HARARE – Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda has threatened to report absconding Cabinet ministers to President Robert Mugabe, following outrage by opposition parties who said the officials’ continued absence was “disrespectful of the House”.
This was after opposition MPs demanded that Mudenda takes action against ministers and their deputies in the habit of absenting themselves from Parliament, without plausible reason.
Minsters and their deputies are expected to answer questions from legislators every Wednesday in the National Assembly and on Thursdays in the Senate.
“I have asked the officials to register the ministers who come and when they come in. I shall also be writing to … Mugabe on the issue and the violation of the Constitution by the ministers,” Mudenda said.
“I think that is the stage we have reached now. The ministers, as representatives of the executive, should be in the front line of respecting the Constitution,” he fumed.
Mabvuku-Tafara legislator James Maridadi was the first to lodge a bitter complaint over the matter on Wednesday, accusing the bunking officials of taking the august House for granted.
“ . . . I think this is becoming a sick joke that every Wednesday, points of order have to be raised by MPs enquiring why ministers are not available to come to Parliament,” he said.
“The Constitution is so clear on what is expected of ministers,” Maridadi said, suggesting that the question and answer sessions must be suspended.
“ . . . we should have started business of this Parliament but 15 minutes later, we see ministers waltzing into Parliament as they like,” he said.
“ . . . why don’t we suspend questions without notice segment and go onto other business and ignore ministers completely until such a time we feel they are taking this House seriously, only then can we start to engage them.”
“As it is, ministers have disengaged Parliament, so I think we must respond in kind. We must also disengage and continue with other business of Parliament until ministers are serious and then we can start to engage them,” Maridadi said.
MDC chief whip Innocent Gonese added: “I believe that the . . . ministers are not just in contempt of this august House, but they are actually contemptuous of the whole nation of Zimbabwe. They are not taking the people of Zimbabwe seriously.”
He implored Mudenda to invoke provisions of Standing Order 63 that deal with contempt of Parliament.
“I believe it is not sufficient just to write to His Excellency but it is now time for this august House to crack the whip, so that we also use the powers which are at our disposal over and above what the executive might be doing,” he said.
However, some Zanu PF MPs defended the minsters’ absence.
“I would want to suggest that we must not treat this matter hastily as I think we are almost about to do; to treat all the ministers as being in contempt without giving each minister an opportunity to explain,” Zanu PF Mazowe North legislator Edgar Chidavaenzi.
“As I speak, we can already see some of the ministers walking in,” he said.
Zanu PF chief whip Lovemore Matuke suggested that the issue must be handled in political parties’ caucuses.