ZANU PF has reportedly set in motion plans to purge MDC chairpersons of parliamentary portfolio committees using its majority in the august House, setting the stage for another bruising fight between the country’s two main parties amid concern over the shrinking democratic space.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
The precursor, chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment, Concillia Chinanzvavana, was on Wednesday voted out of her position by Zanu PF members during a post-budget meeting.
The ruling party’s MP for Zaka North, Robson Mavenyengwa, then took over as chair for the meeting.
There were also foiled attempts to remove Health Portfolio Committee chairperson Ruth Labode from her post.
MDC chief whip Prosper Mutseyami yesterday confirmed the plot to remove opposition committee chairpersons.
Observers said the removal of MDC chairpersons was aimed at protecting Zanu PF cronies, among them President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ally Kudakwashe Tagwireyi of Sakunda Holdings, who has to face grilling by the Tendai Biti-led Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over US$3 billion payments for the Command Agriculture programme that the company and/or government failed to account for.
On Friday last week, Zanu PF MPs, who are members of Biti’s committee walked out of a hearing to question Sakunda executives.
The payments were made without Parliament’s approval and there was now suspicion that the ploy to remove MDC chairpersons is meant to weaken Parliamentary Portfolio Committees in order to protect corrupt Zanu PF lackeys.
Last week, Zanu PF MPs also boycotted the PAC committee, which is still dealing with the Command Agriculture issue.
Last year, the Mines Portfolio Committee, then chaired by independent legislator Temba Mliswa, was disbanded after Zanu PF MPs caused disorder and took advantage of the Norton legislator’s temper to cause chaos, resulting in near fist fights.
Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda had no option, but to disband the committee.
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi yesterday remained adamant that the MDC, which has been boycotting sittings of Parliament whenever Mnangagwa is in the House, should not expect to chair post-budget committee meetings when they were not present during Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s 2020 budget presentation on Thursday last week.
“They did not come for the budget presentation and so how do they want to chair something that they were not in agreement with? They said they do not agree with the budget and they boycotted it and so that is the issue here,” Ziyambi said.
“It is the same as the issue I recently stated that why do they want to ask a minister who was appointed by the President a question in Parliament when they do not recognise the President? The budget is an Executive paper and that is why it comes before Parliament for approval and so why do they want to chair post budget meetings when they boycotted the budget?
“If they want to boycott they should go home for good, rather than boycotting the budget and then coming later to chair and claim sitting allowances.”
Mutseyami narrated the Wednesday melee where Chinanzvavana was ousted by Zanu PF MPs.
“We seem to have a serious problem which is also well-co-ordinated and is coming from the Zanu PF side, whereby they are pushing to remove chairpersons of committees chaired by the MDC,” Mutseyami said.
“The MDC is entitled to chair eight parliamentary portfolio committees and now Zanu PF legislators are trying to use their numbers to vote our chairpersons out. On Wednesday during the sitting of the Environment Portfolio Committee, they clandestinely voted out the chairperson Chinanzvavana (MDC) and made their party member Robson Mavenyengwa (Zaka North MP) to chair,” he said.
Mutseyami said the Zanu PF legislators took advantage of the absence of their opposition counterparts who had attended the Hope of the Nation Address by their party president Nelson Chamisa, to oust Chinanzvavana.
He added that the Zanu PF MPs in the Health Portfolio Committee then attempted to overthrow Labode, but were outnumbered by the MDC.
“I engaged the Clerk of Parliament, Kennedy Chokuda about the issue and his response was that the issue is now beyond him as it is political. We are, therefore, trying to find a political solution, but unfortunately, the Zanu PF chief whip Pupurai Togarepi is out of the country,” Mutseyami said.
Chokuda, however, said he had not yet received formal communication about the issue.
“I have not yet received an administrative report about the issue (removal of Chinanzvavana). I can only act if there is a report,” he said.
But Mutseyami said if the matter is not urgently resolved, it would cripple the operations of parliamentary committees.
“They tried to also remove Labode in the Health Portfolio Committee, but they could not sustain it as the MDC MPs outnumbered them. The fact that MDC MPs could not attend the budget because they had attended a funeral is not an issue because nothing happens during budget presentation except that it is just a statement presented as a book,” he said.
“After the budget is presented MPs then go to post budget seminar which we attended and contributed widely. As the MDC, we have the capacity to study and contribute to meaningful debate on the budget and so it is not an issue. We did not boycott the budget and we cannot boycott our own institution — Parliament.”
Chinanzvavana said her ouster was unprocedural and unconstitutional.
“There was drama in the committee and they (Zanu PF MPs) said they were removing me from chairing the committee until the budget debate has been concluded. They said my crime was that I was not around when Ncube presented the budget,” she said.
“There were only three MDC MPs against 15 Zanu PF MPs in the committee and they outnumbered us. However, it is unconstitutional and the Parliament Standing Rules and Orders do not allow such action.”