Self-serving parliament fiddles while Rome burns

The financial difficulties usually experienced by most Zimbabweans in January after Christmas and New Year spending sprees will this year be experienced by the electorate alone. Our parliamentarians will smile all the way to the bank.

The electorate should not continue to endure years of subsidizing MPs’ lavish lifestyles.
The electorate should not continue to endure years of subsidizing MPs’ lavish lifestyles.

For the second year running, parliamentarians have threatened to block the approval of the national budget unless government gives in to their demands for new cars and sitting allowances of$75 per sitting – backdated to 2008.

Indications are that the three principals in the inclusive government have bowed to the legislators’ demands and agreed to pay a whooping $3,3 million in outstanding allowances.

Coming as most citizens battle daily power cuts, food and water shortages, and frequent disease outbreaks, has attracted widespread condemnation.

Political analyst, Professor John Makumbe, said parliamentarians were entitled to their allowances, but should put national priorities before their own interests. “If the Finance Minister pays out those allowances he will not be able to improve the income of civil servants who are earning less than half of the Poverty Datum Line,” said Makumbe.

Lawyer Dzikamai Machingura, said, “It is surprising that parliamentarians are only becoming visible when they make noise for their own pockets. Yet the legislative agenda has not moved an inch – except for passing iniquitous pieces of legislation”.

MPs were given a chance to analyse the budget at a post-budget analysis workshop organized by the Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust in November. Instead of getting down to serious business, they turned the workshop into a circus. Rest assured they were paid sitting allowances for spending half a day hurling insults at each other like high school students. Just a week later, they allegedly refused to debate the budget, arguing they needed more time to scrutinize it.

SAPST reports that most parliamentary question and answer sessions are poorly attended by parliamentarians. It is also worrisome that government agrees to dish out these ridiculous amounts to legislators whilst the majority of the nation is living on less than $2 per day.

The government is cash strapped and there is just no money to disburse for many of the commitments made in the 2012 budget. Among a host of national maladies, maternal mortality rate stands at 795 deaths per every 100 000 live births – this amounts to more than 10 busloads of women who die during the process of giving life!

As Parliamentarians get a ‘windfall’ in allowances, there is virtually nothing allocated towards programmes under the Ministry of Education. Of the $700 million allocated for education in the 2012 budget, only one percent is for programmes. The bulk is for salaries. To make up for deficits, the Education Minister has authorized school fees hikes – further squeezing the heavily taxed poor citizens.

It is imperative to ask the why the electorate has to endure the cost of maintaining legislators and yet not be able to demand what is due to them. “This Parliament has not performed to expectation in respect of the legislative agenda. Due the paralysis in the inclusive government, so they have not executed national duty save for the deliberations on the constitutional review,” said Makumbe.

The level of debate in Parliament, and the gravity of the issues challenging the nation are worlds apart. The parliamentary monitoring group, Veritas, reports how parliament rubber-stamped a controversial $98 million Chinese loan for the construction of a National Defence College without much debate. In the process they ratified borrowing for non-productive purposes.

The state’s diamond revenues are to be used to service the loan. Article 9 of the loan agreement requires the government to ensure that its income from the Sino-Zimbabwean Anjin joint diamond-mining venture at Chiadzwa will be dedicated to making payments due under the loan agreement.

Veritas also reports that despite some resistance to last-minute rubber stamping and despite MPs querying misplaced priorities and the country’s capacity to service the loan, the debate in Parliament did not sufficiently reflect the outrage that people have been publicly expressing about this deal, nor did it probe the purposes to which the college will be put.

Public concern has focused on the diversion of diamond receipts from far more pressing needs, on the fact that the NDC will benefit an elite few rather than the struggling general population, and on reports that the complex will include VIP recreational facilities and medical facilities and a “techno-spy centre” – in stark contrast to the lack of health facilities for the general population.

A recent visit to one of the hospitals in Bikita by this writer exposed the appalling situation where several people injured from a car accident could not get their wounds dressed for three days – despite the doctor having indicated they only needed saline water and Betadine to clean the wounds. Two out of the three deceased people from that accident died due to excessive bleeding which could have been avoided if there was a ready ambulance to ferry the injured on time. The nurse to patient ratio at the hospital on that particular day was roughly 1: 50!

Zimbabwe is already struggling to repay its external and domestic debts of $7.1 billion and $1.5 billion. This debt has blocked new lines of credit and, no matter how ‘cheap’ it may be, government is not in a position to repay non-productive loans such as the NDC loan.

These are some of the important issues that should be taken seriously by our parliamentarians. Their demands for special treatment ahead of civil servants and the rest of us is unacceptable. The electorate should not continue to endure years of subsidizing MPs’ lavish lifestyles.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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