Abel Zhakata Senior Reporter
As we kick start the first installment of the Constituency Say series which is meant to look at the work being done by legislators in the their respective constituencies and rate their efforts, we are going to zoom into the Mutare Central Constituency which essentially covers the core of the Mutare urban set up.
The constituency is under the stewardship of Mr Innocent Gonese who is the MDC-T’s chief whip in Parliament. Interviewed Sakubva residents, informal traders and business executives expressed mixed feelings over the work being done by Mr Gonese who has been at the helm for the past two terms.
Some said the legislator is hard to come by as he rarely hold public meetings while others said his efforts to effectively represent the constituency are being overshadowed by prevailing economic harsh conditions that are affecting the country as a whole. Mr Gonese fought in his corner saying he has done — and is still doing — a great deal to champion the cause of the people he represents. Mutare Central constituency covers Sakubva high-density and the greater part of the Central Business District.
James Chidza from the Matida Flats said Mr Gonese has failed habitants of the run down flats that house more than 300 families. “For a long time now we have been calling on the authorities to come to our rescue and improve living conditions here but it seems our pleas are falling on deaf ears. During election campaigns in 2012 Mr Gonese promised us that he will take our issue up but up to this date nothing has been done. In fact the situation has since gone out of hand.
“We last saw him during the campaigns and up to now he has not given us a feed back. We no longer know his face. We only see him on television during Parliamentary debates that are aired live on ZTV. The views that he expresses in Parliament are not ours because we have never sat down with him since he was elected,” he said.
A local businessman Mr Samuel Fungai Chieza had this to say: “I would rate Mr Gonese’s performance as an MP a couple of points below average. I believe my rating is still generous considering very few in this whole class have had outstanding working.
“What he did (or is doing) well is representing his party and its affairs in Parliament but he however comes short representing his constituency. Speaking in his favour though are the facts that this passing term was one of the toughest, economically and hence politically for the legislators.
“But his apparent absence from his people when it mattered most to them can neither be exonerated nor forgiven by a constituency whose pressing issues are still to get attention at any form of level. I guess at a different time and in a different economic state he could have done better than the three out of 10 I am awarding him.”
John Nguwa voiced the same views: “Long overstayed and performance way below in terms of implementing issues affecting our people. (He) hardly comes to where people are to hear their cries. He tried but now we need fresh blood to manage people well.”
Mr Tendai Toto had this to say concerning Mr Gonese’s performance: “The usual and perennial MP who is actually a self declared life MP for Mutare has only managed to give MDC-T a guaranteed Parliamentary seat in the House of Assembly. I cannot see any other credits to his sleeves for the constituency and its development largely because the City of Mutare and business people do it for him or do not do anything either. He is alive and dead with action or inaction by the mentioned stake holders. Good time to reflect and retire him pronto.”
Godwin Sithole said the problems bedevilling the constituency have nothing to do with Mr Gonese.
“As a legislator he is doing very well representing the constituency, the party and the nation in general. In terms of development our poor MPs cannot do anything without the aid of central Government and the local authorities. I would have rated him well in terms of development had the Government continued to give legislators Constituency Development Funds.”
Ishe Mvura said people need to know and understand the roles of MPs first before assessing their performance.
“We very often mix the roles of legislators with those of councillors. If we are focusing on development, service delivery issues, we should be focusing on local authorities and councillors. In terms of Parliamentary presence, Innocent Gonese is among the best in that category when you see how he has contributed to his Parliamentary portfolio committee oversight role. Ask me again on councillors and I will give you a thesis.”
However, Mr Gonese feels that he has done well to represent Mutare Central. He said it was wrong for people to rate him on issues that do not fall within his jurisdiction. Service delivery, he said, is the primary objective of local authorities and not MPs.
“Let’s start by pointing out what is the role of an MP. The role of an MP is to play a legislative role and ensure that Parliament makes laws that ensure the good governance of the country. The other role of an MP is oversight so that we make the Government accountable for its actions. The third role of the MP is representative which means articulating issues and concerns of their respective constituencies.
“Looking at those three primary roles, I, as the MP for Mutare Central, I have acquitted myself very well. In terms of the representative role I heavily give input to debates on the passage of many bills and also participating in Parliamentary committees that play an oversight role. In Parliament I am very active,” he said.
Mr Gonese said people have a misconception of what the MP should or is expected to do. “There is this other role which you are asking me which is not the primary role of an MP. Most people look at MPs as people who should build bridges, roads and making donations. That is really a misconception in terms of the governance architecture of the country.”
He said he has on several occasions taken issues up with the Mutare City Council to better the lives of people in his constituency, especially housing problems at Matida Flats and other old locations in Sakubva but the local authority always cited resources constraints as hindrance.
“We are working very well with the city council but the only problem is that each time we approach them they cite several challenges they are facing which are badly affecting service delivery. Right now we have a serious problem at Matida Flats. There is no water. We have been engaging the local authority and they have promised to look into the matter.”
Mr Gonese said in some cases where they would have made in roads to put in place ablution facilities in public places, some residents were undoing the good work through vandalism. He said the issue of uncollected garbage which is heaping in the streets was causing headaches and council is failing to play ball.
“Council at the moment has not been able to collect garbage. We have been trying to engage council over the issue but as usual the local authority is facing challenges,” he said. Mr Gonese said unemployment levels were very high in his constituency because of many company closures that occurred over the years.
He said he was pressing the local authority to come up with modern vending stalls to accommodate the increasing number of vendors in the city as well as construct new-age sheds for those in the informal sector. Coming to concerns that he is hardly seen in his constituency, Mr Gonese said the sentiments were grossly unfair.
“Some of the people in my constituency may not be aware of the frequency of my visits in the constituency. Every week I will be in area and talking to people. I interact with people all the time and some even come to my law firm office in the city centre. We have meetings from time to time. I am a very accessible person.
“The only problem is that we used to have constituency information centres and unfortunately under the last two Parliaments, we no longer have them and right now we are in the process of lobbying to have them back.
To facilitate easy interaction between and MP and the people it is vital for the Government to provide those information centres.
Looking at the three roles, for the MP, Mr Gonese acquitted himself well in the legislative role by ensuring that Parliament made laws that ensured the good governance of the country. He also did well in the oversight role of making Government accountable for its actions. He is indeed active in Parliament.
However, the legislator comes short in the area of articulating concerns of his constituency and keeping in touch with the electorate. Mr Gonese should remember that he is in Parliament because people from his constituency voted him in. He must balance all the three roles of an MP. He gets a 6/10 rating.