The Sunday Mail
Lincoln Towindo Parliament
Speaker of Parliament Advocate Jacob Mudenda was apoplectic at an age-old delinquency that has plagued the National Assembly for years — truancy.
He warned some Government ministers against contempt of Parliament through excessive truancy.
Adv Mudenda invited members of the House to raise a point of order and move a motion to charge ministers for contempt, as required by Parliamentary procedure.
Contempt of Parliament is a serious offence that could attract sanctions, including suspension or expulsion from the House.
Adv Mudenda’s unprecedented admonition followed failure to attend Wednesday’s Question and Answer session by some Cabinet ministers and their deputies.
Eight ministers had offered formal apologies to the Speaker and others did not.
As a result, the burden to attend to Parliamentarians’ questions fell on the shoulders of the Leader of Government business, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi.
Minister Ziyambi had to plead with Parliamentarians to proffer most of their questions in writing, largely because some required specifics which only the sitting minister could provide.
Several questions went, quite literally, unanswered.
The Speaker had no kind words for the ministers who neglected to attend or offer apologies for their absence.
“This is totally unacceptable.”
But this was not the end of the truancy drama.
Later on, Honourable Kucaca Phulu addressed a very pointed question about the efficacy of Covid-19 treatment regimens such as remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine being promoted by some world leaders, a question which left Minister Ziyambi, a lawyer, at sixes and sevens.
The Speaker was again unimpressed.
“These Ministers are undermining the Presidency totally. There is no apology tendered and the honourable Leader of Government business cannot know everything.
“May I appeal again through you, if next time these ministers do not come, there must be someone from the floor to raise a point of order and move a motion accordingly so that we can then charge honourable ministers for Contempt of Parliament. They are undermining the Government.”
Truancy is not a new phenomenon in Parliament.
We have had several incidents where the Question and Answer session has had to be delayed because of the absence of ministers.
Some important questions have suffered a natural death after being pushed onto the order paper because the minister responsible is unavailable for one reason or another. The questions, sadly, remain on the order paper until kingdom comes.
What is more frightening though is that this truancy ailment does not just afflict Government Ministers, the Parliamentarians themselves are equally afflicted. We have MPs who attend a session just to report their presence before sneaking out.
This ensures that they receive their sitting allowances in full, after all, they would have “attended” the sitting. We, however, figured this problem would now be a thing of the past after Parliament installed an expensive biometric register which records attendances.
The biometric system was forecast to improve attendance and participation by MPs, after it was observed that some were regularly absconding sittings and thereby short-changing constituents.
Said Adv Mudenda at the time: “On a few occasions, we had to adjourn debates in the National Assembly and we now concluded with the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders — the policy body which manages Parliament — that we are going to introduce biometric registers so that a Member of Parliament is clocked in and clocked out as well.
“That way, we will be able to trace which Member of Parliament has the habit of sneaking in and out. Further, we have agreed with the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders that we have an attendance and contribution audit. In other words, the presiding officers see which members just come in, sit and say nothing.”
Return of the maverick
Eccentric Norton representative Mr Temba Mliswa returned to the House last week after serving a six-week suspension for disorderly conduct.
Mr Mliswa landed the ban after excessively interjecting other legislators making contributions and ministers responding to questions from legislators. He was the first MP to fall foul of the new standing rules, which allow the presiding officer to preclude a legislator from attending sittings for a prescribed period.
His return was not without incident. Mr Mliswa attended the virtual session without his Ipad gadget and was soon in the Speaker’s cross hairs who asked him where his gadget was.
“It was stolen, sir,” he shot back.
“I was hoping that being a former headmaster, you would make me go through the whole process so that I am part of the class because I missed out a lot when I was away,” he added, leaving the House in stitches.