The chaos that rocked public hearings on the Electoral Amendment Bill in Harare and Bubi has exposed the low calibre of most of our MPs, who are only visible during election campaigns, but disappear as soon as they are voted into Parliament.
Parliament, with the financial help of development partner the Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST), spent money to put up adverts and book hotel rooms for MPs to traverse seven districts across the country to collect people’s views on the important Bill which has a serious impact on future elections.
However, some of the MPs from the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, who were supposed to do the job of gathering input on what people wanted in the Bill, were a big letdown as they failed to show commitment to the outreach programme.
Out of the 18 MPs in the committee, only five travelled with the chairperson, Harare West MP Jessie Majome, to meet people at Rushinga, Nyika Growth Point in Masvingo, Bubi, Gweru, Bulawayo, Plumtree and Harare.
Where were the other 13 MPs during the five-day public hearings? Were they too busy to attend to Parliament business, especially taking into consideration that a crucial piece of legislation to do with the perenniallly emotive issue of elections was being discussed?
Truant MPs cannot be forgiven for their lack of commitment, resulting in chaos in Harare after lack of a quorum whose requirements are only three legislators.
Although seven MPs initially attended the Harare public hearing, they left stealthily one by one until there were only two MPs left, resulting in lack of quorum.
More than 200 Harare residents, including civic society groups, had left their important jobs to attend the public hearing on the Bill.
This leaves questions as to whether there could be an element of sabotage by those members who decided not to take part, given people from those districts visited raised concern over incompetence of their local MPs and their failure to discuss the contents of the electoral Bill with them before the public hearings. On average, between 30 and 50 people turned up for the hearings outside Harare.
It is indeed a shame that MPs failed to help the committee by encouraging their constituents to attend the public hearings.
In Bubi, the situation even deteriorated into violence as people threatened to beat up the MPs.
The rowdy crowd even claimed the committee should have first sought permission to hold the public hearings from Matabeleland North governor Cain Mathema, who is a member of the Senate, and Bubi MP Clifford Sibanda.
Are these Zanu PF legislators now bigger than the authority of Parliament?
There is need for MPs to take Bills and Parliamentary business seriously as they represent the people who voted them into poor.
Taxpayers’ money and finances from development partners cannot be allowed to continuously be put to waste.
The whole outreach fiasco shows the urgent need for performance appraisal systems for our legislators where MPs can be fired for incompetence.