Critical Parly committees should sit: CSOs

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CIVIC society groups have called on Parliament to set up a special COVID-19 ad hoc committee to play its oversight role over government during the coronavirus crisis, and that critical parliamentary portfolio committees such as that of Health should sit virtually.

BY VENERANDA LANGA

Parliament resumes sitting today, but it is not yet clear if it will sit to immediately adjourn to a later date as the COVID-19 lockdown was extended to May 17 and the rules include that there should not be gatherings of more than 50 people.

In a statement, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) and its partners said it was high time Parliament began to learn from other Parliaments and grilled ministers in virtual committee meetings.

Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda last week said Parliament was already working on going virtual.

“Parliament should urgently establish a special COVID-19 ad hoc committee to oversee government during the crisis period. The ad hoc committee can be chairpersons of all thematic and portfolio committees,” the Zimcodd statement read.

“At the very least, those committees that oversee government departments and organs of the State that are in the frontline of tackling the pandemic should be meeting. These include the Standing Rules and Orders Committee, the Budget and Finance Committee, the Health Committee, among other key selected committees.”

While the civic society organisations feel that Parliament has been idle during the lockdown period, Chokuda said they must take into cognisance that Parliament has a sitting calendar, and the House was supposed to adjourn in March to resume in May even without the pandemic.

“For the record, Parliament adjourned on Wednesday March 18, 2020 to May 5, 2020 in line with the approved sitting calendar for 2020, but had to take an early break due to concerns arising from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Despite that, civic society organisations feel that Parliament can consult the public on electronic platforms, and either livestream their virtual meetings or make available videos of the meetings afterwards.

“The world is adjusting to new methods of working, so too should Parliament. These committees could hold meetings using various video-conferencing tools that are available and get key government officials to interact with the committees via these platforms. They should be able to hold the government to account for the actions they have taken, and ensure that these are consistent with the constitution and the relevant legislation,” Zimcodd said.

“There are other interventions that Parliament could utilise and it can learn from neighbouring countries to ensure that it does not negate its constitutional mandates of representation, lawmaking and oversight. What MPs cannot afford, and be allowed to do, is fold their arms and allow the government to rule by Executive decree without any oversight,” Zimcodd added.