Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Matibini says Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe mislead the nation last year when she gave two contradictory statements regarding the decline in the country’s foreign exchange reserves.
Speaker Matibini, however, neither ordered Mwanakatwe to apologise nor censured her.
On that day, Mwanakatwe had informed the House that that the country’s reserves had declined by 28% from USD$2.9 billion at the end of January 2016 to USD $2.1 billion by the end of December, 2017.
And when asked why the country’s reserves had declined by Moomba UPND member of parliament Fred Chaatila, the minister explained that it was because government had been partly using the reserves to service interest payments on the Euro Bond debt.
The minister’s response prompted Kapiri-Mposhi UPND member of parliament Stanley Kakubo to ask a supplementary question, requesting her to explain when her ministry would go back to the House and give a detailed list of how government spent the Euro bond.
But first deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Catherine Namugula hesitated to give the minister an opportunity to respond, given that the question asked by the Kapiri-Mposhi lawmaker was outside the question on the order of the day.
The minister, however, volunteered a response; “We [as government] use our own earnings to pay Euro bond interests. The honourable member of parliament for Kapiri-Mponshi should please take that information to his people. I am also telling the nation now that we do not use reserves to pay Euro bond interests. I was paying Euro bond interest last week, my reserves were 1.7 last week. If you check my reserve today, they are the same. Osanama boza (do not spread falsehoods).”
It was at this point that Kakubo rose on a point of order seeking the Speaker’s ruling on whether the Minister of Finance was in order to backtrack on her earlier statement and mislead the House by responding to a similar question with two different and contradictory positions.
And in her immediate response, the first Deputy Speaker reserved her ruling, saying she needed to investigate the matter. But having studied the matter, Speaker Matibini ruled, Tuesday, that Mwanakatwe was out of order when she gave two contradictory statements on the floor of the House and as a consequence misled the House.
“Honourable members, the point of order raises the issue of a member’s duty to ensure that the information provided to the House when debating is factual and verifiable. The House is aware that the law and the rules of the House circumscribe the freedom of speech and debate that members enjoy in the House. One such restraint is a requirement for members to debate factually and in so doing, avoid all manner of misleading the House. The various sources of Parliamentary practice and procedure attest to this requirement. To begin with, section 16 (Powers and Privileges Act) makes it an offence for any person to intentionally mislead the House. It states as follows ‘any person who before the Assembly or a Committee) intentionally gives a false answer to any question material to the subject inquiry which may be put to him during the course of any examination shall be guilty of an offence against section 104 of the penal code’. Further, standing order 53 of the National Assembly of Zambia, standing orders 2016, obligates a member to debate factually. It states ‘a member shall in debating any matter ensure that the information he or she provides to the House is factual and verifiable’. Furthermore, the National Assembly members handbook 2006 in chapter three states as follows; ‘members must not allege specific matters or facts as being true unless they are able to substantiate them’,” Speaker Matibini said.
Matibini gave an account of how the National Assembly had handled the issue of members of parliament giving false information in the past.
“My predecessor had occasioned to guide the House on the matter of a member misleading the House in debates in the ruling in the case of R. Musokotwane nd honourable ML Kaingu, found in Parliamentary debates of the third meeting of the first session of the 9th National Assembly, 16th January to 27th March, 2009, at page 3111. In that matter, Honourable ML. Kaingu raised a point of order on the floor of the House, accusing Mrs R. Musokotwane MP of requesting him to remove some settlers from Chifulu Game Management area, which was in her constituency. However, it turned out that the statement by Honourable ML. Kaingu was false. Honourable ML. Kaingu, MP was found in breach of Parliamentary privilenge for making a false statement on the floor of the House and was admonished by the House and in rendering the ruling on the matter, my predecessor said as follows; ‘honourable members, while freedom of speech and action in the House are said to be unquestioned and free, there are certain restraints on the use of the right within the halls of the House…it is an offence punishable by the House for any person to willfully mislead the House’,” Matibini said.
“Therefore, honourable members of the House have a duty to ensure that they carefully verify their information before submitting the same to the House. This is important because the House in making decisions relies on the information submitted by members.”