18 February 2013

Zimbabwe: MPs, Briefing People On Constitution Is Your Duty


OUR parliamentarians never cease to amaze. While they may squabble over fundamental things like economic policy, and party politics, they invariably quickly close ranks when it comes to "important" things like how many free cars they should have, their pay, their allowances, and access to cheap stands in the leafy suburbs, among other things.

Their latest demand is to be paid to brief their constituencies on the contents of the draft constitution, which is basically why they are in Parliament anyway. And on hearing from the Copac management committee that there were no funds to pay them for publicising the document, our distinguished Members of Parliament did what they know best, they walked out of the meeting at a Harare hotel last Wednesday.

While their requests for cars et al make sense, although they would cost more than the taxpayer can afford, this latest wheeze does not make sense.

Legislators are in Parliament to represent the people in their constituencies and as part of that representation, they are duty-bound to give regular feedbacks on the goings-on in Parliament.

The constitution-making process was spearheaded by a select committee of Parliament thus it is all in a day's work for legislators to brief their constituencies. Any payment for doing that normal work should be taken as a privilege rather than a right.

These legislators should remember that being in Parliament is not a full-time job or a lifetime career, hence they are supposed to have other means of sustenance. Parliamentarians are elected for a maximum of five years.

Sitting members need to cross some practical hurdles to come back.

First, they must hope that their seat was not abolished in the latest delimitation. And as people do move around seats do get created and destroyed.

Secondly, almost all need to retain their party nomination, or in the case of chiefs the confidence of their fellow chiefs. Only two people have ever won a seat as independent candidates.

Finally, of course, even if there is still a constituency and they still have the nomination, they actually need to win the most votes for their seat.

A few people have managed to sit in Parliament after Parliament, but there are an awful lot of "former MPs" out there who had to go home and stay home.

And our legislators need to have such lives to go back to.

And parliamentarians, who have a lot of say on the new constitution, should be wary of having too many in the National Assembly and Senate.

Budgets are limited, so the fewer there are the more each can be paid.

We would like to see our legislators negotiate decent packages for themselves, but their demands must make sense.

Parliament is for able men and women who can both represent their constituents and contribute seriously to national debate on policies and laws.

It's not for the unemployed.

Our legislators should stand guided accordingly.

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