Professa Issa Shivji ametoa mawazo yake juu ya kisa cha Zitto Kabwe na ulinzi wa maliasili yetu. Mjengwa ameshaitangaza kwake. Soma, fikiria, utafaidi….

The suspension of Honourable Zitto Kabwe from parliament is not simply an episode. It is a beginning of an epitath on the last twenty years of reckless privatisation and exploitation of national wealth and resources. The suspension was an occasion for the people to give vent to their accumulated grievances, problems, and frustrations.

Two decades of neo-liberal reforms has produced a deeply divided society and an utterly fractured politics. At one pole, there is a small group of filthy rich (walalaheri), who have used all means, fair and foul, to accumulate wealth. At the other pole, are the large majority of the wretched poor (walalahoi), who are desperately trying to keep body and soul together. Under Mwalimu, the ratio between the highest and the lowest wage/salary income earners was something like 1 to 8. The current one is 1 to 50, and that is an underestimate because it does not take into account unofficial, informal, and unaccounted incomes.

Every year over 800, 000 young persons are released on the labour market; hardly one-tenth of whom find formal jobs. Meanwhile, privatisation and capital-intensive investments continue throwing out more and more as redundant. Adding salt to the wound, politicians justify dubious foreign investment deals as creating jobs, as did Minister Karamagi in this episode. By his own account, he chased $800 million investment all the way to London because it would create 600 jobs. At that rate, Hon. Karamagi would have to make over 100 trips every month to London to sign $800 million worth projects to absorb the new entrants on the job market.

It is the elite who make such calculations to justify or condemn but the people know instinctively through real life experience that we are only rationalising the loot of our national resources. That is what neo-liberalism is all about. Looting of natural resources and making of profits by converting public goods – education, health, water, electricity, land, bioresources – into private commodities is the driving force of globalisation. The Thatchers and the Reagans of this world were the forefathers and foremothers of the neo-liberal phase of imperialism. The Foxes (Mexico) and the Mkapas (Tanzania) became the fathers of undisguised compradorialism on the continents of ‘the wretched of the earth’.

Use of public office for private accumulation, a ‘sin’ during Mwalimu’s time, has been cleansed and legitimised. Businessmen enter politics to protect their ill-gotten wealth while politicians use public offices to acquire illegitimate wealth. ‘Accumulate, accumulate’ has become the name of the game. Politics has become business as business has captured politics. The third phase president symbolised and rationalised this process. He is one of the few politicians who practised what he preached, as recent revelations in THISDAY have shown.

We have witnessed scandalous privatisation and other contracts – IPTL, TTCL, TANESCO, CITY WATER, RICHMOND, KIWIRA COAL and BULANYHULU GOLD. When Zitto proposed a private motion to investigate the signing of Buzwagi deal, he deeply touched the feelings and aroused the discontent of the people. He was giving public expression to private doubts and suspicions. When he was unceremoniously suspended, fuel was added to the fire. Private anguish became public anger.

Steeped in the orgy of accumulation, our rulers failed to gauge the mood of the public. The reaction was unexpected. It was unprecedented. In a desperate attempt to rescue the situation, the Bunge, under the signature of the Clerk to the Assembly, issued a Statement on the legality of the suspension. It ended by issuing more threats: Beware you, the ‘so-called activists’, lest the heavy hammer of law befall you! That was provocative. The “so-called activists” are threatening to flood the streets with demonstrations.

Two days after the Bunge Statement, the Deputy Speaker Mama Makinda, flanked by two vice-chairmen of parliamentary committees, both CCM and both legally trained, gave a press conference. She argued that the suspension had nothing to do with the private motion but everything to do with the words used by Hon. Zitto. She deployed the standard, albeit tired, rationalization. People reacted the way they did because they were ignorant of parliamentary procedures. The parliament therefore was intending to educate the people on its workings. Let us see who needs to be educated.

What was the ignorance about? It was about the interpretation and application of the Kanuni za Bunge. Both the Statement and the Deputy Speaker argued that Zitto was penalised under rule 59(3). Under rule 59(3), an MP, who is alleged to have told a lie on the floor of the House in terms of rule 50(1), can be punished on a motion proposed by any other member of parliament and carried. Moreover, the penalty is not specified; so, the Statement seemed to imply, any punishment could be applied; the sky is the limit.

It is true that different lawyers can have different interpretations of the same provision. Only the courts have the last word. However, it is also true that some interpretations are credible; others are not. No reasonable lawyer worth his or her salt would advance an interpretation, which is obviously unreasonable or does not make sense. I will briefly clarify what the rules say.

Rule 50(1) forbids any member from telling a lie in the House. The speaker or any other member of parliament may require an MP to prove his or her statement in which case the member concerned is required to provide the proof within the time given by the Speaker for this purpose.

Under rule 59(3), an MP who has been given time to prove h/er statement fails or neglects to do so within time, then the Speaker shall impose a penalty on him or her provided in rule 59(2). The maximum penalty provided in rule 59(2) that may be imposed by the Speaker is to exclude the concerned MP from the House until the end of the meeting for that day.

Rule 59(3) also provides that any other MP, who thinks that the lie told by the concerned MP is so serious that it undermines the honour of the House, may propose a motion to suspend the concerned MP from performing his or her parliamentary duties for the duration stated in his or her motion. Such motion is then deliberated upon and a decision made in the same way as other motions.

The Statement and the press conference argue that the punishment imposed on Mr. Zitto was a result of the motion proposed by Hon. Mudhihir Mudhihir under rule 59(3).

In my view, the application of 59(3) is dependent upon the happenings in 50(1). Three things must have happened before rule 59(3) comes into play. First, the MP concerned must have told a lie. Second, the Speaker must have given him time to prove the statement, which is alleged to have been a lie. Three, the MP must have failed or neglected to prove it and the Speaker did not use his powers to exclude him or her for the day.

Were these three conditions satisfied before Hon Mudhihir Mudhihir was allowed to propose his motion? First, what was the lie? The lie has to be identified before its truthfulness can be proved. The Statement seems to say that when contributing to the debate on the budget speech of the minister, Zitto had given an oral notice that he intended to bring a private motion for the appointment of a parliamentary committee to investigate the signing of the Buzwagi contract. Among other things, Zitto said that the Minister’s answer on the issue was incorrect and that he had “deceived” the parliament. This was the lie identified in the Statement, after the fact, not by the Speaker at the time it was uttered. This was considered a lie because after Zitto had moved the motion and the minister had replied “it was clear that the minister had not deceived” (words of the Statement). Therefore, Zitto had failed to prove his statement, therefore Hon. Mudhihir Mudhihir was within rule 59(3) to propose the motion, and therefore it was correct for the parliament to impose the penalty it did.

It does not require a great legal mind to discover that this argument does not satisfy the conditions of rule 50(1) and 59(3). There was no ruling by the Speaker when Zitto gave his oral notice that he had told a lie in the course of his speech. There was no statement by the Speaker identifying the lie. There was no Order by the Speaker giving Zitto time to prove his statement. Because no time was given, there could not be any point in time when the time expired. And, because there was no time given and no expiry of time, in law, Hon. Mudhihir Mudhihir had no basis for moving the motion.

The only reason I have gone into details is to show that the attempt to lean on law was a frantic attempt to justify the unjustifiable. Even if the official interpretation made sense and could hold, and even if it could be shown that the suspension was legal, it would make no difference to the perceptions of the people. For the people, Zitto was demanding accountability on their behalf. The Executive not only arrogantly refused to account, but used its party muscle in parliament to punish him unjustly. At the end of the day, the mining issue is a political issue, not a legal one. An action can be legal but not legitimate in the eyes of the people. In this case, it was neither legal nor legitimate.

We are beginning to witness the rise of a demand for ‘resource democracy’. People are demanding not only that their resources be in the hands of the nationals but also that the people should control them. People are fed up with the looting of their resources whether the looters are nationals or foreigners, white, black, pink, or blue.

© Issa Shivj