Mr Speaker, Parliament should probe corruption

THIS opinion is in response to the ruling made by the Zimbabwean Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda on Tuesday which prohibited MPs from forming an ad hoc committee to investigate cases of corruption in public and private institutions.

The ruling which was based on the premises that the only institution vested with the authority to investigate corruption cases was the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) as provided under Sections 254 and 255 of the Constitution which established Zacc and further elaborated in its terms of reference.

Thus according to the Speaker’s ruling, “the Parliament Standing Rules and Orders Committee sat on Monday this week and studied the matter, and eventually came up with the conclusion that it was ultra vires the Constitution for Parliament to investigate corruption as it would encroach upon the activities of Zacc.”

Hitherto, anti-corruption institutions emphasised strengthening “horizontal” accountability at the government level through building up the judiciary, audit institutions, ombudsman’s offices and anti-corruption agencies. This initial arrangement has been complemented by an emphasis in “vertical” accountability to citizens through institutions like the media and civil society (Stapenhurst, Johnston, Pelizzo: 2006).

The Parliament is an important institution which cuts across both vertical and horizontal accountability. In most countries, Parliament has the constitutional mandate to both oversee government and hold government to account.

At the same time, Parliament can play a key role in promoting horizontal accountability-amplifying the voices of citizens-through such mechanisms as constituency outreach public hearings, and parliamentary commissions. (Stapenhurst, Johnston, Pelizzo: 2006)

Therefore, Parliament has basically three main functions namely to legislate, represent and oversee. Legally speaking, as discussed below, the role to investigate corruption can be deduced from the Parliament’s role of oversight.

Illustrative examples include the following: |In July 2000, the Democratic Republic of Congo, MPs successfully set up a select committee to probe corruption in the army, on February 8 2007, in Zambia, a parliamentary select committee was appointed to investigate corruption within the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Ugandan Parliament in October 2011 set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate corruption allegations of graft and report back to the House.

The case study of Kenya discussed at large subsequently in this brief clearly illustrates the role Parliament can play in curbing corruption. It focuses mainly on the function of oversight.
Foremost, it is important to note that Parliaments are creatures of a constitutional framework of the State.

Moreover, Parliaments do not exist in a vacuum, rather they are influenced by the sociopolitical and economic dynamics of their communities. In Kenya, as in Zimbabwe, the Constitution vests the legislation, representation and oversight of the executive responsibilities in the Parliament.

As in Zimbabwe, it is the Parliament that executes the oversight responsibilities through the establishment of watchdog committees created by standing orders.

Similarly, the Kenyan Parliament does not have the direct mandate to investigate corruption, rather it can recommend to the authorised bodies such as the Attorney-General and the Anti-Corruption Commission. Following rampant cases of corruption reported in the media and the ranking of Kenya as one of the most corrupt places in the universe, the Parliament of Kenya, through a private member motion successfully established a parliamentary select committee to do, among other things, investigate cases of corruption and recover property siphoned by the convicted persons.

Thus, despite constitutional setbacks, the Kenyan Parliament has been able to investigate and prepare reports on corruption through the Parliamentary Anti-Corruption Select Committee (Matiangi:2006).

Both the Parliament and the Zacc have a bigger role to play in the fight against the corruption. In the Zimbabwean socio-political and economic landscape they should play a complimentary role to each other.

The central problem in Zimbabwe is not the absence of legal instruments or bodies to combat and fight corruption, but rather it is the lack of political will to thoroughly and meticulously investigate and prosecute all allegations of corruption in both public and private enterprise.

The Zacc mandate to act as a system of checks and balances with regards to combating and flushing out corruption in public sphere, is severely impaired and heavily compromised, by its composition which in most cases is made up of individuals who are sympathetic and partially inclined to the ruling elites,

Therefore the National Assembly can remedy such anomaly by having portfolio committees made up of individuals from both the political divide. I believe the example of Kenya highlighted above is invaluable to import into Zimbabwean quest to eliminate graft in the public sphere.

-Prosper Simbarashe Maguchu

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