LAST Thursday, a bellicose Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu faced down a parliamentary committee that had invited him to testify on his controversial tenure as mines minister, when he superintended Zimbabwe’s poorly managed diamond resource.
Mpofu headlines a growing cast of officials handling public money while disdainfully refusing to account to the same taxpayers, vicariously through their elected officials in Parliament.
Recent weeks have seen Sakunda Holdings officials making spirited attempts to avoid parliamentary scrutiny over the uneconomic Dema diesel plant as well as the financing of Command Agriculture. The Agriculture and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) board and management did turn up, only for the proceedings to degenerate into a shouting match.
Mpofu’s defiant performance, however, dragged Parliament to a new low, even considering the recent dramatic proceedings in the legislative chambers.
By his belligerent act, Mpofu, a senior official in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Cabinet and party, undermined the President’s promise to run a clean, accountable administration. By resorting to histrionics in a bid to avoid questions about the rampant looting of the Marange diamonds, Mpofu entrenched a perception that corruption and impunity -— for long the hallmarks of former president Robert Mugabe’s government -— persist in the new government.
Mpofu’s hubris cannot be without a price. If Mnangagwa wants his anti-graft posture to be taken seriously, the likes of Mpofu cannot be allowed to get away with brazenly thumping their noses at Parliament. The President cannot simply wash his hands off this one, as Mpofu bizarrely did when he interrupted proceedings at one point last week.
Parliament is, after all, an expression of popular will. The President has, since his inauguration last November, repeatedly invoked the maxim: Vox populi, vox dei. If the voice of the people is indeed the voice of God, Mpofu’s conduct in Parliament last week constitutes sacrilege for which a price has to be paid.
Intriguingly, the three cases that have created controversy in Parliament seem to have a direct link to Mnangagwa, from various stages of his lengthy service in government. He was minister of defence when the military became involved in diamond mining in Marange. As vice president, overseeing the food security cluster, Mnangagwa also dealt extensively with Sakunda on the Command Agriculture project, while he also worked closely on the ARDA revival.
It is noteworthy that all the personalities and entities resisting parliamentary probes have allegedly abused the institution and its processes.
This cannot be ignored, especially considering demonstrable conflict of interest on the part of some lawmakers who sit in the committees, but choose not to recuse themselves from the proceedings.
While this does not in any way justify the desecration of the Hallowed House and its committees, Parliament, needs to adapt ethics and standards that are a common feature in entrenched democracies such as the United States and the United Kingdom. This would guard against excesses by lawmakers, while exercising their considerable power.
But first, Parliament needs to descend like a tonne of diamond ore on Mpofu and those like him who treat it sacrilegiously.