Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda yesterday said that the Member of Parliament for Mbizo, Settlement Chikwinya, might be charged with contempt of Parliament for saying that the Speaker had watered down the motion on good governance which was introduced by Kambuzuma legislator Willias Madzimure.
Chikwinya seconded the motion. He initially claimed that the Speaker had watered the motion but Mudenda explained that all amendments had been agreed with the mover, Madzimure
Mudenda said he had gone through the original motion and the amendment proposed by Zindi last week and observed that the amendment proposed by Zindi was totally different from what Madzimure had envisaged.
Chikwinya had, however, stated that, “the amended portion speaks exactly to what the original mover of the motion was calling for”.
“Therefore, for Hon. Chikwinya to impute that the motion was watered down contrary to my clarifications on the 27th February 2014 is, in itself a serious reflection on the character of the Chair. It also shows wilful disregard of the authority of the Chair. Therefore, pursuant to relevant provisions of the law, appropriate measures to deal with the Member will be announced in due course,” Mudenda said.
Mudenda also reiterated that Parliament would take stern action on legislators who continued to make unsubstantiated allegations and said this was his last warning.
MR. SPEAKER’S RULING
REMINDER OF RULING ON UNSUBSTANTIATED UTTERANCES
MR. SPEAKER: I make a ruling, on the persistence of some members in disregarding the authority of the Chair. The Chair has noted with grave concern the persistence by some hon. Members of Parliament to disregard and defy lawful orders made by the Chair in respect of adherence to preemptory constitutional provisions.
By way of a reminder, and this being the last warning to the members concerned and others so inclined to do so, the Chair ruled that; The Privileges and Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act, [Chapter 2:08] which guarantees the privileges of Members of Parliament, including the freedom of speech, is subject to the provisions of the Constitution, as the supreme law of the land. More specifically, Section 61 (5) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which provides that the freedom of expression and freedom of media exclude:
(a) incitement to violence
(b) advocacy of hatred or hate speech
(c) malicious injury to a person’s reputation or dignity
(d) malicious or unwarranted breach of a person’s right to privacy.
This is what the Constitution says and not what the Chair says. Therefore, as aptly specified in Section 119 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, and I quote ‘Parliament must protect this Constitution and promote democratic governance in Zimbabwe’.
Section 148 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which is the bedrock of freedom of speech in Parliament states that; ‘the President of Senate, the Speaker and Members of Parliament have freedom of speech in Parliament and in all Parliamentary Committees and while they must obey the rules and orders of the House concerned, they are not liable to civil or criminal proceedings, arrest or imprisonment or damages for anything said, produced before or submitted to Parliament or any of its Committees’.
The Constitution itself recognises that the privilege of freedom of speech is not limitless. It is subject to the rules and orders of the House, meaning that this House may censure any conduct, act or omission which offends the spirit and letter of the law. The Chair’s ruling is not meant to gag the freedom of speech of Members of Parliament, but to regulate it and enhance constitutionalism and the rule of law.
Therefore, as a collorary to this, no Member of Parliament may make unsubstantiated allegations against any Member of Parliament or any member of the public, any Member of Parliament who fails to observe this rule may be liable for censure in this House or be charged with contempt. The ruling of the Chair clearly stated that no member shall be allowed to make unsubstantiated allegation against other members or officers of Parliament or members of the public except by way of a substantive and clearly formulated motion’.
The ruling further stated that, no member shall be allowed to use this House of Parliament to attack the integrity of the Administration of Parliament except by using appropriate channels as provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe, particularly Sections 135, 151 and 154 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. May I add, this is not to protect anybody in the Administration of Parliament. If there are any issues, please go to those three sections of the Constitution and make your case. The Standing Orders Committee will deal with the matter accordingly.
The ruling of the Chair does not amount to limiting the freedom of speech of Members of Parliament or as it is fashionably called ‘gagging’ them. Any Member of Parliament wishing to engage in objective and constructive debate on an improper conduct of any Member of Parliament should do so by way of clearly substantiated separate motion, accompanied with verifiable evidence in support of such a motion, before the Chair can clear it. The Chair’s ruling provided for a procedure to be followed in conducting debate in this House, should one raise factual allegations on any Member of Parliament or member of the public. This is an honourable august House where spurious allegations calculated to unjustly injure the dignity of others shall not be admitted under the guise of freedom of expression.
Therefore, pursuant to provisions of Standing Order 79 (1) of the National Assembly: “Any member who willfully disobeys any lawful order of the House and any member who willfully and vexaciously interrupts the orderly conduct of business in the House, shall be guilty of contempt”. The Chair wishes, therefore, to emphatically state that all decisions and orders made by the Chair are binding on all members of the National Assembly and a full force of the law until such a time when they are amended, annulled or rescinded, either by the Chair or competent authority in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
In line with well documented Parliamentary procedures meant to ensure the orderly flow of business, it is the duty of the Speaker to interpret rules impartially, to maintain order and to defend the rights and privileges of members including the right of freedom of speech; subject to the law, as well as the right of everyone person’s protection under the Constitution as stated in Section 61, (5) of the Supreme Law of the land.
Therefore, all Members of Parliament must comply with the ruling which the Chair made in this House on the 5th March, 2014 based on the provisions of the relevant Constitution of Zimbabwe, failure of which serious consequences may follow.
May I add that, already there is a matter that is being raised constitutionally because some of us did not adhere to the ruling, and in such a situation, the Chair has no power to stop that constitutional process against the members concerned.
On a related note, the Chair wishes to highlight that on Thursday, 6th March 2014, Hon. Chikwinya stated that, “the amended portion speaks exactly to what the original mover of the motion was calling for. The fact that after some debate, another Member of Parliament who was present during that debate, in this case Hon. Zindi, but who was absent during the drafting of the original motion saw it fit to also go and come up with this amendment which speaks exactly to what was being sought after the original motion, speaks volumes of what we were crying for, that the original motion was watered down”.
As the House may recall, on the 27th February 2014, the Chair clarified that the motion was not watered down and all the amendments had been agreed with the mover of the motion who then signed the notice of motion. In addition, the Chair wishes to place it on record that he has gone through the original motion as submitted by the mover and observed that the amendment proposed by Hon. Zindi is totally different from the one which Hon. Madzimure, as the mover of the motion, had envisaged.
Therefore, for Hon. Chikwinya to impute that the motion was watered down contrary to my clarifications on the 27th February 2014 is, in itself a serious reflection on the character of the Chair. It also shows willful disregard of the authority of the Chair. Therefore, pursuant to relevant provisions of the law, appropriate measures to deal with the Member will be announced in due course.