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October 25, 2013

Zimbabwe Lawmakers Face Seating Shortage

by Sebastian Mhofu

A Zimbabwean lawmaker is proposing that parliament start holding meetings outside its chamber in the capital, Harare.  She says that will solve the problem of crowding in the chamber, which is now too small to house all the MPs. 

Those 270 Zimbabweans might have won parliamentary seats in the July elections, but the fight for a place to sit in the House of Assembly is far from over.  The House was designed to hold only 160 members, giving rise to a seating shortage every time parliament meets.

Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga is one of the MPs tired of scrambling for a seat.  She has proposed a motion that would allow parliament to meet outside the chamber, anywhere in Zimbabwe.

“The very main [point] is that there are too many of us, therefore we are not able to fit in parliament," said Misihairabwi-Mushonga. "The last point is that we had our independence in 1980; why do we still have a parliament that looks like we are in United Kingdom?”

The parliament, which was built during the colonial era, was never expanded when Zimbabwe won its independence from Britain in 1980.  Since then the number of MPs has increased from 90 to the current 270.

In a telephone interview, Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said he was aware that MPs were complaining about the limited space in parliament.  He said the Zimbabwean government had no money to construct a bigger building.

Austin Zvoma, the clerk of parliament, told journalists the same thing ahead of parliament's opening.

“We expect a very good attendance, but it [the chamber] can only accommodate the maximum that it can.  The others might have to sit in the gallery, or standing in the passageway, or waiting just outside the chamber to go in and debate," said Zvoma.

Misihairabwi-Mushonga is not convinced that Harare has no money to build a bigger parliament.

“I think it is just an excuse, we have seen the same government spending resources on other things.  I think it is a question of just prioritizing and saying what is important.  In this instance, if you really believe that parliament is important, you certainly find resources to do so," she said.

Resource allocation is certainly an issue in Zimbabwe, where state ministers drive around in luxury vehicles while about a quarter of the population survives on food aid.

For now, parliament members will have to hurry to grab a seat, or do their legislating while standing.