Government has accused Speaker of the National Assembly RICHARD MSOWOYA of extravagance for buying expensive four-wheel drive top-of-the-range vehicles for himself, his two deputies and Leader of Opposition Lazarus Chakwera. Msowoya speaks to our reporter BONIFACE PHIRI about this and other matters. Excerpts:
Why did you find it necessary to buy new four-wheel-drive vehicles for yourself, two deputy speakers and the Leader of Opposition yet you already had equally similar vehicles running?
This issue has greatly disturbed Parliament including the leader of opposition mainly because it’s being portrayed as if the vehicles were bought with allocations from the current 2015/16 budget. I must categorically state that this is a lie; a big lie and it’s a shame that government has decided to lie to people like this. The truth is the vehicles were bought immediately we came into office using money from the 2014/15 budget. The problem is that the Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education Jappie Mhango is looking at individuals rather than the offices because it wasn’t me or Chakwera who asked for the vehicles. Government itself saw the need and they actually budgeted for these vehicles, the Treasury approved and released the money. This practice happens every five years when a new cohort of MPs takes office.
But why did you opt for expensive fuel guzzling vehicles and not any ordinary car?
Speakers or the Leader of Opposition don’t choose vehicles; these are specifications we found and if you cross-check you will see that even the previous speakers were using similar cars. For your information, Parliament has no account and the money that we use is kept by the Treasury despite the county’s constitution providing for Parliament to have an account of protected expenditure. I must also reveal here that hitherto we had been using hired vehicles. I was allocated a Nissan Patrol while the leader of opposition was given a Toyota Fortuner while my two deputies were given other four-wheel drive cars. These vehicles were costing us a minimum of K4 million per month and if we continued to use them we would have spent more than K720 million. Now, when the Parliamentary Service Commission and the Treasury looked at that kind of expenditure, they decided the best way was to buy new vehicles.
The minister accused you of extravagance considering the economic turbulence the country is going through, while others say you have a craving for expensive things…
This is why I am saying this is disturbing and one wonders what the motive behind such sentiments is. I was given this car by virtue of being Speaker of Parliament. How would arrogance, craving and greed come in? The office of the Speaker is entitled to three vehicles and in fact I have even forgone a utility vehicle which I am also entitled to. Now I am only using the old Mercedes Benz used by the former Speaker and the new one. I personally told the secretariat that I am comfortable with the two vehicles. As a matter of fact, these vehicles were bought way before donors left, before the drought, hunger and flooding, so government shouldn’t hide behind that.
What do you think is the motive behind government’s accusations?
I am even confused especially by the lying part of it. However, one would think that government is just trying to shift people’s attention away from the economic hardships or it’s running away from questions arising from the UNGA or it’s simply trying to buy people’s sympathy. It’s quite unfortunate that the minister should label me extravagant because he knows the procedure at Parliament having worked there as personal assistant to former deputy speaker Jones Chingola. I am aware of economic problems rocking the country and I have been having problems explaining to MPs why their fuel allocations are delaying, why they aren’t meeting in their respective committees or why they can’t travel to attend international meetings to bodies our parliament is affiliated to such as Sadc.
How is your relationship with the Executive?
Operationally, my relationship with the Executive is very good and this is why I was shocked by these revelations. I don’t know what the government spokesperson wants to achieve when he understands the procedures pretty well. Perhaps this is just propaganda.
Parliament will start meeting shortly without the Clerk of Parliament. When should we expect him/her?
We conducted the interviews recently after the expiry of the former CoP’s tenure owing to his attainment of the mandatory retirement age of 60. We have done our part and now we are just waiting for the President to make the necessary appointment, but I wouldn’t know for how long we will have to wait because the law itself doesn’t anything about that.