By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
06 March 2014
In what could be the strongest indication yet that the ZANU PF government’s anticorruption drive is a sideshow, Parliament this week moved to bar MPs from making statements ‘suspected’ to be harmful to other people’s rights.
Speaker Jacob Mudenda claimed Wednesday that the move was meant to stop MPs from making what he termed ‘unsubstantiated’ statements under the cover of parliamentary privileges. Parliamentary privilege is a legal provision granting MPs protection against civil or criminal liability for actions or statements made in the course of their legislative duties.
The move comes after MDC-T MP for Mbizo, Settlement Chikwinya, claimed in Parliament that Zimbabwe Revenue Authority commissioner-general Gershem Pasi was earning $310,000 a month. Chikwinya further claimed that Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma was enjoying pay and benefits which he said were superior to those of the legislators. Pasi has since threatened legal action claiming that Chikwinya defamed him.
MDC-T Chief Whip Innocent Gonese told SW Radio Africa that despite cheers from some ZANU PF legislators ‘most of the MPs across the political divide were taken aback’ by the Speaker’s order. He said: ‘It is a puzzle as to why these issues should raise eye brows now because in the past we have been able to articulate issues which had come to our attention. From the face of it, it appears as if it is an attempt to muzzle debate’.
According to reports Mudenda warned that any MP who defies his order could be charged with contempt of Parliament. Mudenda said the charge could arise if a legislator uttered statements suspected to be false against fellow MPs or members of the public. A Thursday NewsDay report said Mudenda further banned MPs from ‘attacking the integrity of the administration of Parliament.’
However, Gonese urged public officials to be forthcoming with relevant information such as salaries and allowances. He said the government must allow free debate on corruption and avoid being seen to be blocking it.
Prior to Mudenda’s order, police in Harare banned a peaceful demonstration against corruption in state run institutions and local authorities. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association said it had intended to hand over a petition to local government minister Ignatius Chombo, under whom local authorities fall.
Bans on parliamentary debate and public demonstrations are largely seen as confirmation that the government is not serious about fighting corruption .It is widely believed that the revelations on corporate graft are more about ZANU PF infighting as opposed to being a genuine crusade against corruption.