One of the major accomplishments of the last Parliament was the enactment of a new Constitution for Zimbabwe. While there are some flaws in the new Constitution, the general agreement is that it is a much improved document from the previous one. It has the potential to enhance governance in Zimbabwe provided its provisions are implemented and respected by all.
It is the responsibility of Parliament to ensure implementation of the Constitution in letter and spirit. Section 119 is very clear on the role of Parliament in that regard. It makes it an obligation on the part of Parliament to protect the Constitution and promote democratic governance in Zimbabwe. It also empowers Parliament to ensure that the provisions of the Constitution are upheld, and that the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level act constitutionally and in the national interest. This section goes further to say that all institutions and agencies of the State and government at every level are accountable to Parliament.
Surely, these are enhanced powers for Parliament if you compare with the previous Constitution. Basically, this provision in the Constitution simply says Parliament must be in the forefront of promoting constitutionalism in Zimbabwe. Constitutionalism is defined as a political system of checks and balances, regulated by the law and designed to protect the liberty of individuals and enable their full participation in political and economic decision-making.
It is about the supremacy of the Constitution and everyone respecting that. Our parliamentarians must therefore grasp this basic, but very important tenet if they are to protect the Constitution. I am not quite convinced that the legislators truly understand the importance of the provision that has entrusted Parliament with the custodianship of the Constitution. Parliament should be increasingly flexing its muscles especially when it comes to the plunder of public resources that have the negative effect of violating the social and economic rights of citizens as enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
When we have widespread looting of public resources as evidenced by the “salarygate” scandal in public enterprises, the blame should also be laid on Parliament for abrogating on its constitutional obligation to promote good governance. Strong parliamentary oversight of the Executive should have long ago unearthed these outrageous perks. And for the ministers to act like the abnormal perks in a sea of poverty are a new discovery should be dismissed by the legislators who should be putting to task the ministers concerned.
While talk about establishing a parliamentary committee to investigate corruption is within the mandate of Parliament, the existing portfolio committees should be exercising more oversight on the ministries and government agencies that they shadow to curb corruption. The existing committees can still probe corruption in public enterprises without the need to create a separate committee. The rules of Parliament are very clear that a portfolio committee shall “monitor, investigate, enquire into and make recommendations relating to any aspect of the legislative programme, budget, policy or any other matter it may consider relevant to the government department falling within the category of affairs assigned to it, and may for that purpose liaise with such department”.
So there is nothing that can stop the portfolio committees from inviting public enterprise bosses and their line ministers to answer questions related to the management of public funds in that enterprise. Where portfolio committees lack the technical skills to investigate corruption, they should ensure that the statutory bodies with a mandate to do so are adequately resourced. It is a constitutional obligation on the part of Parliament. Provision 9 (2) requires the State to ensure that all institutions and agencies of government at every level are provided with adequate resources and facilities to enable them to carry out their functions conscientiously, fairly, honestly and efficiently.
Because the national budget has to be approved by Parliament for the money to be spent, it means it is the ultimate responsibility of parliamentarians to ensure that the Anti-Corruption Commission is adequately funded in order to fight the monumental problem of graft in Zimbabwe. The same applies to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, the Zimbabwe Media Commission and the yet to be established Zimbabwe Gender Commission and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
So the MPs actually violated the Constitution when they passed the 2014 budget without fully satisfying themselves that the commissions have been availed adequate resources. We also have Section 235 that clarifies that these commissions are not subject to the direction and control of anyone “although they are accountable to Parliament for the efficient performance of their functions”. This section reinforces section 119 already alluded to. What these provisions mean is that Parliament should be inviting the commissions to account for the manner in which they are discharging their duties. John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: email@example.com