Punitive measures needed for disorderly conduct in Parly

THE commotion and premature adjournment of business in the National Assembly on Tuesday must be strongly condemned. It is deplorable to say the least.

guest column: John Makamure

At a time the country is facing a plethora of economic challenges, you would expect our Members of Parliament to engage in constructive debate and proffer well-thought-out solutions to the challenges.

Honourable means one is a person of honour or one with a higher status and respectable in society.

I am sorry to say the behaviour of some of the MPs makes it very difficult for citizens to accord them such status.

The image portrayed on Tuesday is that of a lawless institution, whose members are driven by selfish and partisan interests so much that they have absolutely nothing to do with the national interest.

It is clear that some of the MPs instigate commotion in order to attract attention to themselves.

Whether we like it or not, the time for electioneering is over. The citizens have moved on and are now more concerned about bread and butter issues.

Debating whether or not someone garnered two million or one million votes does not bring food on the table.

It is a meaningless debate because the current situation will not change.

Parliament is defined by the Inter-Parliamentary Union as a generic term depicting a representative body of individuals to whom the people have entrusted the responsibility of representing them by laying down the legal framework within which society shall be governed and seeing to it that these legal conditions are implemented in a responsible manner by the Executive.

I don’t think one would be representing the wishes and aspirations of the people if one is famous for heckling others and grossly disrupting proceedings.

All the members of the National Assembly and Senate took oath of office.

When taking oath of office, they all swear that they will be faithful to Zimbabwe, uphold the Constitution and all other laws of Zimbabwe, and perform their duties faithfully and to the best of their abilities.

The disorderly conduct and abandonment of parliamentary business witnessed on Tuesday is a serious violation of the oath of office.

In Parliament, members can say anything because they are protected by the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act.

However, the freedom of expression in the House must not be abused. What the MPs say must not violate the rights of other people.

Citizens are looking forward to the MPs making laws to promote peace, order and good governance in Zimbabwe and effectively overseeing implementation of public policies by the Executive.

Disruption of parliamentary business is, therefore, a violation of citizen rights because these citizens have entrusted in MPs the responsibility to ensure public officials deliver services.

If services have not been delivered, it is a violation of citizens’ socio-economic rights, which are now fundamental rights in the new Constitution.

Section 117 of the Constitution categorically states that the legislative authority of Parliament and the President is derived from the people, and is vested in and exercised in accordance with the Constitution by the Legislature.

So these MPs must understand that they are servants of the people.

They have no authority to disrupt parliamentary proceedings when people are expecting them to deliver on the promises that they made during campaigning to be elected into Parliament.

Severe penalties are needed to address disorderly conduct. The leadership of Parliament must review provisions of the Standing Orders relating to disorderly conduct to ensure that they are punitive enough.

The Standing Orders do not allow use of derogatory, disrespectful, offensive or unbecoming words against the President, the presiding officers and Members of Parliament.

The MPs are not allowed to use their freedom of speech for the purpose of obstructing the proceedings of the House or abusing the rules.

In terms of penalties, the Speaker or the president of the Senate must order a member whose conduct is grossly disorderly to withdraw immediately from the precincts of Parliament for the remainder of that day’s sitting.

Any member who disregards the authority of the chair or persistently and wilfully disrupts the business of the House commits an offence for which he or she may be suspended from the service of the House.

For the first occasion, the member is suspended for four sitting days.

On the second occasion, for eight sitting days and the third or any subsequent occasion, 16 sitting days.

Disorderly conduct can also attract contempt of Parliament charges.

If found guilty by a Parliamentary Privileges Committee, whose verdict is endorsed by the House, the member will pay a stipulated fine.

Parliament no longer has power to impose a custodial sentence.

It used to have this power before enactment of the new Constitution.

The penalties in my view are not punitive enough. I would propose that any member ejected from the House for disorderly conduct should not be paid his/her sitting allowance.

We cannot have taxpayers paying for such conduct. The culprits must foot the bill themselves.

And the suspensions must be for longer timeframes without remuneration.

John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support. Feedback: johnma@sapst.org; @john_makamure

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