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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 in Zimbabwe.

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 Upper House.

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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