Dodoma. Chaos reigned in Parliament yesterday as police were called in to eject opposition MPs who were protesting a decision to block debate on the government’s move to end non-stop live broadcasts from the House.
Business came to a standstill as MPs and security personnel scuffled after presiding chairman Andrew Chenge ordered that the protesting lawmakers be thrown out of the debating chamber.
Trouble began in the afternoon session when Mr Chenge delivered a report of the Steering Committee that sidestepped the issue of whether or not the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) should continue live coverage of Parliament .
The report was drafted after proceedings were adjourned in the morning to allow for consultation on the matter.
Mr Chenge, who took over for the first time as the presiding chairman, faced a hostile reception from opposition MPs, who were protesting a statement by Information minister Nape Nnauye that TBC would stop live broadcasts in favour of evening reviews of the day’s events in Parliament.
Mr Nnauye said it had become too costly for the public broadcaster to sustain the operations, adding that TBC spends about Sh4.2 billion a year for live broadcasts.
He was responding to a question by Ms Cecilia Parreso (Kiteto-Chadema), who wanted to know why TBC had cut live transmission of parliamentary proceedings.
Later after the questions and answers session, Mr Zitto Kabwe (Kigoma Urban-ACT-Wazalendo) led the opposition in rejecting the minister’s announcement and sought suspension of business to allow MPs to debate the development.
He said the move amounted to denying Tanzanians the right to information, especially from an important pillar of governance – Parliament.
Mr Kabwe asked Mr Chenge to allow debate of the government’s decision, which, he said, amounted to undermining Parliament’s independence.
When it was apparent that Mr Chenge would not grant the plea, opposition MPs acted in unison to force the chairman to adjourn business and refer their appeal to the Steering Committee.
Things turned ugly in the afternoon as soon as Mr Chenge read the Steering Committee’s decision, which did not please opposition MPs. The report ruled that debate on the President’s speech could not be disrupted.
But Mr Tundu Lissu (Singida East-Chadema) wondered if it was proper for the presiding chair to entertain the report, which, he argued, went against the rules of the same House by usurping the roles of the chair and the committee on procedures.
But Mr Chenge would not budge, forcing Mr Lissu to mobilise other opposition MPs to raise more points of order.
They claimed that the move to call off live broadcasts was meant to shield the government from scrutiny and criticism by MPs.
Even after Mr Chenge threatened stern measures against them, the opposition MPs did not back down. They stood and continued to shout, forcing Mr Chenge to admit that the issue which Mr Kabwe had raised was important.
“If it is important adjourn proceedings to allow the Steering Committee to meet and deliberate on the issue,” shouted Ms Halima Mdee (Kawe-Chadema).
Mr Khatib Said Haji (Konde-CUF) also switched on his microphone and shouted: “We have nothing to hide. Let this issue be discussed openly...we will not allow any other business if this issue is not resolved.”
Mr Chenge refused to allow anyone to interrupt the proceedings and after he had asked them to sit down four times, he ordered Mr Lissu, Ms Ester Bulaya (Bunda-Chadema) and Mr Godbless Lema (Arusha Urban-Chadema) to leave the debating chamber.
But Mr Lema removed his tie and shouted: “I won’t leave this chamber. You can kill me...I’m ready.”
He was joined by other opposition members who kept shouting, insisting that they would not allow Parliament to continue with its activities unless they were allowed to debate Mr Kabwe’s motion.
After consulting the secretaries, Mr Chenge called in security personnel to remove the defiant MPs.
A few minutes later, after the opposition MPs defied an order to leave, Mr Chenge adjourned the session for ten minutes “so that the police can do their work”.
After Mr Chenge had walked out, several riot police officers entered the chamber, surrounded the opposition lawmakers and forced them out.
Among those who were frogmarched out of the chamber were Mr Peter Lijualikali (Kilombero-Chadema) and Ms Mdee.
After several MPs were kicked out, Mr Freeman Mbowe (Hai-Chadema), who was also arguing with the police officers, asked the remaining opposition lawmakers to leave the chamber. With order finally restored, the House resumed debating the speech President John Magufuli delivered last November when he inaugurated the 11th Parliament.