Office of the second lady? My foot!

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The last week has provided so many interesting issues to comment on, but continuing with the theme of accountability, I want to focus on the purported office of the second lady of Zimbabwe and the role of Parliament, as an instrument of checks and balances.

By Paul Kaseke

A document was circulated recently on social media that alluded to Marry, the wife of Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, delivering a speech on behalf of First Lady Auxillia Chiwenga.

What was of interest there is the letterhead that she purportedly had her speech on.

The speech was on a letterhead of the “Office of the Second Lady of Zimbabwe” with the Coat of Arms on one end of the document and the logo of a charity on the other.

Some issues arise from that which may not seem important now, but if unaddressed, they will create another Grace Mugabe nightmare.

Firstly, there is no office of the second lady of Zimbabwe.

The position implies that it is created as a public institution with financing and staffing provided for by the State.

This idea is further strengthened by the fact that the letterhead carries with it the Coat of Arms. There is no legislation and certainly no constitutional provision that creates that office.

It exists only in the minds of those individuals who refer to it as such. It is non-existent and the result of an overactive imagination, at best.

There is no office of the First Lady either. These are just ceremonial roles that exist.

They do not carry any public functions, nor do they have the ability to directly use taxpayers’ money unlike public officials.

The ceremonial title is similarly not found in any constitutional provision nor any other legislation.

Any benefits accruing to the First Lady and the wives of the Vice-Presidents are only incidental in that they exist because these are given to their partners who are public officials.

Consequently, should their spouses be removed from office, they are not entitled to anything directly.

They are not given a State allowance nor are they given a pension – or at least they should not theoretically.

The problem we had with Grace seems to be creeping up again.

She too started believing in the existence of an office of the First Lady and eventually went on to say that the President exercises his power jointly with her and that she was more important than the Vice-Presidents.

That is, of course, illogical not only from a legal point of view, but also from a political one, but it went unchallenged at the time.

The current administration needs to ensure the same thing does not happen with the wives of the President and the Vice-Presidents.

The reason for this is clear – they must stay clear from purporting to be public officials and allow their spouses to carry out their constitutional functions without attempting to usurp them or sneak themselves into government when they clearly don’t form part of it.

Furthermore, in terms of the Armorial Bearings Act, it is an offence to use the Coat of Arms without being granted permission from the government in the manner prescribed in the Act.

The First Lady and the purported second lady are for all intents and purposes private citizens married to holders of executive offices – which makes them no different from you and I.

If I was to issue a document with the coat of arms, it would be an offence and I would no doubt be held charged for it because it creates the impression that I am acting on behalf of the government of Zimbabwe when I am not.

Unless, of course, the government wants to enact legislation creating a public office for them, neither the First Lady nor the “second lady” are entitled to use letterheads bearing the coat of arms.

Lastly, Parliament itself needs to start being proactive in terms of its role in ensuring accountability of the executive.

In terms of section 117 of the Constitution, Parliament has the legislative authority (the authority to make laws and amend the Constitution).

Furthermore, in terms of section 119, Parliament has numerous roles, including protecting the Constitution.

In terms of section 119(2) gives Parliament the power to ensure that provisions of the Constitution are upheld and all levels of government act constitutionally.

Section 119(3) is clear that the executive is accountable to Parliament.

These powers must be exercised by Parliament and if they don’t exercise their powers, then the executive goes unchecked. The constitutional issues I raised last week in respect of the current administration, should in the first instance be dealt with by Parliament.

It must summon the President to Parliament and ask him to account for his actions, particularly where he has taken the powers of Parliament in amending legislation through subordinate legislation.

While I appreciate that there are some standout legislators that have raised some of these issues and make valid points, the collective failed to hold former President Robert Mugabe accountable, while he was in office and is now failing to hold President Mnangagwa accountable.

Paul Kaseke is a former law lecturer. He serves as director and current group chair of AfriConsult Firm. He writes in his personal capacity. You can give him feedback via email: feedback@paulkasekesnr.com or follow him on twitter @paulkasekesnr