SINCE the national lockdown which commenced on 30 March, the Parliament of Zimbabwe has not performed its oversight role; hence the Executive has been making its own decision regarding the Covid-19 pandemic without the advice of the legislature.
Analysts believe Members of Parliament should device ways to meet, even not physically, as no one knows how long the Covid-19 crisis will persist.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said it has noted that following the issuance of the lockdown order parliamentary business was frozen presumably in sympathy with the restrictions and social distancing.
ZESN chairperson Andrew Makoni said the legislature is the second pillar of the State and if there was a time Parliament was needed the most, it is during times like these. "Parliament is needed not only to formulate laws in response to the pandemic but to ensure that any laws, regulations or orders put in place by the Executive comply with the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the laws of the land.
"The Judiciary, the third arm of the State, has at least been attending to urgent matters arising. Parliament cannot therefore go to sleep."
Makoni said it is commendable to note that some Members of Parliament at the moment are carrying out Constituency work in various communities to overcome the state of disaster in terms of raising awareness and assisting with the distribution of food aid where necessary.
"However, Parliament must leverage on technology and convene virtual meetings, particularly committee meetings, public debates and public hearings. Examples in the region is South African parliament which recently convened a web meeting to discuss pertinent issues on women, youth and persons with disabilities.
"It is unfortunate that the social distancing and subsequent national lockdown periods coincided with the much awaited scheduled Public hearings on the Constitutional Amendment Bill No. 2 which requires face to face and informal contact with citizens across the country. We hope this opportunity will be provided again at a later stage after the pandemic has been contained," said the ZESN chairperson.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said for Parliament to meet it does not always mean it should be physical. "Our Parliament needs to adopt technology and use teleconferencing. But even in countries hardest hit like Spain and UK, Parliaments have been meeting to approve certain measures to combat the disease while observing social distancing.
"This is a time where we need our critical institutions such Parliament to be functioning and provide the necessary support and oversight to the Executive. In this light, the suspension of Parliament may not be working to the ultimate benefit of efficient responses to the pandemic."
Lawyer Jacqueline Chikakano said it's high time that Zimbabwe looks into e-government mechanisms. I understand they are already doing that in the west, it's not known how long Covid-19 will continue afflicting the country and how long restrictions on physical meetings will continue and yet life has to continue and with that. At the very least governance mechanisms must somewhat continue functioning including Parliament's oversight function.
"If the Executive is finding ways of meeting to make decisions on behalf of the country then Parliament must at the very least find ways of engaging remotely on pressing issues.
"I think Covid-19 impact speaks of a need for a review of the way in which business is done in many sectors…in some instances it may speak to changes in policies and in this instance including Parliament's standing rules and orders," Chikakano said.
Political analysts Pius Pigou urged Parliament explore innovative options to continue its work, but must have the relevant capacity to do so. "This appears not to be the case. Nevertheless, this does and should not prevent parliamentarians, individually, at a caucus level or potentially through institutional channels to pursue and promote greater transparency over executive decision making at this difficult time.
The Election Resource Centre (ERC) said the role of the Parliament is to legislate, to scrutinize the policies and activities of the Executive and to hold the Executive to account for its actions and to act as a forum for democratic participation by all members of society. "Since the restriction of movement, the Parliament has not performed its role. It is the opinion of the ERC to assert that the restriction of movement cannot be taken as an excuse for the Parliament to fail to do its role.
"A lot of decisions have been made by the Executive regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and this has all been done without the advice of the Parliament. The Parliament should scrutinize the decisions made by the Executive as well as give contributions to the issues affecting the people of Zimbabwe, including issues to do with health and welfare as a result of the pandemic.
"It is important that the Parliament be part of the decision-making process and give an oversight of what is taking place on the ground. In 2018, during the Cyclone Idai disaster, there was misappropriation of funds with no accountability because the Parliament was not involved. To avoid such issues, it is key that the Parliament be part of the decision-making processes including the distribution of funds towards the control of the Pandemic."
Chimhini added that the ERC recommends that the Parliament embrace technology and use virtual platforms to scrutinize the decisions made by the Executive virtually. "It is understandable that the issue of physical distance be maintained but this cannot be used as an excuse for failure of the Parliament to exercise its roles. Portfolio committees should meet virtually and take part at every stage of decision-making."
Political analyst Admire Mare believes it's high time our cabinet, parliament and courts embrace technology-mediated meetings powered by encryption enabled technologies.
"The current state of affairs where decisions are made by the Executive without parliamentary oversight may set an unnecessary precedence in the post Covid-19 context.
"There is need to embrace the ‘new normal' and get on with the business of parliament and committee work. We have seen Cyril Ramaphosa convening meetings on behalf of African Union aimed at addressing the responses to Covid-19 across the continent. It's possible to use video conferencing technologies as part of social distancing measures."
University lecturer Fred Zindi: "In many democratic countries decisions such as lockdowns are debated in Parliament. We should follow suit since we claim to be a democracy."
Lawyer and politician Obert Gutu said the majority of our Parliamentarians, with the exception of just a few, are sleeping on duty. "They're in the august House just for the perks, sleeping in hotels, traveling and attending workshops and conferences locally, regionally and abroad. Of course, they're also in Parliament for the new vehicles!
"Covid-19 shouldn't be used as an excuse for the indolence and sheer incompetence exhibited by our legislators. Recently, every legislator was allocated an iPad. What are they using those gadgets for? Why are they not resorting to modern technology in order to undertake crucial Parliamentary business, especially in this challenging period of the Covid-19 global pandemic? Have these folks ever heard of something called video conferencing?
"The main challenge is that most of these legislators are actually computer illiterate and they cannot effectively and productively use the iPads that they were given. I'm afraid to say but then the blunt truth is that our Parliament has largely been reduced to a ceremonial body composed of docile, lazy and incompetent individuals. It's a very sad indictment on the quality of our legislators," said Gutu.
Media practitioner Tabani Myo said: "In these trying times dictatorships generally, globally take the opportunity to consolidate their dictatorial tendencies. We must not assume that the constitution has been suspended and it is the role of parliament to uphold the constitution of Zimbabwe. Hence the Speaker of house of assembly might need to constitute a parliamentary committee to maintain checks and balances and scrutinize the government's decisions during this trying period of our existence."