Currently, President Robert Mugabe’s government has 20 deputy ministers.
Ironically, the deputy ministers cannot act as ministers in the absence of their principals but receive huge sums of money, fuel, clothing and other perks despite performing peripheral roles.
On Wednesday while ministers were attending a Cabinet meeting, MPs savaged deputy ministers for failing to answer questions from legislators in the National Assembly.
The debate started after Indigenisation deputy minister Mathias Tongofa failed to respond to a written question on youth employment opportunities, which has been on the National Assembly Order Paper for several months now.
“(Zanu PF MP Luveve MP, Ntandoyenkosi) Mlilo just got up praising the deputy ministers for being here and I think he should retract that because they are here sitting down doing absolutely nothing, wasting taxpayers’ money. You must be able to respond. Deputy ministers are useless,” independent MP for Norton Temba Mliswa said.
“They are just sitting there doing nothing. This House in terms of Section 107 of the Constitution is very clear; you must tell them to respond to these questions. Why is he not responding to the questions? He has been appointed by the president to discharge his duties according to the Constitution. This is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money. We are letting the nation down.”
Despite deputy speaker Melody Dziva trying to stop Mliswa, the former Hurungwe West MP, went in front of the deputy ministers’ bench and openly told them that they were useless.
“Madam Speaker, you know we work with time and certain things are overtaken by events. Your answer is not convincing enough because certain things are overtaken by events. When you go to a doctor and you need surgery, it must happen within that time or else you will die. So, we are not taking Parliament seriously because there are so many things that are being overtaken by events. The deputy minister being here stands for the minister.
“We have a Member of Parliament who wants questions answered by the minister because there is interference in his constituency. He is failing to do his job because of the minister going there. The minister has the time to go there but he has no time to come to Parliament and respond to issues in this Parliament. May you please firm up and get the minister to respond. You can direct from that seat and get him to respond. If he does not, through the Standing Orders, he can be held in contempt. This is becoming a circus and I think we must stop this show.”
On a monthly basis, a deputy minister takes home at least $2 500 and along with housing allowances, vehicles and security details.
In 2013, Mugabe retained deputy ministers because they serve a political purpose of patronage, rewarding his loyalists and managing expectations of regional and ethnic balance.
MDC MP for Glen View North Fani Munengami also savaged deputy ministers. “I have got a question. Are you telling us that there is no co-ordination between the (Indigenisation) minister and his deputy?
“The deputy ministers have got the right to answer questions. Why are they now failing to answer the very same questions when you have earlier told us that they can answer the questions? If there is no co-ordination between the minister and the deputy minister, we need to know as Parliament that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Why are they here? They must be able to answer. The minister must be able to give him the answer so that at least when he comes here, he will be able to present the papers.”
Earlier, MDC chief whip, Innocent Gonese, supported by Kuwadzana East MP, Nelson Chamisa, also complained about Mugabe’s prioritisation of Cabinet sittings at the expense of Parliament business.
“The word that I want to spread is that the world over; Parliaments are respected when they are sitting. Cabinet is equally respected…We want the word to reach the president through a written document that they should respect Parliament and enable Cabinet ministers to come and answer questions.
“We had (vice president Phelekezela) Mphoko represented by (minister of State in his office (Tabitha) Kanengoni and (Vice President Emmerson) Mnangagwa was represented by (minister of State in his office Clifford) Sibanda but to ask them issues that require the attention of a vice president, they are unable to,” Chamisa said.
“We plead with you to inform His Excellency that Parliament is disappointed with the fact that ministers are not respecting our Parliament, bearing in mind that we are the people’s representatives. We have problems that are facing this country, the president even talked about it; we are always on record talking about it. If they had turned up late, we would say that they were still running late because they were doing other duties. There should not be a parallel structure in terms of Parliament.”
He further said that there is need for Mugabe to respect the parliament.
“Cabinet can be done at night or even Thursday, but for Parliament and Cabinet to run concurrently is not good. This is what we are going to think about, that there should be a Government that respects the people and Parliament, and that Parliament should be given its due respect. The deputy ministers are shouldering a lot of responsibilities, this should be corrected.
“There is nothing superior about the Cabinet. Yes, it is not a superior arm; it is the other arm of the State.”
Gonese weighed in saying the deputy ministers must be able to stand in for their principals. – Daily News