Africa

Deafening silence in Zim Parliament

Farai Shoko

An analysis of Zimbabwe's former parliament shows that participation in both former houses was poor with 25% of MPs not uttering a word at all.

Tongue-tied: At least a quarter of MPs in both houses of the ­previous Parliament did not utter a single word for an entire year, a research report has found. (Desmond Kwande/AFP)

Zimbabwe's former ­Parliament may rank as the worst performing in history, following a ­revelation that at least 25% of its MPs, in both houses, went through the whole of 2012 and the first half of 2013 without uttering a single word, an ­independent report has revealed.

In a Research Advocacy Unit report titled 'What Happened in Parliament?' an analysis of the participation of MPs 2012-2013 shows that several members of the House of Assembly and the Senate "were paid sitting allowances for merely sitting, and not because they engaged with the substantive business of Parliament".

The silence was not a problem specific to any party. Participation was problematic for the MPs of Zanu-PF and both factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

On average, the MPs spoke seven times and 25% of them did not utter a word at all in both houses, according to the report.

"Female members spoke 8.3 times, more often than men, at 7.2 times, and [their contingent] had fewer members that did not speak at all, namely 14.7%, as opposed to 25.8% [in the case of] men," said the report.

Silent members
"Some members never spoke for the whole year between June 2012 and June 2013. Others spoke, but with little substantive addition to the discussion or merely seconding motions.

"Nearly a quarter of both bodies [the House of Assembly and Senate] had members that did not speak at all."

Despite its majority, Zanu-PF was the quieter party. The report said at least two-thirds of Zanu-PF ministers never participated in either Assembly or Senate sessions.

The Zanu-PF MPs who were ministers at the time and who kept mum in the house were Didymus Mutasa, Nicholas Goche, Obert Mpofu, Ignatius Chombo, Francis Nhema, Sylvester Nguni and Flora Buka.

Also silent were deputy ministers Reuben Marumahoko, Andrew Langa, Douglas Mombeshora and Hubert Nyanhongo. Former public services minister Lucia Matibenga stands out as the only MDC-T minister who did not speak in either the Assembly or Senate.  

Rumbidzai Dube, a senior researcher with the unit who was instrumental in the compilation of the analysis, said the failure of Zanu-PF legislators to participate in the 40 and 50 sessions of the House of Assembly and the Senate respectively was worrying, considering that they had held ministerial positions in previous parliamentary sessions.

Marked differences in political parties' participation
The report notes that there were marked differences in the participation of various political parties and others represented in the two houses, with the MDC-T outperforming all the other parties.

On average, Zanu-PF legislators participated in parliamentary ­proceedings five times, the MDC-T seven times, the MDC-M nine times, and independent MP Jonathan Moyo just twice.

Of participation in the Senate, the report said: "It is noteworthy that the number of Zanu-PF senators that said nothing [10] was much higher than the other two political parties."

Questions and answer sessions, an important process in Parliament, were also poorly attended.

From June 2008 until June 2013, the seventh Parliament passed 42 Bills. The majority of those passed between June 2012 and June 2013 were related to the work of the finance ministry.  

"Parliament's ability to pass any Bills remained at the mercy of the presidential powers to assent to and sign Bills passed by Parliament," said Dube.

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