All about the commission and walking out on ‘austerity’

The much-awaited budget was finally presented by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, which earned him the nickname “Mr Austerity”. Besides the budget presentation itself, the ejection of the MDC Alliance legislators from Parliament caught the attention of many. All this comes at a time when the commission of inquiry into the August 1 fatal shootings also has had interesting submissions from different witnesses.

just saying: Thabani Mnyama

In this article, we will look at the current proceedings at the commission of inquiry, then also touch on the budget presentation and the mini-dramatic episode which resulted in the MDC Alliance legislators being ejected from Parliament.

Many have been asking why we need the commission of inquiry when we supposedly know who shot at the victims. A simple answer to this would be due process. This is a legal principle which requires for full investigations to be conducted and all evidence to be gathered before concluding.

In Zimbabwe, one is “innocent till proven guilty” and this statement speaks for itself. The law can feel unfair at times, especially in this situation where others feel convinced that they know who committed what crime and, therefore, that person should be sent to jail.

It is the duty of the commission to find out who deployed the soldiers, what the orders for the soldiers were, how and who shot at innocent civilians, killing some of them. Justice is not always as swift as we may want it to be, but it always comes.

Of course, there is one important consideration to highlight, which is that the commission does not replace a court of law and the criminal system.

The commission will thus not sentence anyone nor impose any criminal penalties.

It will make recommendations to the President who must, within the powers given to him in the Constitution, determine what to do with the findings of the commission.
Both the findings and the action of the President need to be within prescribed legal parameters, as exceeding these have legal consequences.

Considering that Jim Kunaka’s oral submissions at the inquiry, where he confessed to participating in some Zanu PF-sponsored crimes in the past, others are eager to know what legal implications this may have on him. The commission was set up to specifically deal with the issues which led to the August 1 killings and its jurisdiction is limited to investigating only those issues.

This means Kunaka’s past deeds are not within the commission’s jurisdiction. It is essential to also clarify that the authority conferred upon the commission is limited to investigations.

They cannot prosecute anyone, but will have their findings aid the relevant authorities in the prosecuting and jailing of those found guilty. It is, therefore, prudent for the law enforcement agencies to follow his claims and take appropriate action.

There is enough information to base a criminal investigation, but this can only be done through the appropriate bodies and forums.

The boycott on ‘austerity’

During the National Budget presentation, MDC Alliance legislators refused to acknowledge President Emmerson Mnangagwa by remaining seated when everyone else stood up for him. This is not the first time they have displayed such an act of defiance to emphasise how they do not regard the incumbent’s legitimacy.

In response to their behaviour, they were ejected from Parliament with only Temba Mliswa being the non-Zanu PF legislator who remained because he stood up for the President. This, however, brings into question a few things. What do they hope to achieve by such? Is it only Mnangagwa they do not recognise or the entire government?
Do they accept the benefits they receive from this so-called illegitimate government?

It is well within the MDC Alliance legislators’ rights to not support the President. However, they must do so with strategy and without betraying the oaths they took when they assumed their respective offices.

The unfortunate thing is that they get paid for all that time, even when they are not sitting in Parliament during the proceedings.

This is unfair on the taxpayer who must foot the bill for legislators who behave in such ways.

Taking those oaths of office and attending Parliament already shows that they recognise the authority which is there. This specific walkout is significant in that it was not initiated by the MPs, but rather by the Speaker who ejected the MPs as a seeming punishment for their insolence towards the President.

One also tends to wonder what the Speaker meant when he said he would take action? Why did we have police officers involved? Their refusal to stand may well be a protected expression of interest despite Parliament rules that may prohibit this. The protection unit of the sergeant-at-arms should deal with discipline in the House as the case is in South Africa, post a ruling by the South African Constitutional Court which found the use of police in Parliament to be unconstitutional and thus unlawful. In South Africa, the opposition challenged the constitutionality of the use of police to remove MPs from the House. The ConCourt found that the use of police stifled freedom of expression and derogated from the ideals of Parliament where frank and honest conversations are intended for the growth of democracy.

The decision not to stand for the President is a constitutionally-protected manifestation of freedom to expression and even if it wasn’t, the use of the security apparatus to remove them from Parliament is a situation that warrants further consideration by both Parliament and the police.

All about austerity

The National Budget seems to have been something many were quite content with. One of the most notable things was the tax-free sanitary wear announcement. This is a move in the right direction and a progressive one, given the current struggles the girl child is enduring because of lack of access to proper sanitary wear.

Many people will be closely looking at how the government spends every cent, given their gospel on fiscal discipline.

The budget ticked most boxes, but will it be fully implemented? Will the Finance minister, like his predecessors, face political forces forbidding him from doing the right things?

This will make or break Mnangagwa’s legacy, as it will mainly be based on how well he did in alleviating Zimbabweans from the economic nightmare they are currently trapped in. For now, we wait to see if the prosperity from the austerity envisaged by Ncube will be prosperity for all and not just for government bigwigs …just saying.

Thabani Mnyama is a lawyer and academic with special interests in international, constitutional and human rights law, diplomacy and public policy. He is also a co-founder and director of VIOCAP. He writes in his own capacity. You can reach him via email: revtj@outlook.fr or follow him on Twitter @advocatemnyama