Heated debate over when civil servants or parastatals employees wishing to contest elections should resign

There was heated debate in Parliament this week over when senior civil servants and heads of parastatals who have won primary elections to contest in the coming elections should resign from their posts.

Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said they should only do so after their candidature has been approved by the nomination court but opposition legislators including Jessie Majome said this was not what the nation’s constitution said.

The debate was sparked by Mutasa South Member of Parliament Trevor Saruwaka when he asked when Zimbabwe National Water Authority chief executive Jefta Sakupwanya will resign since he had won the primary elections to contest the Mutasa Central seat.

Muchinguri-Kashiri said a civil servant was only required to resign after successfully presenting himself or herself to the nomination court.

When the acting Speaker argued that an employee of a parastatal was not a civil servant and therefore Saruwaka’s question did not apply, Majome argued that the acting Speaker had been advised wrongly.

Muchinguri-Kashiri, however, stood her ground despite accusations that she was misleading the nation.

Below is the full debate:

HON. SARUWAKA: Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir. My question goes to the Minister of Environment, Water and Climate Hon. Muchinguri-Kashiri. According to our Constitution Section 200 regarding the conduct of members of the civil service and particularly in Section 200 (1) states that, “members of the civil service must act in accordance with this Constitution and the law and in part 4 of the same Section, it says “members of the civil service must not be office bearers of any political party. My question to the contest as an MP for Mutasa Central during the ZANU PF primary elections which is a very high task for him.

Therefore I want to know why the Hon. Minister is allowing the CEO to continue in office in clear breach of the provisions of the Constitution. Since he is now an election candidate of a political party, he must cease forthwith being the CEO of ZINWA in-order to also stop abusing state resources for his personal political campaigns for the Member of Parliament (MP) office. Why is the Minister allowing that to continue and when is he going to stop?

THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER: Minister of Environment, are you aware of that?

THE HON. MINISTER OF ENVIRONMENT, WATER AND CLIMATE (HON. MUCHINGURI-KASHIRI): Mr. Speaker Sir, I want to thank the Hon. Member for raising that very important matter in which he has quoted some constitutional provision which only applies to situations where a Member of the civil service decides to stand or go through the nomination courts. At that point then, that civil servant should resign and so, I would want to remind him that an indication is not realised to be a breach of the constitutional provision unless he has successfully presented himself for nomination. We need to differentiate the two. The intention is there but he has not tampered with any constitutional provision at all and until that stage, then the Hon. Member has the right to raise that issue. I thank you.

THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER: Order. That is very clear in terms of our Constitution and, this has happened so many times. It is not the first time. The Constitution allows it and who are you to say no.

HON. SARUWAKA: Mr. Speaker it does not say so. It does not.

HON. P. D. SIBANDA: The Hon. Minister has indicated that the prevailing situation applies only when that person has approached the nomination court and I am not so sure where the Hon. Minister is drawing that from. I am sure it is not coming from the Constitution because it is not there in the Constitution and then I wanted also to know, in that situation whilst that person is waiting for the Nomination Court, will they discharge their responsibility in that position that they are in a manner that is unbiased or that is not favourable to a particular group of people who might not belong to the political party that they are in.  So I am seeking clarity around that area Hon. Speaker.

THE MINISTER OF ENVIRONMENT, WATER AND CLIMATE (HON. MUCHINGURI-KASHIRI): Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir.  I want to thank Hon. Sibanda for that supplementary question.  I want also us to appreciate that him and other Members in the House came from either National Railways of Zimbabwe, which was a parastatal and indeed they were allowed to campaign until they were successful.  I am really surprised that with freedom of association, this Sakupwanya also has that right where he makes his decision while waiting for that opportune time, if he wants to associate himself with any political party as the case with any other Member in this House, he has that Constitutional right.

So, I am simply reminding the Hon. Member that until there is an abrogation of the rules which dictate that constitutionally a Chief Executive Officer of a parastatal is not allowed to associate with any political party – because as far as I am concerned, the Constitution is silent on that matter.  Equally, I would also throw it back to them that there is no such a provision; it allows people to have freedom of association.  I thank you.

HON. SARUWAKA: I am seeking clarification that we are aware that there is a list that was produced by ZANU PF of its members who successfully won the primary elections, hence their candidates, that means he is now holding a position in ZANU PF as the candidate for Mutasa Central.  That is a clear violation of the Constitution because it clearly says that once one holds a position, they cannot continue as a civil servant.  He now holds a position as a candidate representing ZANU PF in Mutasa Central.

THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER: In terms of the Constitution, I am sure you have gone through, it says here members of the civil service and this is a parastatal, which is not the civil service.  So, that kills the story.

HON. MAJOME: On a point of privilege Hon. Speaker.  My point of privilege is on the same issue.  Possibly the Clerk, Mr. Gandiwa who was advising you might not be familiar with the provisions of Section 196 (c) and Section 196:2, which provide as follows – In fact I should start at Section 194:1, that is Principles of Public Administration on Leadership, which is a chapter that is devoted to the conduct of all those people who are in State service, whether they are civil servants or officers of parastatals, such as the one being asked.

Section 194 goes to town about the basic values on principles governing public administration.  Section 194:1, paragraph (a), provides that public administration in all tiers of Government, including institutions and agencies of State and Government controlled entities and other public enterprises such as the one in question, must be governed by the democratic values and principles enshrined in this Constitution, including the following principles:- Paragraph (a) –  it looks like the clerk who has misled you is destructing you.  Paragraph a, says high standards of professional ethics must be maintained and promoted.  This means that the Constitution requires an exceedingly high level of proper conduct, because it brings in the issue of ethics.  Ethics would even apply even the law did not apply, it is wrong.  It means it is simply wrong for a person employed by a public entity to engage in a manner that puts their neutrality into doubt.

Further, Section 196:1 (c), provides that authority assigned to a public officer, such as the one that the Hon. Minister is talking about is a public trust which must be exercised in a manner which promotes public confidence in the office held by the public officer.  Mr. Speaker Sir, if I was in Hon. Saruwaka’s constituency and I was to see an official of a State entity, going around, openly associating with a political party, campaigning in it and so on and becoming even a successful candidate of the party, possibly I would suspect that they are using State funds and I would not have confidence in them.  This is what is provided for…

THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER: Order, order Hon. Member.  We are on Question Time.  The question was raised by Hon. Saruwaka and it was responded to by the Hon. Minister.  We are not debating.

HON. MAJOME: It is the duty of this of Parliament…

THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER:  You are now engaging in a debate, this is Question Time.

HON. MAJOME: Hon. Speaker Sir, it was a point of privilege because if you recall, one of the responsibilities of this Parliament is to ensure that the provisions of this Constitution are upheld.

THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER: The Minister has done that.

HON. MAJOME: The Hon. Minister has a duty to ensure that they abide faithfully to the letter and spirit of this Constitution.  It is a cause for concern if we take a – [THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER: Hon. Member no debate, we are on Question Time.] –

HON. SARUWAKA: Hon. Speaker, the point was the Minister had misled the nation that this particular individual is not affected after he was advised by – but the provisions of the Constitution point back to say that he is still in breach of the Constitution. – [HON. MEMBERS: How?] – As I indicated, he is part of the civil service.

THE MINISTER OF ENVIRONMENT, WATER AND CLIMATE (HON. MUCHUNGURI-KASHIR): Thank you Mr. Speaker.  I can understand the concerns that Hon. Saruwaka has, this is a Doctor really going into a constituency and really it sends some shivers apparently, but what I want to state again is that whilst I appreciate the issue raised by Hon. Majome, I would want also to point to the fact that we need isolate the two.  Also she should have read that Section of 194 of the Constitution with the freedom of association, for us to also appreciate the rights that are bestowed on individuals.  So that if not looked at in isolation, where a person decides to join politics and is getting into that field, at what point are they declared now to be incompetent or unable to serve the people.  I think we need to separate the two.  He is not yet a candidate.  He can only be a candidate at a point where he is approaching the Nomination Court – [HON. MAJOME:  Mr. Speaker Sir, there are limitations in Section 86 that they are not absolute.] –

THE TEMPORARY SPEAKER:  Order, order.  I overrule you.