Why our MPs will miss the bus
Another reason to despair as Parliament opens next week
When - and indeed if - the new Zimbabwe parliament opens on Tuesday, many members, particularly those from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), may be missing. Not on a point of principle, and not from fear of intimidation, although both are significant factors in our current democratic process.
No, the members will not turn up for this simple and mundane reason: they can't afford the bus fare.
This seems a ludicrous situation, even by Zimbabwe's standards, until you examine the facts. First, there is a limit to the amount of cash anyone can draw from the bank in one day. It is Z$20,000, But the bus fare from, say, Mutare, is a cool Z$150,000. From Gweru, Z$80,000. And that was when I last checked. The figures go up by the day.
MDC MP Docus Sibanda told me: "To attend Parliament I will have to travel from Bulawayo to Harare, a distance of some 400km. The bus fare will be at least Z$100,000. This means I would have to queue up at the bank for five straight days to get the necessary cash. "
There are special arrangements in place for lawmakers to receive free tickets to drive or fly in from their constituencies to Harare. In the last parliament, this system was widely abused, with only Zanu-PF's requests for tickets being approved. This was parlicularly prevalent when controversial government bills were going through the House.
Today there is no indication that anything will change in the new parliament, with Zanu-PF still controlling the Reserve Bank, the general administration, and the so-called forces of law and order.
Members of Parliament who face this problem have applied, through the person of the Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma, for their personal withdrawal allowance to be raised above the Z$20,000.
But Zvoma has said that the issue does not lie within the parliament's purview. "This is a nationwide problem. All we can do is make an appeal to the authorities. It is not us who will make the final decision."
Clearly nothing will be done now before Tuesday, and the scheduled opening of parliament. It would seem that once again, when it comes to genuine democracy, Zimbabwe has missed the bus.