HARARE – Our news editor Gift Phiri talks to chairperson of Parliament’s Legal and Procedural Affairs Committee, Kuwadzana East MP and opposition MDC vice president Nelson Chamisa. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: You have stirred controversy by reportedly demanding a hike in MP salaries from about $2 000 to $10 000 at a legislators workshop in Harare, walk us through your presentation?
A: Maybe it is controversy that has stirred me. I hail from the people’s party where nothing less than excellence is accepted as a norm and habit. I have no ‘pioneer column’ mindset of demanding benefits for service. Its utter distortion of the context and content of the legislators’ workshop held at HICC, Rainbow Towers Hotel, to insinuate that I am or was a ringleader in a non-existent demand. Admitted, I have very strong opponents because I am a strong proponent for what I stand for. Fortunately, I don’t stand for the alleged hike in salaries for politicians. The usual legion of attackers and haters always clutch on imaginations and concoctions to besmirch my otherwise pure and uncontaminated standing.
Q: Give us the facts then.
A: Facts are sacrosanct. Whereas lies are fast in speed, the truth is slow and permanent. Here is the truth; I sit in the Standing Rules and Orders Committee (SROC) as chairperson to the Legal and Procedural Affairs Committee. SROC is responsible for running affairs in and of Parliament. In my capacity as the chairperson, I was requested to present a report to the 350 members of Parliament on the laws pertaining to the running of Parliament that ought to be aligned to the Constitution. In that regard, I had to present on the legislative work so far done on the following four areas; standing rules and orders of Parliament, the Code of Conduct and declaration of assets by MPs, the privileges Immunities and Powers of Parliament Amendment Bill, the Parliamentary Salaries and Benefits Amendment Bill, together with the Pensions Amendment Bill. In my presentation, I highlighted the imperator of legislators publicly declaring all their assets in the public parliamentary register in line with section 198 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. I also made mention of the changes to the Salaries Act in line with section 153 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. For the record, at no time did I push for increase in salary. I also did not even address what MPs are currently getting as it was not part of my remit and brief. The committee’s task is to prescribe but not to describe the salary of MPs in terms of Section 153 of the Constitution.
Q: The fact that you are discussing the Parliamentary Salaries and Benefits Amendment Bill, what does it mean? Some critics allege you are being greedy by demanding a salary of $10 000/month when the economy is in such a state. What’s your comment?
A: If it were true it would be foolish for any MP to even think that way. No MP demanded anything in that workshop. MPs are not a pressure group that operates on demands. MPs govern and legislate and don’t make demands in workshops. How would MPs demand to and from themselves for themselves? That’s not how Parliament functions. Parliament business is undertaken in the house by way of motions and resolutions not in educational and informational workshops. MPs are servants of the people and not their masters. Representing people is a national and patriotic duty that deserves no payment at all. MPs are supposed to be missionaries not mercenaries. I for one have no capacity therefore incapable of being greedy without such need and requisite appetite. I have alternative income as a practicing lawyer and other projects.
Q: With the propensity of MPs to bunk Parliament, do you believe there is justification for such a reward being mooted under the Parliamentary Salaries and Benefits Amendment Bill?
A: Again the question doesn’t arise because it is based on erroneous facts and falsehoods. I have nothing to justify here. But you are aware that I have always complained even publicly about the absenteeism of ministers and other MPs in Parliament. Nobody should be rewarded for volunteering to serve.
Q: And I believe you were discussing assets declaration for MPs. What have you agreed?
A: Now you are talking. Parliamentarians must be at the centre of accountability being role models in honesty and exemplary leadership. As Parliament, we must lead in aligning the laws and rules governing Parliament to the Constitution. We must also lead by example in exuding integrity and probity in our affairs, public or private. Motivated by such spirit, assets shall be declared with immediate effect as we await the enabling Act as envisaged and purposed in the national Constitution. Nothing in public life is entirely private. So, once a citizen steps forward and chooses to represent others, they would have consented to total and public scrutiny.
Q: After declaring assets, lifestyle audits would be conducted after how long?
A: A lifestyle audit is in actual fact a leadership audit. This is essential. Leaders are dealers in hope and such must transact in the currency of hope. In terms of the Code, audits would be regular, including having members of the public with the right to access any information as registered and kept at Parliament at any time during business hours.
Q: What will be the penalties for ill-gotten wealth in office?
A: The truth is that our legislative framework ought to be augmented to specifically deal with MPs misdeclaring and under declaring wealth. My personal view and conviction is that it is a vile and unacceptable circumstance for anyone to use a public office to enrich or elicit unfair advantage. The law should then stretch beyond mere criminal sanction for miscreant MPs to show that public service is not for self service in pursuit of personal enrichment or aggrandizement. The real problem is the existence of professional politicians, career ministers. We must deal with careerism and careerists. One should be an MP or minister to serve and not consider it a job from where he should derive livelihood. All should be gainfully engaged elsewhere and only come to politics to serve and nothing but to serve. All said and done, I am just way off the person that strangers to my world seek to portray me as being. I have been subjected to the crucible of public scrutiny and I am happy with that.