Opposition MPs Wednesday staged a brief house standoff with deputy speaker Tsitsi Gezi and Zanu PF chief whip Pupurayi Togarepi while demanding parliament to take a firm stand against absentee cabinet ministers.
The incident followed apologies read to legislators in which 10 ministers had sought leave of absence from the house.
But what incensed MPs was lack of communication from a lot more ministers over their continued absenteeism.
Ministers are required to attend parliament on Wednesdays and the Senate Thursdays to respond to questions of policy issues by backbenchers.
But it turned out at the time, there were only 10 ministers in attendance while leader of government business in the house Ziyambi Ziyambi – who later came – was also not there.
Independent MP for Norton Temba Mliswa vehemently objected to a spur-of-the-moment appointment of David Musabayana to stand in for Ziyambi arguing this would be a direct violation of parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders.
He argued only the President had powers appoint a leader of government business.
Mliswa accused the majority Zanu PF MPs of attempts to reduce the house into a party event.
“This is not a ZANU PF PCC meeting,” he said.
“Things must be procedural. Leader of Government Business haangonhongwa kunge mukutamba chisveru. The President appoints. Makuita zveZANU PF zvekudzingana muchiisa uyu, aiwa.
“This House’s integrity is critical. It cannot be turned into a party. Honourable Musabayana vagara apa, sekuru vangu soko, vakunonyengedzana apa.”
He threatened to challenge the alleged violation of parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders in court.
Mliswa besought the deputy speaker to order the adjournment of sitting arguing this would send a loud message MPs were not happy with ministers’ continued absenteeism.
Togarepi admitted absenteeism by ministers was wrong but was opposed to the adjournment of parliament.
Bulawayo proportional representation MP, Thokozani Khupe argued it was futile directing questions to deputy ministers who do not sit in cabinet and are not privy to a lot of policy issues often debated there.
“We want Ministers to do justice to questions,” she said.
Gezi said parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders were clear that both substantive and deputy ministers were recognised as government ministers who were well placed to respond to questions in the house.
She added, “These questions are not Cabinet questions but they are on policy. I am sure Deputy Ministers are able to answer questions on policies of government.”
Mliswa threatened to move a motion to hold in contempt all the ministers who were absent without leave.
Togarepi, who was opposed to Mliswa’s spirited bid to challenge Zanu PF ministers, also threatened to counter Mliswa’s threats with a motion “that Members of this House read the Standing Rules and Orders so that they understand the definition of officials that we deal with in this House”.
“I will be moving a motion and if anyone will be found not reading or misleading this House, action must be taken,” he said.