Don’t turn Senate into retirement home

Parliament Building

IN a case of gross dereliction of duty that occurred sometime in October 2013, a session in the Senate adjourned after only 18 minutes.

This was after senators had failed to contribute to debate on two motions on the Order Paper that day.

A motion on the President’s speech failed to elicit any debate while another on the report of the 62nd session of the executive committee of the African Parliamentary Union (APU) was wound up by the mover, Senator Thokozile Mathuthu and was adopted within a few minutes.

The House was adjourned thereafter.

“Those who do not want to adjourn should make sure we have motions to debate in the House,” said then President of the Senate Edna Madzongwe in response to murmurs of disapproval from some Senators.

Last week, this incident replicated itself again in the Senate.

Senators failed to contribute to a handful of motions on the Order Paper resulting in prompt adjournment of the sitting.

President of the Senate, Mabel Chinomona, took the unprecedented step of having to “beg” Senators to contribute to debate.

Several motions had been read out without anyone contributing to debate, proving a test for Chinomona’s patience.

“I am of the opinion that when we take two weeks off, Members of the Senate will be very much in need of coming back to the House and debate on what they see and meet during the two weeks break,” Cde Chinomona said making reference to the two-week break taken by the Senate towards the end of last month.

“Do you mean we have to take another break so that we go home, is that what you want? It should be seen that the Senators are debating just like what we hear of Senators from other countries.

“We are not different from them. I am just encouraging you, Honourable Senators, that our work is to debate in whatever language you feel like.”

Despite the cajoling, the Senators still failed to make any meaningful contributions to the other motions that followed thereafter.

President of the Chiefs Council, Chief Fortune Charumbira, who had taken over the president’s chair, later on, had no kind words for his colleagues.

“Senators need to debate as a House and this issue of sitting for 30 minutes must come to an end,” charged Chief Charumbira.

“When we went for the Liaison Co-ordinating Committee, that issue was raised that the National Assembly sits for two weeks because they are many while we sit for one week.

“The argument was raised that they (Senators) don’t debate like the National Assembly so there is no justification to call you back every other week. So can you make sure in your caucus you come up with motions for debate?”

These two incidents, though seven years apart, occur quite regularly in the Senate.

There have been similar incidents where Senators fail to effectively debate on matters that are of serious concern to those they represent.

As an example, one of the motions that was adopted without any debate last week was the second reading of the Marriages Bill.

Those who follow Parliament, in general, appreciate how much debate this Bill has stimulated since its gazetting. It has divided opinion and it is no exaggeration to say it will be a centrepiece legislation that will go through the ninth Parliament.

To then have our Senators failing to utter even a single word either for or against the Bill is nothing short of serious dereliction of duty on the part of the legislators.

According to one report on the incident last week, Parliamentarians receive $700 as sitting allowance, fuel for travelling to and from their constituencies and are booked into hotels whenever they are on Parliament business.

These same Senators, who cannot utter a single word in Parliament, also collect these cushy benefits for attending abortive sessions.

If this is not a classic case of taxpayers’ money being thrown down the drain, then what is? These are the very Parliamentarians who are always complaining about Ministers skipping Parliamentary sittings.

But when they perform this dismally, obviously they have lost the moral high ground and have forfeited the right to call out the Executive.

This incident also raises questions about the suitability of the individuals deployed by political parties to the Senate.

Do these people have the academic nous and technical capabilities to engage in a practical debate involving otherwise complex matters that are tabled before the House?

Or this could be a case of political parties using this House as a retirement home for older cadres who fail to make the cut in the National Assembly?

These incidents and many others, betray the need for serious introspection regarding how people are deployed to serve in the Senate.

We can ill afford to continue wasting taxpayers’ dollars on an institution that is adding little or no value to law-making, oversight and representation. – Sunday News