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Plans to restore Senate noble
The Herald (Zimbabwe)
June 08, 2005
By Donald T. Charumbira
ZANU-PF'S proposal to reintroduce the Senate is a timely and
appropriate development which will improve the legislative process
For nine years following
independence, Zimbabwe had a senate system inherited from the colonial
regime, which was later abolished to accelerate legal reforms necessitated
by the country's puerility.
As a result, we have
seen numerous imperative laws being passed through Parliament in
the 16 years of a unicameral parliamentary system.
Having achieved the necessary
reforms, and in pursuit of continued legislative advancement, the
reintroduction of the Senate is appropriate.
In Zimbabwe's current
political dispensation, there are political elders and other important
contributors who, without an organ such as the Senate, would be
unable to contribute to the national legal process.
Their contributions are
essential for leadership continuity, legal maturity and learning
from past experiences.
It would be unwise for
such important assets -- the human resources of the elderly politicians
-- to go to waste.
There are also other
special groups of people whose contributions are required but could
not otherwise get any seat in Parliament.
The Lower House, also
known as the House of Representatives, is a direct representation
of the people as the members are elected by their constituencies.
Members of a Lower House
are, therefore, in Parliament to represent their constituencies.
The Upper House would
have a broader mandate to utilise their experience to ensure that
any laws that are passed are in the ultimate national interest.
The Upper House is, therefore,
the custodian of certain national values and principles that may
have been hastily overlooked, forgotten or unknown to the members
of the Lower House.
Detractors have already
handed down their judgment on the Senate as a gimmick to create
jobs for Zanu-PF loyalists.
Such narrow-minded, saturnine
characters have nothing to contribute to the development of the
country besides fatuous critiques about issues they do not comprehend.
If Zanu-PF wanted only
to create jobs for its leaders, it could easily do so in any of
the State organs through overt or clandestine means.
As the nation shall see,
it will not only be Zanu-PF members that will get into the Senate
as other interest groups and entities would also be accommodated.
The idea of a Senate
goes beyond partisan politics, beyond job creation for loyalists;
it is about the best system of governance for Zimbabwe in the present
and into the future.
Anyone who denounces
such a progressive initiative is working against the interests of
the country and impeding positive development.
Even in the oldest of
civilisations, the Senate has been a necessary means of tapping
on the knowledge and experience of the eldest members of a community.
Tradition held that the
Senate was first established by Romulus, the mythical founder of
Rome, as an advisory council consisting of the 100 heads of families.
In the modern age, a
Senate is a deliberative body, often the Upper House or Chamber
of a Legislature.
It is not necessarily
or exclusively a House for elderly people.
It is basically a safeguard
for prudence, and an assurance that all interests — including
those not fully represented in the Lower House — are represented
in the legislative process.
Growing global awareness
of the complexity of the notion of representation and the multi-functional
nature of modern legislatures may be affording incipient new rationales
for second chambers.
The trend towards unicameralism,
common in the 20th century, is now halting.
There are strong merits
of checks and balances provided by the bicameral model, which helps
prevent the passage into law of ill-considered legislation.
In the Southern African
region, there are unicameral systems in Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique,
Tanzania and Zambia.
In South Africa, there
is a National Assembly as a Lower House, and a National Council
of Provinces as an Upper House.
Similarly, Namibia also
has a National Assembly and a National Council based on the regions
of the country.
In Botswana, there is
a National Assembly as a Lower House and a House of Chiefs as an
Swaziland, Lesotho and
Madagascar have both National Assemblies and Senates.
While it was necessary
for the transitional, post-independence Zimbabwe to have the years
of executive and accelerated legislative process, it would not be
possible to continue with such a parliamentary system for too long.
We have now reached that
juncture when the Senate is once more required.
A recent indication of
the consequences of a unicameral system of parliament is the President's
returning of the Non-Governmental Organisations Bill to Parliament
for further deliberations.
Had there been a Senate,
the Bill may have reached the President in a more acceptable form
for presidential assent.
It should be noted, however,
that a Senate cannot normally veto legislation, but merely delay
it and refer it back to the Lower House for reconsideration.
This is a safeguard against
hastily-authored legislation that may not be in the national interest.
So, who would deny the
benefits of such a system?
The Senate is needed
— and the sooner the better!
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