By Daniel Chigundu
MDC Alliance legislators have asked Parliament to amend the Standing Rules and Orders with a view to preventing the law enforcement agencies from arresting Members of Parliament like common criminals but should instead come up with a better method of summoning them to the police station if they are accused of wrongdoing.
The call comes at a time when MDC Alliance legislators are under siege from the police on allegations of inciting violence or trying to subvert a constitutionally elected government.
Various MDC Alliance legislators including Settlement Chikwinya (Mbizo), Lloyd Mukapiko (Redcliff), Amos Chibaya (Mkoba), Godfrey Sithole (Chitungwiza North), Robson Nyathi (Shurugwi North), Livingstone Chimina (Chiwundura), Morgen Komichi, Tendai Biti (Harare East). Joanah Mamombe (Harare West) and Charlton Hwende (Kuwadzana East) have been brought before the courts across the country since January 14 and more are on the police radar.
Speaking in the National Assembly, Harare East legislator Tendai Biti said there must be a method that of arresting legislators that will also preserve the dignity of the House.
“So, we ask that this House – there must be a method; a formula in which Hon. Members can be summoned to appear before the courts of law. They can phone the Chief Whips or phoning the leaders of the respective Chambers is sufficient. They can even approach your esteemed self as the Speaker of the National Assembly.
“We are not saying that Hon. Members do not commit crimes; they do but surely there must be a methodology that affords this House the respect and the decorum it deserves.
“I submit Mr Speaker that let us protect the institution of Parliament by protecting the key ingredients of Parliament who are the Hon. esteemed Members. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
In his response, the Speaker of National Assembly Jacob Mudenda applauded Honourable Biti for the suggestion adding that there was a need to strengthen the Standing Orders and Rules of Parliament.
“I hear you, Hon. Biti. Let us look at the Privileges Act and polish it up so that it is watertight to protect the dignity of MPs,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zengeza West legislator Job Sikhala has also asked Parliament to clarify when legislators are said to be protected by the Parliamentary Privileges and when they are not
“My point of clarity needs the guidance of the Chair. We want the Chair to assist us on the definition – in terms of how it is provided in our Standing Rules and Orders of Committee business. At what point does Committee business start and end? Generally, the arrangement Mr Speaker Sir is like this: you are given an itinerary that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services is going to depart from the Parliament building at 5:00 PM on their way to Mutare.
“From Mutare, you are going to travel to Masvingo, from Masvingo to Bulawayo, from Bulawayo to Harare from Monday to Friday. How do we define Committee time? Is it during the time when the Committee is in session or I enjoy my immunity and privileges during the period when I am in the conduct of Parliamentary business? I think we need clarity there Mr Speaker so that it becomes very unambiguous.
“At what time, Mr Speaker, does our immunity and privilege collapse? Do we only enjoy our privilege and immunity when the Committee is in session and when I get back into the Parliament bus to travel from Mutare to Masvingo on Parliamentary business, does it suspend my Parliamentary immunity and privileges? I want clarity Mr Speaker Sir. Thank you,” he said.
Honourable Mudenda in his response admitted that there was a gap in Parliament laws that need to be filled when the House amend its Standing Orders and Rules.
“I think the Hon. Member by the virtue of that question admits that there is a gap or a lacuna in our privileges provisions.
“Perhaps, as I indicated, when we amend our Standing Orders and Privileges Act, let that be defined in our Standing Orders, so that it is clear when privileges can be exercised, including the illustration that you have indicated.
“So at the moment there is a gap and that gap needs to be closed in terms of the amendment to the Standing Orders as well as the Privileges Act,” said the Speaker.