MPs flex muscles

Members of Parliament have flexed their muscles and refused to ratify a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement with Iran.

For years Zimbabwe’s Parliament has been nothing but a rubber stamp for presidential and ministerial edicts. Even the arrival of MDC MPs in the House, with a simple majority over Zanu (PF), failed to make much of a difference.

But at last MPs seem to be taking their responsibilities seriously.

The Zanu (PF) deputy minister of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion, Sam Undenge, tabled the BIPPA in Parliament this week.

But MDC legislators are ambivalent about ratifying it without full information about what they were signing up to, amid fears the treaty could be for Tehran's uranium enrichment programme.

Undenge deftly skirted the uranium enrichment programme in his presentation and told the House that the treaty was to protect Iranian investments, including the tractor manufacturing plant set up by Iranians in Zimbabwe a few weeks ago, and a joint venture with IDC in the Modzone textile industry.

"I would like to recommend the House to ratify the BIPPA agreement with Iran because of the benefits which are going to accrue to us, not only in terms of investment but in terms of trade," he said.

Legislators questioned why the agreement, signed in 1999, was being brought to the House for ratification now, when Iran’s enrichment programme has provoked a diplomatic tiff with Washington.

The United States warned Zimbabwe in March there would be grave ramifications if it cooperated with Iran’s nuclear programme in violation of United Nations resolutions.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was concerned over recent statements by Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi that UN sanctions on Iran were unfair and hypocritical.

It is believed Iran is interested in uranium deposits that lie in the Zambezi River valley but were not exploited over the past few years due to low uranium prices. It is estimated that the country’s Kanyemba Mine holds more than 45,000 tons of uranium ore with over 20,000 tons extractible.

Gokwe Zanu (PF) MP Dorothy Mangami was the only legislator who backed the ratification of the BIPPA.

Kambuzuma MDC MP Willias Madzimure said it was pointless to ratify the BIPPA given the contempt Zimbabwe has for its international commitments.

"We have signed several BIPPA agreements but we have violated those agreements," Madzimure said. "We have dragged ourselves before various fora where the country is debated. Are we a suitable candidate to enter into some of these agreements?"

The government has expropriated several farms protected under similar BIPPAs.

Madzimure said Zimbabwe must first learn to respect the rule of law.

In the past Didymus Mutasa, the Zanu (PF) secretary for administration, has said BIPPAS were “not worth the paper they were written on”.

Masvingo Central MDC MP Jeffryson Chitando said the 7th Zimbabwe Parliament could not be forced to ratify an agreement "which is not of this Parliament."

"It should have been ratified during that period (1999)," Chitando said. "Madam Speaker, personally when I look at this agreement in relation to the people I represent, the people of Mapanzure, Chatikobo and Masarasara in Masvingo, what exactly are they going to benefit from this agreement? If there is nothing to benefit, it means this agreement is not of importance."

Chitando surmised that the BIPPA had been dusted off because ZBC wanted antiquated broadcasting equipment from Iran in exchange for access to minerals.

It was finally resolved that the debate on this motion be adjourned.

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