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Mooted Parly changes dismissed
Njabulo Ncube, The Financial Gazette (Zimbabwe)
September 02, 2004

A BICAMERAL Parliament with 260-members, among other far-reaching changes to Zimbabwe's august House, has been mooted, but analysts say the two-chamber legislature will be "toothless" unless it assumes "real" power.

A bicameral parliamentary system provides for two chambers and observers say this prevents enactment of ill-considered laws by providing checks and balances.

Of particular interest to gender activists in Zimbabwe is the proposed setting aside of 50 special seats for women to be brought to Parliament through proportional representation.

Analysts and political commentators who spoke to The Financial Gazette were unanimous that the proposed overhaul of Zimbabwe's Parliament, though necessary for good governance in a democracy, was not a priority at present as long as the legislature had little authority compared to other arms of government. The other arms of government are the Executive and the Judiciary.

The analysts said constitutional reform, which among other things should see the curtailment of the powers of the Executive, was more paramount in Zimbabwe today than the establishment of a bicameral Parliament.

Presently, the Parliament of Zimbabwe has 150 legislators comprising 120 elected and 30 non-constituency members.

ZANU PF has submitted to the Executive a proposal to expand Parliament by creating a two-chamber house consisting of 260 members.

According to a draft proposal shown to The Financial Gazette, the ruling party proposes 150 elected legislators, 50 special seats for women and a 60-member Senate.

Of the proposed 60 senators, 40 would be brought to the House through proportional representation per province, same as the proposed 50 special seats for women.

The President of Zimbabwe, under the scheme currently under discussion within both ZANU PF and the main opposition circles, would have the prerogative to appoint 10 governors and 10 traditional chiefs, bringing the total number in the Senate to 60.

Janna Ncube, the director for Women In Politics Support Unit, said a bicameral Parliament would politically empower Zimbabwean women. Of the 150 elected and non-constituency Members of Parliament in the present House, only 16 are female.

"We have been advocating for real women representation at that level of decision-making. It will give us a token 25 percent of the 200 elected members. Our target for the 2005 parliamentary polls is 30 percent.

"We believe there should be other seats for women, maybe in the proposed Senate. Our researches have shown that women are missing out in Parliament because mostly men use money and other unscrupulous methods to get themselves elected as candidates to represent their parties in polls," said Ncube.

She said setting aside 50 seats for women through legislation would encourage their participation in Zimbabwean politics, especially considering that females constituted about 52 percent of the country's population.

"A bicameral House is meant to be a safeguard in a democracy so that the legislature does not steamroll laws like what happened with the fast-track land reform," said Brian Kagoro, a lawyer by profession, who doubles up as chairman of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

"It (bicameral Parliament) is an important device for checks and balances. It, however, depends on how the two Houses are structured and what power they enjoy and wield. If the two Houses are poorly structured and filled with people to rubber-stamp laws, then there will be no magic in a bicameral system," said Kagoro, whose pressure group consists of more than 350 civic organisations operating in Zimbabwe.

Kagoro said while a bicameral system was an important safeguard in other democracies, it was not a priority in present-day Zimbabwe.

"The priority at the moment is not a bicameral Parliament but to deal with the Presidential Powers Act. This has to be overhauled.

"There is need to restructure the relationship between Parliament and the Executive. Parliament needs to hold the Executive accountable. This is not what is happening in Zimbabwe. "We also need to spruce up the Bill of Rights," said Kagoro.

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change legal secretary David Coltart said a bicameral system would not work wonders in Zimbabwe if parliamentarians remained powerless compared to other arms of government, especially the Executive.

"Parliament in Zimbabwe is weak. There is need for comprehensive constitutional amendments rather than these piecemeal reforms ZANU PF is proposing such as a bicameral system.

"The powers of the Executive need to be spread to other arms of government, especially to the legislators who, to all intents and purposes, are elected by the people. We have to make the Judiciary more independent than is happening now," said Coltart.

While women gender activists welcomed the setting aside of 50 special seats under the proposed parliamentary changes, they however warned ZANU PF not to use it to woo women into joining their ranks.

"We deserve better if not equal representation in any type of Parliament in Zimbabwe by our virtue of being 52 percent of the population," said another female activist.

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