columnBy KAIKO NAMUSA
AS the year 2013 dawns, it is imperative to reflect on some of the events that took centre stage in the proceedings of our Zambian parliament during the past year which should provide value in mapping the way forward for the nation.
On September 21, last year, President Michael Sata officially opened the second session of the 11th National Assembly at a grand ceremony held at the National Assembly grounds in Lusaka.
The Republican President laid the tone on some of the major achievements recorded under the Patriotic Front (PF) administration, ahead of the 2013 National Budget presentation by Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda.
Mr Sata provided policy direction on the governance of the country in the key economic sectors and his message was welcomed by a cross section of society, including Members of Parliament (MPs) who, during weeks that followed, debated the Presidential speech.
There was a call for active participation of our law makers in shaping positively, the growth map of Zambia regardless of political affiliation.
As Parliament was in full swing of debating the Presidential speech, mixed opinions surfaced on the floor of the House as Parliamentarians aired their views.
This was a moment for a historic shock as MMD Mwandi MP, Michael Kaingu, tore the Presidential speech in full view of deputy chairperson of committees, Chifumu Banda.
Mr Banda did not hesitate to eject Dr Kaingu, citing him for misconduct.
Dr Kaingu, a former Cabinet minister in the MMD government argued that the Presidential speech fell short of tackling serious issues.
His action attracted sharp criticism from ministers and PF MPs.
"It is inappropriate for the member to tear the speech. What he should have done was to express his views in the rightful manner," Mr Banda warned before ordering the erring Parliamentarian out of the House.
On October 6, Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Matibini delivered his ruling on Dr Kaingu's action, sending him away on suspension for a two-week period.
During a 25-minute verdict read by Dr Matibini, Dr Kaingu was ordered to stand behind the Bar of the House, where he unreservedly apologised for his action and pledged to conduct himself in a manner befitting an MP upon returning to the House.
"Let me inform you, Dr Kaingu, that your conduct of tearing the President's speech as a way of protest was unbefitting the conduct of a Member of Parliament.
"The committee resolved to suspend you from the services of the National Assembly for a period of two weeks in accordance with the provisions of Section 28 (1) of the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act, Cap. 12 of the Laws of Zambia.
"In this regard, your behaviour cannot be protected by parliamentary immunity because to do so would not only be a failure to understand the intent of parliamentary immunity, but would also be a perpetuation of conduct that is likely to dilute or undermine the dignity of the House," Dr Matibini said.
In a similar fashion, the House in July this year summoned Zambia Daily Mail Managing Director Isaac Chipampe and reprimanded him over what had been termed as "unprofessional, disrespectful and contemptuous" articles published by the newspaper in March last year.
Dr Matibini summoned Mr Chipampe to apologise to Mazabuka Central MP, Garry Nkombo (UPND), over stories carried by the newspaper in its editions of March 16 and March 18.
The news articles in question were under the headlines: "Dressed Chicken goes to Parley," "State puts Chickens debate to rest" and "Chickens Importation," which aggrieved Mr Nkombo who subsequently lodged a complaint against the newspaper with the office of the Clerk of the National Assembly.
Quoting Section 3 of the National Assembly's Powers and Privileges, Act, Chapter 12 of the Laws of Zambia, Dr Matibini said:
"There shall be freedom of speech and debate in the Assembly. Such freedom of speech and debate shall not be liable to be questioned in any court or place outside the Assembly."
Mr Chipampe apologised to Mr Nkombo and the House saying: "In future, the Zambia Daily Mail will report in a more responsible and objective manner so as not to infringe on the rights of the members. I unreservedly apologise to Mr Nkombo and to this august House."
The peak of activities in the House culminated in the presentation of the 2013 K32.2 trillion (KR32.2 billion) Budget by the Finance Minister and its subsequent approval before Parliament adjourned sine die on December 14, last year. Proceedings during the House's calendar, were also punctuated by opposition MPs trooping out of the House for various reasons.
Prominent among the reasons for protests was the K1.5 billion budget allocation to the Office of the First Lady.
The opposition also trooped out, protesting that they had not been officially informed on who was acting Finance Minister, when Mr Chikwanda was acting President during the time of presenting the budget.
Points of orders by MPs were frequent as the Speaker, his deputy Mkhondo Lungu, and Mr Banda often were at pains to prevent them so as to allow for proceedings to go uninterrupted.
The House also debated one private member's motion and two motions to adopt Parliamentary Select Committees' reports.
Fifteen ministerial statements were presented during proceedings to explain the Government's position on various matters of national interest; and 10 annual reports from Government and quasi-Government institutions were laid on the Table of the House. Parliament further considered and passed nine Government Bills and Supplementary Estimates No 1 of 2012.
The House also welcomed two new MPs namely PF's Wynter Kabimba, who was appointed as Justice Minister, and PF's Mufumbwe MP, Steven Masumba, who retained his seat after joining the ruling party from the opposition MMD.
Vice-President Guy Scott described proceedings by stating: "This has so far been the longest meeting in our Parliamentary calendar, and I am glad to note that all the tasks that were set before the House, from September 21, 2012, to date, have been successfully accomplished.
"Sir, there were a number of occasions when hon. Members expressed different opinions on different subject matters. It is, however, gratifying to note that, despite those differences, the House, when some hon. Members did not walk out, nearly always found common ground and moved on to the next business.
"This is as it should be in a democracy, and I assure the House that the Executive will not shy away from taking on board any progressive ideas from the opposition that will benefit the good governance of our nation."
During the coming session, the House would welcome a new MP for Mpongwe following the defection of Gabriel Namulambe from the MMD to the PF.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia has set February 28, 2013 as the date for holding of the Mpongwe by-election.
Welcome 2013! Much more brain-storming on various pieces of legislation is anticipated especially the long awaited freedom of information bill as the house resumes sitting this year.