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  • Zimbabwe parl't debates economic bill on Wednesday
    MacDonald Dzirutwe, Reuters
    August 21, 2007

    Zimbabwe's government will table a proposal in parliament on Wednesday to give majority control of foreign-owned firms to locals.

    The new parliamentary session will also debate a bill giving President Robert Mugabe room to pick a successor if he retires.

    If passed, the bills could tighten Mugabe's grip on power as frustrations grow over an economic crisis and Western powers increase pressure on the 83-year-old to enact political reforms.

    Mugabe's ruling party has a technical two-thirds majority in parliament, which gives it room to pass bills without support from the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

    Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told Reuters on Tuesday that the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Bill would be tabled on Wednesday.

    Around 35 foreign-owned companies, including Barclays Plc and Anglo American, still operate in Zimbabwe.

    Company officials have said many firms present in the country have written off their Zimbabwe assets because they need to balance the risk of losing further income against future business prospects if a new government came to power.

    Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate and severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages. Critics say Mugabe's controversial policies, including the seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks, have destroyed the economy.

    Chinamasa could not say when parliament would consider a Constitutional Amendment Bill which would allow parliament to pick a president if a vacancy arises between elections.

    "That (empowerment bill) presentation will be done tomorrow but I have no idea when the constitutional amendment bill will be ready (for debate)," said Chinamasa, who is the leader of the House.

    Bad faith

    Once a bill is introduced in parliament, it is immediately referred to a legal committee for scrutiny. This committee then re-introduces the bill for debate.

    This five-month legislative session will be the last before parliamentary and presidential elections in March when Mugabe is expected to seek another five-year mandate.

    If the Constitutional Amendment Bill is passed, analysts say Mugabe may seek to step down mid-term after nearly three decades in power and anoint a successor.

    The MDC, pressing for a new constitution, says amending the present one would be a sign of bad faith because it is already a sticking point in talks between the opposition and ZANU-PF.

    South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mediating between the two sides. Western diplomats say there has been little progress.

    "With respect to the constitutional amendment bill... I doubt that could happen today or this week as ZANU-PF might want to wait for a definite conclusion, one way or the other, of the ongoing talks," Innocent Gonese, parliamentary chief whip of MDC, said.

    "I would say possibly next week, but even then, it looks improbable."

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