Parly to sit for only 46 days

Zimbabwe’s twin legislative structure, the House of Assembly and the Senate, has degenerated into an almost useless institution, experts say, amid revelations that it will sit for only 46 days this year.

Veritas, a non-profit organisation monitoring parliamentary proceedings, recently noted that the House of Assembly is diarized to sit for 46 days during 2012, and the Senate for 41 days.

“Previous Parliaments often had about 90 plenary sittings in a year. This Parliament has been criticised not only because it sits for a very few days in a year but also for the brevity of some of the sittings,” said Veritas in a statement.

“The Inclusive Government has not introduced many Bills, but even if there is not a busy legislative agenda, it would have been expected that more time would be spent on raising and debating issues of national and constituency interest,” it said.

Veritas revealed that the two houses failed to meet at all in January and April, had 11 sittings each in February and March, and would sit for only three days this month.

According to the annual sitting calendar for 2012, MPs will convene for nine days in June, only one in July, six in September, and a total of 16 in October and November. There will be no sittings in August or December. This is the first year since 2008 that a sitting calendar has been produced by Parliament.

While MPs insist they are the worst remunerated in southern Africa, parliamentary business makes a big dent on the stressed treasury. Paddington Zhanda, the Zanu (PF) MP chairing the parliamentary welfare committee, would not divulge the perks paid to MPs, investigations by this newspaper show that they get a monthly salary of around $900, in addition to a sitting allowance of $75 per appearance.

With 276 MPs and Senators, salaries would account for $2.635m per year, and allowances for more than $1million as they sometimes sit more than once on the same day, also attending to committee business. But the actual figures are lower because many constituencies have gone without representatives for some time and the rate of absenteeism is high.

An MP who requested anonymity told The Zimbabwean that they have not received promised allowances such as for vehicle wear and tear, lunch and travel. He said the housing allowance was “pathetic”. Political scientist John Makumbe accused Parliament of dereliction of duty and said it was “shortchanging the nation and undermining the role of the legislature”.

“There are numerous legislative requirements in the GPA meant to ensure reforms that would lead to credible elections and a new democratic dispensation. “But because Parliament is failing to meet regularly, chances of a meaningful transition are undermined. Benchmarks will not be sustained,” said Makumbe.

He added that there was a gridlock in the current executive. “The Executive in its current form is a parallel affair and is trying very hard to ensure that nothing meaningful happens in Parliament.

“There is a stalemate and the legislative process is at a standstill. But all three political parties are sitting cosily in the coalition government,” said Makumbe.

Civil society, which should lobby for a dynamic legislature, was constrained by lack of resources he said. Lovemore Madhuku, a constitutional law expert, dismissed Parliament as a “rubber stamp”.

“They don’t need more than 46 days because MPs just go there to parrot what their leaders have told them. The level of debate is useless and we don’t want them to waste our time and money talking about things they have no control over. The Executive controls Parliament,” he said.

Many people, including some MPs, have complained that legislators have turned Parliament into a circus because they go there to make trivial noises or just to sleep.

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