Clemence Manyukwe News Editor
CONFLICT of interest questions have been raised over the voting of some MPs from across the political divide on the RBZ (Debt Assumption) Bill after they benefited from the central bank’s initiatives that gave rise to part of the debt.The proposed legislation which is before parliament, provides for the settlement of liabilities amounting to $1,35 million incurred by the central bank during the Zimbabwe dollar era.
The Bill has already passed the Constitutional test as the Parliamentary Legal Committee has stated that it does not violate the country’s supreme law, but in some quarters’ ethical issues have been raised on the pending voting in parliament.
Former Khumalo Senator David Coltart said under international best practice, MPs should avoid conflict of interest as it erodes the public’s confidence in the integrity of parliament.
“In this instant case, it is very clear that many of these parliamentarians received these loans and the effect of this if the Bill becomes law is to expunge those debts. In other words, these MPs would have received a direct benefit as a result of the passing of this law,” said Coltart.
“The only way, they can avoid this conflict of interest is as follows: firstly at the very least, they should make a declaration regarding the precise details of their interest in the matter and secondly, they should avoid conflict of interest by recusing themselves from the debate and vote on the Bill itself.”
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) Director John Makamure said it was unfortunate that although the Bill seeks to settle the debt using public monies, not much details on the debt have been disclosed.
He added that as a matter of principle, legislators who benefited must recuse themselves.
Makamure said it would be proper for the government to take-over a debt that benefited the public interest such as when buying food during times of drought or drugs, not that which served private interest.
“The nature of debate is also lacking substance as the matter has taken a partisan approach. MPs are not debating the implications of the Bill on the economy,” he added.
Bulawayo lawyer Matshobane Ncube had a different take on the matter.
He said barring MPs from voting on the Bill would infringe on the Constitution as legislators got RBZ support in their individual capacities, but they seat in Parliament on a representational capacity.
Ncube said after the government takes-over the RBZ debt, it can still pursue all those who owed the central bank.
“The take-over does not mean that the debt has been written off. It means that the government has also taken over the rights to sue whoever owes the RBZ. The government is taking over the debt to ensure that the RBZ performs its duties without the encumbrance of the debt hanging over it,” said Ncube.
Presenting a report on the Bill in parliament recently, the chairperson of the budget and Finance Committee, who is also Zanu-PF’s Mutoko South MP, David Chapfika said they were concerned that small creditors, the majority of whom are indigenous businesses whose operations have been affected negatively as a result of monies owed to them by the central bank, were not included on the schedule of those owed.
“The majority of the submissions were highly critical of the Bill in its current form for failing to address the position of individuals’ foreign currency accounts whose monies were transferred to RBZ by banks following a directive from the Central Bank.
“As such, members of the public viewed government as prioritising corporate creditors and ignoring ordinary people such as pensioners who lost their accumulated savings with insurance companies and those who lost funds when the RBZ unilaterally removed zeros, thereby further impoverishing innocent Zimbabweans,” added Chapfika.