Ministers was a longstanding issue of concern to him as well, but indicated that his hands were tied as the law itself was weak in that respect. He urged the lawmakers to tighten the laws to levels they saw fit to reign in the errant Ministers.
“The ball is in your court because the Standing Orders do not give any limit at all. I think once I have even said the Standing Orders do not demand even the reason for absent.
“The ball is in your court Members of this august House to amend the Standing Orders accordingly so that your concerns can be satisfied,” Mudenda advised.
He however said that he would continue with the practice of calling out names of absent Ministers because that was what the law specified.
“The Standing Orders say you mention those who have tendered their apologies,” the Speaker clarified.
Meanwhile, it later turned out that there was a Zim Cyber City event in Mt. Hampden where President Mnangagwa was officiating. Nearly all Cabinet Ministers in the country on the day were at that event. where a huge investment is going to take place and there is a ground breaking ceremony.
However, Mudenda still reiterated that permanent absenteeism was a worry and MPs had the power to amend the Standing Orders by following due process.
“As for permanent absenteeism, the ball is in your court to tighten up the Standing Orders,” Mudenda said.