Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga recently announced his intention to quit political office when elections are next held. The MP for Buhera West spoke to SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma and explains his decision. Matinenga denies media reports that he is quitting because he is disillusioned with Zimbabwean politics. He says it was always his plan to serve only one term in office and go back to his law practice.
Interview broadcast 07 December 2011
Lance Guma: Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga recently announced his intention to quit political office when elections are next held. The MP for Buhera West joins us tonight on Question Time to answer listeners’ questions.
Minister Matinenga thank you for joining us.
Eric Matinenga: You’re welcome.
Guma: Now the most asked question from our listeners obviously is why you have made this decision to quit politics.
Matinenga: If I wanted to be coy I would retort and say ‘why should I not?’ but I do not want to be coy, I want to answer this question for the umpteenth time and the issue is all about my personal philosophy. It’s about what I believe in and it’s about what I believe politicians should do when they hold political office.
When I accepted to run for office for Buhera West I would rather at that stage had been doing something else. I was successful in my law practice and would have preferred at that stage to continue in my law practice but I accepted with humility the confidence which the people of Buhera West had shown inviting me to be member of parliament on their behalf.
I made an undertaking then to myself, to my family that we needed to set a target: what did I want to do in politics? Because I believed that I was offering my services elsewhere to the MDC-T and to the Zimbabweans in general, I thought that the best I could do is to offer myself for a single term or rather, let me do this – get that constituency out of the clutches of Zanu PF – that was the target.
Serve for a single term and thereafter, pass on the baton to somebody else. So that has been my personal philosophy – the very day I accepted that I should run. I’m not one who believes that everybody always has got as unfinished programme because I think it is a fallacy, it is a myth. I do not believe that people are indispensible, I think there is a huge pool of people out there who can represent this interest and I think the more we can accept that with humility the better for all of us, the better for Zimbabwe.
Guma: Now the general feeling from a lot of our listeners is that your general disillusionment seems to stem from the way the coalition government has administered the country and some are asking the question – would you have made the same decision had the MDC been the sole party in government?
Matinenga: Obviously I experienced some form of disillusionment when I got to be operating in government but that was not my reason. That position comes out when I was asked to comment about my experiences in government and obviously I made reference to the experiences I’ve had in cabinet and I made it very clear that things could have been better and that, it tended to be people resorting to their political trenches when important issues of state were discussed.
But that is not the story, that is not why I left and I noted that people wanted a story, they wanted to know that well Matinenga has been pushed, he has been forced – no, that’s really not the story. The story is that I made up my mind from the very beginning and before the story broke out, I’d actually been speaking to a lot of persons from Buhera West to find out who would be prepared to take over from me.
In all my meetings in my constituency, I always impressed upon them, all on the need for a succession policy and I know, I’m not beating my case but I think I was popular in the constituency, but I said – look, no matter how popular one person may be, no matter what you think that person was delivering, you can never ever say without him, then there is no representation because there are other persons who have got different nuances, who approach issues from a different perspective and you maybe surprised to find that whilst you thought that the incumbent was delivering, maybe the person who came next will deliver even more than the incumbent. So I tried to sell this position from the very beginning in my constituency.
Guma: On Facebook we have George Mike with a rather cynical question and comment – he says in announcing your intention to quit, you appear to be painting yourself as a saint. He then concludes his comment by saying – you are quitting because you are a weak character. What would you say to people who say this?
Matinenga: Look I’ve always said that people have got a right to make their own assessment but you know, I’m not going to force them to accept what I say, but what I’m telling you is the truth of the matter in that this is the position which I hold and which I hold dear.
Guma: As a respected lawyer, do you think there’s room for lawyers in Zimbabwean politics in general? You have admitted yourself there was a perception you were an aloof character so is there a division between those perceived as educated and those who have modest education?
Matinenga: No, no, no, there certainly is. You know again I think that assessment was made out of a misunderstanding of my position. Because I knew I was going to be in this political office for this limited time, I did not believe it was prudent for me to seek a position in the political structures of the party because I was going to be going anyway and people then perceived that as aloofness but I thought it was only fair that I do not do so because I was never prepared to stay in the structures as long as what it takes but as for the respect for lawyers in politics, obviously there is.
Guma: Okay let me take you to another subject – members of parliament from all three political parties this week were accused of holding back on approving the 2012 national budget to force the Finance Minister into buying them new cars and pay off salaries and allowances outstanding since 2008. Several listeners want your comment on this. Is this true?
Matinenga: Well the budget passed last night so it is now water under the bridge but yes, I’m aware that members of parliament have raised concerns about their outstanding allowances and I’ve made again my position very clear on this issue which is – members of parliament are owed that money and I said we should distinguish between liability and quandram and a member of parliament is due that sitting allowance the moment he starts sitting.
So that is the law, we cannot change it, but as to how much they get which is an issue of quandram dependent upon the president setting the quandram so it is not true when people say well they are not due this money. No legally they are entitled to that sitting allowance but it’s just a question that the requisite functionary did not set the amount which was due to each member.
Guma: Now the perception that it has created obviously because the MPs squabble all other things but they were united on the issue of money; we had the other separate issue of cars and people were calling it “luxury-gate”, MPs want posh cars – what’s the status of that because people were making the argument for a poor country, the type of cars MPs want…
Matinenga: Let me say this and I have made the point again, I’ve been telling MPs that look, they must look at these two issues separately because they are not the same. Right? The issue of debating the budget should not be mixed with the issue of social welfare issues of what we must get or what must we not get. In terms of the motor vehicle issue, I’m glad that those motor vehicles are not being delivered because as I said there is neither a moral nor legal basis for that.
And I’m glad that the Minister of Finance accepted this but it is different from the issue of the allowances which is a legal entitlement. And I said the MPs must be able to say we are going to look at the budget debate and address the substantive budgetary issues and not to mix that with their social welfare affairs. And I’m glad that, you know, it appears that yesterday he accepted it and the budget was debated and it passed.
Guma: From Mutare comes an email from Lazarus who says he’s not happy with the continuous adjournments by parliament this year. He’s calling into question the role and value of the institution. He says given the high running costs to cover salaries and allowances, he says many times we’ve just been told parliament sat for a few minutes and then adjourned. Any particular reason why this is the case?
Matinenga: Look I think it’s very difficult to respond to this general question because for an example, yesterday, I think we sat late into the night to deliver on this critical issue which was the budget. There are sometimes reasons why parliament is sitting or not sitting, for example – in the run-up to the budget presentation there were various impediments to the budget statement to be delivered.
I think initially it was supposed to be delivered, I think the president was out of the country or something and the budget could not be delivered and there was another excuse later but it’s not that members of parliament did not want to participate it’s just that some unavoidable occurrences came about and you know…
Guma: Talking about those unavoidable occurrences, Veritas who monitor legal and parliamentary issues have raised the issue of why Zanu PF traditionally have their conferences or congresses in December the busiest time of the year for parliament. MPs have had to be excused to attend this conference and we are told this has disrupted the completion of important business. Do you think this is an issue worth reviewing?
Matinenga: Look I think it’s, I don’t belong to Zanu PF, so I’m unable to say whether they should change or not change but I am told that the principals agreed that they should accommodate each other, or rather that the respective parties should accommodate each other and that if one of the parties have important domestic engagements then the other two parties will accommodate it. And in this case, the other two parties in parliament have accommodated Zanu PF’s function.
Guma: Kudakwashe in Harare wants to get an update on the progress made in making amendments to the Electoral Bill and the Human Rights Bill.
Matinenga: I’m afraid it’s, you know, there is not, there is nothing which is happening now. You’ll recall that the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs introduced these two Bills into parliament but when parliament prorogued the two lapsed and it is now up to the minister to refine the details.
And when I asked the minister whether he was going to do that this side of the year, the indication he gave to me was that he was waiting for the MDC-T to communicate a certain position to him regarding the certain amendments which have been suggested. So before that position is communicated, he is unable to tell me as to when these amendments or when these Bills are going to be resuscitated.
Guma: But obviously given the fact that you are not seeing eye to eye on some of these amendments in some of those provisions in those Bills, it does look like nothing will come out of it. How would you get over that impasse of, the impasse based on positions?
Matinenga: You know as has happened in Zimbabwe all the time, when it gets to this point, then the matter is firstly referred to the negotiators, then it is referred to the principals and there’s some feeling that that issue will be resolved sooner rather than later.
Guma: Now I know you are a devout Anglican. A brief comment on how you see the whole saga surrounding Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, what’s the latest?
Matinenga: Again there is no positive movement, if one was looking for any good news for Christmas. The matter is still in the courts.
Guma: Why is it taking so long for the courts to deal because Kunonga was provisionally given custody of the properties pending a final determination? Now it’s years and years now since that final determination was made.
Matinenga: You know I really don’t understand why. I think the last time I was speaking to the lawyers concerned, apparently one record was still outstanding because when you appeal, the record on appeal must be prepared according to certain specifications.
There are quite a number of records which needed to be prepared for these numerous appeals to be heard because I gathered that the chief justice has said he wants all these appeals to be heard one after the other, but there has also been an application of a constitutional nature and I’m hoping that maybe early in the New Year, then these matters will be resolved but we worship nevertheless and I’m so humbled by the attitude of the people to pray and say look building do not count, we’ll carry on, we’ve managed to get people to offer us their premises and yah we soldier on.
Guma: My final question for you and three of our listeners have asked this question – having announced you’ll be stepping down, what’s next for you?
Matinenga: I am going to law practice, I am going back. You know when, that’s why I explained to you I always have a target, when I left my office at Advocacy Chambers I did not sell a single piece of my furniture, I did not sell a single piece of my library, so my furniture, my library are still intact. It’s just a question of making a formal application and opening up my office. So for those who believe that I’m behaving like a houlier than thou person that is the clearest indication of what my plans have been all about.
Guma: I suppose the great irony of course is that probably the bulk of your clients will be persecuted MDC activists and other human rights defenders?
Matinenga: Look this is why I said that people, I believe that I can offer service in a situation where I believe that I’m professionally competent and efficient and people tend to look at service as public political service.
I said even before I accepted to stand for Buhera West, I still chaired what was then called an MDC support group and people thought I was doing so in order to get into parliament, but no, when I was invited I nearly declined and invited other persons to do so.
I only then accepted to run because Zanu PF then doubled the rural constituencies and simply there was no longer time to identify someone to run in Buhera West but I’ll still be in a position to contribute in one way or the other in the political development of this country and I actually think that I’m better suited to do that in my legal contribution.
Guma: Well Zimbabwe, that’s the Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga joining us on this edition of Question Time. Minister Matinenga thank you so much for your time.
Matinenga: No you are welcome.
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