BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
CHAIRPERSON of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care Ruth Labode has said Parliament should play a critical oversight role during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said this during a virtual discussion held by Southern African Parliament Trust on the role of Parliament in a pandemic on Wednesday.
Labode said COVID-19 was a novelty and Parliament had never experienced it. After 47 MPs tested positive in the first wave, Speaker Jacob Mudenda had to suspend Parliament business, with the affected legislators ordered to stay at home and quarantine.
“During the first lockdown last year, we literally did nothing except to participate in virtual meetings with the private sector, but this time around, we introduced virtual meetings when the second wave came and government went on lockdown. Our role now has become remote control because of the pandemic,
“We hold an oversight meeting with the Ministry of Health on their strategy for controlling COVID-19,” Labode said.
“We are not even able to play our role without communities except via WhatsApp group.”
She said without physical meeting, it was, however, difficult to carry out the oversight role because Parliament could not hold physical meetings and visit some places like hospitals to assess the situation.
She said Parliament could not approve expenditure, but when there was an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic, there was nothing it could do.
Labode said there was no law that could be passed before public hearings are held, which are not possible due to the lockdown restrictions.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said it was important to appreciate that COVID-19 had given some governments across the globe formidable Executive powers which were being abused to violate human rights.
Rusike said Parliament should continue playing its oversight role.
“The Executive should brief Parliament on its processes, for example, the extension of lockdown, and continue its oversight role” Rusike said.
“We need Parliament to play its part. It should ask or summon the Minister of Health on why we are purchasing (COVID-19) vaccines from Russia or China, what are the advantages of purchasing the vaccine there?
“Parliamentarians should also know where exactly we are purchasing the vaccine.”
Rusike said COVID-19 had given people power that they never used to have, especially legislators, and they should be champions in giving information on the virus to their respective constituencies.
He added that Parliament had to be informed and ensure there was transparency on the issue of vaccines.
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