Mugabe to face parliamentary grilling

President Robert Mugabe will face opposition scrutiny over policies he has announced. (Philimon Bulawayo, Reuters)

President Robert Mugabe will face opposition scrutiny over policies he has announced. (Philimon Bulawayo, Reuters)

Zimbabwe’s opposition MPs used a rare opportunity on Tuesday to heckle President Robert Mugabe. He was presenting the State of the Nation address, after failing to give one for the past eight years.

MPs described his speech as a “non­event” and “meaningless” and Mugabe is to be summoned to Parliament to respond to questions that arose from his address.

In it, Mugabe highlighted plans and promises by his Zanu-PF government to alleviate the suffering of millions of people affected by the country’s worsening economic crisis.

After the 30-minute address – uncharacteristically short by Mugabe’s standards – Nelson Chamisa, an MP representing Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T)faction, raised a point of privilege, demanding that Mugabe return to Parliament to respond to questions.

Chamisa’s request was permitted, despite spirited attempts by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere to block it.

“Mr Speaker, section 140 of the Constitution allows that the president comes to Parliament and interfaces with us and take questions on the State of the Nation address,” he said, amid heckling from Zanu-PF legislators who wanted to shield their leader from being subjected to questioning by opposition MPs.

“This is not to embarrass him, but it’s actually good for all MPs here so that we get a clear understanding on the trajectory this government is taking.”

In spite of the protests, Chamisa stood his ground, arguing that parliamentary standing rules allow for Mugabe to be questioned after his address.

Manicaland’s minister for provincial affairs, Mandi Chimene, rose to object to the move by the MDC-T lawmaker, but the speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda, who is also the head of the standing rules and orders committee, ruled that Mugabe should come back and take questions from the backbenchers, as well as to clarify some of the policies he had announced.

“In liaison with the presiding officer of the Senate and Parliament administration, as well as the office of the president and His Excellency the president himself, we are going to see how feasible that is,” Mudenda said. His ruling was greeted by ululation and approval from MDC-T MPs while their Zanu-PF counterparts remained sullen-faced, with Mnangagwa shaking his head in disapproval.

In his speech, which was punctuated by interjections from the opposition, Mugabe claimed the country’s economy is set for “take-off” thanks to financial assistance from China and a 10-point plan, which seeks to address fundamental economic behaviour for state institutions and create jobs through small and medium-sized enterprises.

The 91-year-old leader, who braved constant jeering, presented one of his shortest speeches, which he kicked off by thanking the country’s security establishment for maintaining peace in the face of the economic crisis.

“Zimbabwe is positioning itself for a major economic take-off as a result of ZimAsset [the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation, the ruling party’s blueprint for economic growth], which requires massive capital injection.
The government has re-engaged the international community,” he said.

But MDC-T MPs heckled Mugabe, with Binga North MP Prince Sibanda shouting at the top of his voice: “Gushungo, you have failed.”

Gushungo is Mugabe’s clan name.

The opposition MPs also said he should get rid of corruption in his government and deliver the 2.2?million jobs his party promised during the 2013 election campaign.

Despite the MPs’ shouted demands, Mugabe did not divert from his speech, entreating Zimbabweans to “work hard” and encouraging Africans in the diaspora to invest in Zimbabwe.

The president also announced drastic measures for parastatal reforms, saying institutions linked to the agricultural sector need revamping and that laws will be amended before year-end to ease the cost of doing business.

But opposition MPs said Mugabe’s speech was meaningless, with one legislator describing it as “a wish list from a clueless man on how to achieve the wishes”.

Warren Park MP Elias Mudzuri said Mugabe’s speech was not a State of the Nation address but a manifesto with no correlation to the facts on the ground.

“He should have told us how many jobs his government will create in the coming year, how many they have created and how they intend to grow the economy,” he said.

“His entire speech was devoid of reason and character for economic growth. No direction of job creation, not even statistics of what he has achieved so far.

“It shows that he has nothing to tell the nation.”

Zanu-PF Mutoko South MP David Chapfika said if the government implemented the measures to reform parastatals that Mugabe announced, this could help resuscitate the economy.

“Until we assume a paradigm shift in the way we do things, we will not be able to turn around this economy. It needs physical and fundamental changes,” Chapfika said.

MPs raid their kitties as allowances go unpaid

“If you tell voters that you have not been paid, they will not listen. So you have to look for ways to help” Zimbabwe’s MPs this week claimed they have gone for nine months without receiving their allowances, which are pegged at $75 a parliamentary sitting.

They said Parliament has also been erratic in giving them their fuel allowances.

A number of legislators based in rural constituencies who spoke to NewsDay said they have resorted to using personal funds to enable them to attend sittings of Parliament sittings because the government is struggling to reimburse them.

Zanu-PF’s chief whip in Parliament, Joram Gumbo, confirmed the development but blamed the problems on the country’s current economic malaise.

“I know that most MPs are in arrears in terms of allowances and fuel coupons, as well as other benefits. But this is not peculiar to us as there are many state institutions that are faced with the same economic challenges,” Gumbo said.

“I don’t know the exact months that are in arrears because it is only known by the accounts department, which is purely administrative … What I know is that MPs are owed substantial amounts in allowances and coupons,” he said.

One of the Zanu-PF MPs from a rural Matabeleland constituency, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he is struggling to finance his trips to Harare to attend parliamentary sittings.

He said he has resorted to giving people lifts whenever he travels to Harare for parliamentary sittings, to raise fuel money.

“If I carry six to eight people from Bulawayo to Harare, at least I will be able to get something for fuel and airtime to call back home. It’s not easy to be an MP, especially when there are no resources to use,” said the lawmaker.

Buhera South MP Joseph Chinotimba said he has not received much from Parliament in the form of allowances or from the Constituency Development Fund, adding that he generally visits his rural constituency using his personal resources.

“I always strive to be with my people and I do all I can to assist. If you tell the voters that you have not been paid, they will not listen. So, it’s up to you as an MP to look for ways to help your constituents [rather] than to wait for Parliament money.

“I initiate various projects in the constituency, although it is very difficult,” Chinotimba said.

MPs are paid a monthly salary of about $1 800.

Gumbo said all the MPs are up to date with their salaries, but that their allowances are in arrears.

The clerk of Parliament, Kennedy Chokuda, confirmed that the institution owes MPs fuel coupons dating back to 2014. “None of them is owed anything in terms of allowances because the money will go towards settling the debts they incurred when they got vehicles.

“But we acknowledge that we owe them fuel coupons for last year. We have since made arrangements on how to pay them for the fuel coupons owed,” Chokuda said. – NewsDay

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