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Evaluating Zimbabwe's Parliament - Interview with John Makamure
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
January 25, 2012

Read Inside/Out with John Makamure

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John MakamureJohn Makamure is the Founder and Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST). He is a dynamic professional who has wide experience in legislative and civic society strengthening, advocacy, economic and public policy analysis and research. John is also a weekly columnist in the independent daily newspaper, Newsday. His analytical articles focus on key developments in parliament on the legislative and budgetary fronts.

What were you hoping to achieve when you established SAPST?
We wanted to help create a very strong institution in Parliament. One that is independent of the executive and democratic. An institution that is accountable to the electorate and one that is open to everyone. Where everyone can participate freely in parliamentary process. We elected these MPs and they represent us.

What were the factors then that hindered the kind of Parliament that you envisaged? Are these still present today?
We found that largely it was a single party in Parliament. It was a ZANU PF dominated Parliament. Parliament merely existed then to rubber stamp decisions of the executive. And then it was a single party executive. It was a very weak Parliament, very ineffective and not accountable to the people. It was a mysterious institution. The legal framework, then, even now, does not give Parliament any independence. Although there is the principle of Separation of Power in practice it's not exercised. The present constitution does not go far enough to give Parliament the necessary independence. For example law making; if Parliament passes a Bill, the President has the final say. So he can refuse to sign what Parliament has passed into law. If Parliament insists that the President has to sign, he has the option of dissolving Parliament. Listen

Having worked with Parliament, do you think this one is a stronger institution than it was when you started ten years ago?
There have been very significant improvements. Before 2000 we did not have a fully-fledged portfolio committee system. These portfolio committees oversee their respective committees, they have to scrutinise what the ministries are doing and hold them to account. That has gone a long way in making these ministries account for their actions. If you refuse to appear before the committee you are in contempt of Parliament and you can be imprisoned. More and more of the committees are now exercising their powers. Now Ministries know they are being watched, which helps to create an accountable governance system.

I read your article in Newsday about how the POSA Bill has stalled in the Senate. But it's been over two years since it was initiated, why has it not progressed further?
I think because of the political polarisation in our society, which is also playing out in Parliament. Because an MDC Member of Parliament initiated that Bill, some ZANU PF members think that their duty is to oppose what an MDC member has brought. Conversely there are MDC members who believe the same about Bills introduced into Parliament by ZANU PF members. The polarisation is dealing a huge blow to the effectiveness of Parliament. What is important is to look at the nature of the legislation. Sometimes the polarisation is unnecessary, they are not looking at the content and their party positions prevail. Listen

How can Parliament be polarised on such a crucial issue? When it came to Lovemore Moyo's election as Speaker of Parliament, which was very contentious at the time, we saw from the election results that ZANU PF MPs had crossed the floor. It would seem that polarisation is a fresh issue not an old one.
Let me say that the House of Assembly passed the POSA Amendment Bill. There were not any dissenting voices when the motion was brought forward. Polarisation didn't play out in the House of Assembly. It's playing out in the Senate. I suspect it's because it's a Bill that's been tabled by an MDC member. I also suspect that senators have been influenced by their senior leaders in the party to reject that Bill. The argument from ZANU PF senators is that this is a matter that the negotiators are dealing with, but we know that they are not. It's not on their agenda. It's a long time since they last met. Even if it was something the negotiators were discussing, as long as a matter has been introduced in Parliament, Parliament has a right to debate that matter. Irrespective of what is happening in other circles, be it as GPA negotiators or Cabinet. This is a Bill that is going through the Parliamentary process, so it must be allowed to take place.

From your article I inferred that it's theoretically possible for Parliament to effect some of the legislative provisions of the GPA. Things like creating an environment conducive to media freedom, amending POSA and AIPPA and changing how the BAZ Board is constituted. Is this correct?
Yes. We've got a very poor legislative agenda. In this country, most of the legislation that is handled by Parliament comes from the Ministers. But Members of Parliament are allowed to initiate legislation through Private Member Bills. But Ministers initiate most of the legislation, and Ministers are not bringing important legislation Parliament. So the only option on important matters such as freedom of information, freedom of assembly, the rights of citizens, is for MPs to initiate legislation. A committee of Parliament can initiate legislation. Even though ultimately the Bill being made into law is dependent on the President, it is still important that these matters are introduced into Parliament. They shouldn't be frustrated and say even if we initiate, the President won't sign it into law ... what if he does?

You work with both Civil Society and Parliament. For a very long time Civil Society has been advocating for media freedom, but obviously the legislative environment does not allow for this. Why do you think Civil Society is not lobbying parliamentarians directly to introduce the Private Member Bills that would change this?
I am also very concerned that our civic society friends are not taking advantage of the democratic space available in Parliament. Advocacy requires that you exploit any opportunities that are available. We have supported quite a number of public hearings that are conducted by committees in Parliament. We fund those. And we try to send out information to members of civic society. But the response has been very poor on some public policy matters that we believe would be relevant to those organisations. We don't understand that apathy. We need civic society to engage Parliament more, and work with the committees and individual members, to improve the public policy environment.

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