Home » Governance » MPs’ Taste for Freebies Shocking

There is a joke going around about Members of Parliament’s penchant for free things.

It says, “One day a florist goes to a barber for a haircut. After the cut, he asks about his bill and the barber replies, ‘I cannot accept money from you. I’m doing community service this week.’ The florist was pleased and left the shop. When the barber goes to open his shop the next morning there is a ‘thank you’ card and a dozen roses waiting for him at his door. Later, a cop comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, the barber again replies, ‘I cannot accept money from you. I’m doing community service this week.’ The cop is happy and leaves the shop.

“The next morning when the barber goes to open up, there is a thank you card and a dozen doughnuts waiting for him at his door. Later that day, a professor comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, he is given the same answer by the barber. The professor is very happy and leaves the shop and the next morning he gets a card and a dozen different books, such as ‘How to Improve Your Business’ and ‘Becoming More Successful’.

“Then, a Member of Parliament comes in for a haircut, and when he goes to pay his bill the barber again replies, “I cannot accept money from you. I’m doing community service this week.” The MP is very happy and leaves the shop and the next morning when the barber goes to open up, there are a dozen MPs lined up waiting for a free haircut.”

Many people see most of Zimbabwean parliamentarians in this tale.

A couple of months ago, legislators were screaming in Parliament accusing ministers of accepting freebies from State entities.

Debating the motion on corporate governance, MPs said ministers were aware of the salary-gate and looting in some state entities, but could not stop it because they were compromised since they accepted freebies from these executives. They said ministers were not supposed to accept gifts from State entities that fall under their ambit to avoid being compromised.

As fate would have it, last month our MPs found themselves in the same predicament for which they rubbished ministers.

Some members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Finance and Economic Planning and Information, Media and Broadcasting Services who toured Econet Wireless premises recently wore wide smile as they gladly accepted free Samsung S4 handsets from the mobile network operator.

Some of those who were present even phoned their colleagues who were absent to rush to the Econet Wireless premises so they could get their share.

The committees are chaired by David Chapfika (Mutoko South) and William Dhewa (Umzingwane), respectively.

MPs, in exercising their duties, whether through portfolio committee or any other parliamentary business, must be impartial.

The rule is applicable because they are everyone’s representatives including ordinary citizens, public and private companies. One would therefore take great exception that our parliamentarians would accept freebies while on parliamentary business.

There is a possibility that the same committees would also want to tour other telecommunications operators like NetOne, Telecel and TelOne. What will happen when those companies do not offer them the same kind of freebies?

Can the same committees be expected to be impartial in dealing with the four companies? It would only be fair for all the MPs who received the handsets to recuse themselves when dealing with the telecommunications sector.

If truth be told without fear or favour, it is morally ambiguous for MPs to accept freebies in the same manner it is morally and ethically wrong for ministers to take gifts like fuel and allowances from State entities under them.

Last year’s July 31 harmonised elections brought in a number of MPs who clearly range from the haves and the have-nots. So it could be that they are trying to supplement their modest incomes, but where was their conscience when they were receiving those gadgets?

One cannot but observe that there are a number of MPs who really show that they have it by just seeing the cars they drive and the flamboyance they display.

There is also an extreme side of Members of Parliament who behave as though the stint in the House is their full time job.

Some Members of Parliament threaten to leave workshops and seminars if their allowances are not provided or upped.

Admittedly, one could say that MPs are entitled to getting allowances for attending workshops because they would have taken time off their busy schedules to attend those meetings. But it must be pointed out that when MPs get gifts from companies while gathering evidence that their impartiality becomes questionable.

Too much close association with certain companies who have vested interests poses a real danger of incest, which is commonly referred to as conflict of interest.

In writing about conflict of interest, Nesta Wyn Ellis in “Dear Elector: The truth about MPs” said there are dangers that Members of Parliament will be hobbled by an outside agency if they are allowed to have outside interests.

MPs are wooed and lobbied and sought after by companies who will be trying to lure them into protecting their interests.

In Zimbabwe, are parliamentarians not prone to serious abuse if they receive freebies from companies when they are supposed to play an oversight role over the same?

Nester Wyn Ellis adds: “When a Member receives payments, however honourably earned, from an outside source — to what extent has his priorities suffered distortion?”

Legislators here are really good at making the electorate feel like second class citizens because they always want to be treated and live better, as if people owe them something.

Just the other day, a senator was asking Mines and Mining Development Minister Walter Chidhakwa to facilitate that all MPs get mines. MPs are also on record saying they want to be exempted from paying toll fees arguing that most of the time, they would be performing parliamentary duties.

During the Seventh Parliament, they said they wanted to be exempt from paying Zesa bills claiming they could not afford to pay for electricity on their salaries. In essence, those legislators want the electorate to foot their bills and still pay them salaries and allowances through tax contributions. These legislators do not want to contribute anything toward their own upkeep.

Then the other day, another MP was asking Zimra Commissioner-General Gershem Pasi to ensure they get special treatment at the borders.

The legislator went to the extent of suggesting that MPs must be waived from paying duty for goods they import.

If MPs are to be treated like special citizens by getting mines, not paying duty and special treatment at the country’s ports of entry, how then are they going to influence policy to ensure the citizenry do not have to wait for hours at the borders? How are they going to influence policy for our betterment if they do not experience the hell that we go through when we go about our businesses?

Source : The Herald