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Zimbabwe's Parliament - Interview with John Makamure
January 25, 2012
Inside/Out with John Makamure
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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