MPs deserve better working conditions

John Makamure
There has been a lot of public debate around issues to do with the conditions of service for Members of Parliament.
Some members of the public have voiced their concern over the decision by Government to allocate US$12 million for the purchase of vehicles for the legislators.

My view is that this concern is misplaced as legislators deserve better working conditions for them to effectively execute their constitutional mandate.

Parliament has been given some onerous responsibilities by the new Constitution that requires adequate funding to be fulfilled.
Section 119 outlines the mandate of Parliament as that of protecting the Constitution and promoting democratic governance in Zimbabwe.

This Section says Parliament has power to ensure that the provisions of the Constitution are upheld and that the State and all institutions and agencies of Government at every level act constitutionally and in the national interest.

It goes on to clarify that all institutions and agencies of the State and Government at every level are accountable to Parliament. Basically, this Section of the Constitution requires that Parliament provides effective oversight on the operations of all institutions and agencies of the State in order to ensure that they conduct public affairs in a manner that satisfies public interest.

Surely, there is no way the legislators can provide oversight over so many institutions and Government agencies without adequate funding.
Section 299 illustrates the enormity of the oversight task to be executed by Parliament.

It makes it an obligation on the part of Parliament to monitor expenditure by the State and all commissions, institutions and agencies of Government at every level. These also include statutory bodies, Government-controlled entities, provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities.

Such oversight has to ensure that all revenues are accounted for, all expenditure as been properly incurred and any limits and conditions on appropriations have been observed.

For such a task to be undertaken effectively requires the MPs to be equipped with the necessary financial and material resources in order for them to carry out fact-finding visits and inspect the operations of Government entities on the ground.

Vehicles and financial resources are necessary for the MPs to visit their constituencies and consult citizens on important public policy matters before Parliament.

This has even become more important after the enactment of constitutional provisions to do with consulting the public before public policies are enacted.

Section 141 of the Constitution makes it an obligation on the part of Parliament to facilitate public involvement in its legislative and other processes of its committees.

Parliament is also required to ensure that interested parties are consulted about Bills being considered unless such consultation is inappropriate or impracticable.

The conduct of public hearings in communities and the convening of constituency meetings or surgeries are some of the key mechanisms to facilitate public involvement in parliamentary processes.

The legislators can only convene these hearings and meetings if they are adequately funded.

There have been complaints that the work being churned out by the MPs does not justify the salaries and allowances currently being paid. I beg to differ. Another indisputable fact is that there is a lot of good work being done by the MPs in the plenary and in their committees.

The motion on corruption has been debated in a robust manner across the political divide, resulting in the Executive taking some action to try and curb the rot. The development of a corporate governance code in Government and the directive to put a salary cap in public enterprises are some of the most notable actions taken.

While much more still needs to be done to fight the scourge, the beginning is quite encouraging. The onus is also on citizens to continue to engage the MPs to keep investigations and debate alive.

The MPs need researched information from civil society and other groups to buttress their debates in the House.

There is no doubt that portfolio committees have been doing a sterling job investigating the serious problems of corruption in Government entities.

The numerous Press reports on the work of committees are testimony to that.

The Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Committee are currently seized with investigations into the management of community share ownership schemes.

On the other hand, the Public Accounts Committee is scrutinising damning reports from the Auditor-General that have revealed rampant abuse of public funds in Government entities such as Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) and the National Social Security Authority (NSSA).

The Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development is investigating the operations of CMED where a reported US$7 million has been lost due to botched-up tender procedures. There are many other committees currently working on issues of pertinent public interest.

Most of the committee meetings are open, thereby allowing the public an opportunity to attend and observe proceedings.

Open committee meetings allow the operations of Parliament to be demystified. Citizens can also write to Parliament and request to appear before committees and engage the members on any issue of public interest.

These requests will not be turned unless there are reasonable grounds to do so. Otherwise, this will be a violation of Section 141 of the Constitution already alluded to above.

I hope this article has tried to demonstrate that without adequate financial and other resources there is no way that the legislators can fulfil their mandate as dictated by the Constitution.

John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust. The Trust is a development partner to Parliament. Feedback: [email protected]

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