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Sidelining Parliament? – Bill Watch 21/2010
May 24, 2010

The Senate has adjourned until Tuesday 15th June, The House of Assembly has adjourned until Wednesday 30th June

Sidelining parliament?

The Constitution Select Committee has announced that the outreach programme to consult the people on the Constitution will start on 15th June - the very day the Senate is due to resume, and the House of Assembly a fortnight later. In March both Houses adjourned for three months to allows MPs to take part in what was then thought to be the imminent constitution outreach exercise. As the majority of Parliamentarians are on the outreach teams, it had been agreed that Parliament would not sit while the 65-day outreach process was in progress. If the outreach goes ahead, senior Parliamentary staff have said that the Houses are likely to meet briefly and then adjourn again. This time there is talk of the outreach taking 95 days.

Even if the outreach fails to take off, there is little work lined up for the Senate to do. Thematic committee reports may be ready for tabling and debate, but no Bills are yet on the agenda. The POSA Amendment Bill is still in the House of Assembly, and the only two other Bills in the pipeline [see end] are minor.

All of which raises the questions: Are the inclusive government and the country taking Parliamentary democracy sufficiently seriously? Where is the Prime Minister’s Government Work Plan? Where is all the legislation outlined in the President’s speech at the opening of Parliament in October last year? Where are the introduction of the reforms of repressive legislation expected after the signing of the GPA?

Appointment of Justice Chiweshe [ex ZEC Chairman] as Judge President

Justice George Chiweshe has been appointed the new High Court Judge President. Justice Chiweshe has been a High Court judge since 2001 but from January 2005 until this year he served as chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC]. Under his leadership the Commission was responsible for the 2005 and March and June 2008 Parliamentary and Presidential elections and he as chairman presented the official ZEC reports declaring ZEC had conducted the elections freely and fairly. Justice Chiweshe previously served in the Army’s Directorate of Legal Services and was Judge Advocate General, retiring with the rank of Major-General in 2001. In August 2008, together with other retired officers, he was promoted to Brigadier-General by President Mugabe.

According to the Constitution the Judge President, subject to the directions of the Chief Justice, is “in charge of the High Court”; this includes allocating cases and duties to judges. The Judge President is also responsible, together with the Chief Justice, for making High Court rules of procedure.

Other Judicial appointments

Justice Rita Makarau, Judge President of the High Court from 2001, has been promoted to the Supreme Court. Three new High Court judges have also been appointed: Justices Nicholas Mathonsi, Andrew Mutema and Garainesu Mawadze. These three will be assigned to the Bulawayo court where there is a serious backlog of unheard cases. President Mugabe swore in the three new judges, and Justices Chiweshe and Makarau in their new posts, at a State House ceremony on 20th May.

No Consultation with GPA Partners on these appointments

Under the Constitution as amended by Constitution Amendment No. 19 these appointments had to be made by the President after consultation with the Judicial Service Commission, and if regarded as “key appointments”, “in consultation with”, i.e. with the agreement of, the Prime Minister [Constitution, sections 94 and 115(1) and Schedule 8, Article 20 of the GPA, 20.1.3.(p)]. As the Prime Minister was not even consulted, these appointments are likely to increase intra-GPA tensions. The Prime Minister has already protested in a letter to the President, and MDC-T legal affairs secretary Innocent Gonese has strongly criticised the Chiweshe appointment.

Parliamentary news

Congratulations to Deputy Clerk of Parliament Helen Dingani on her appointment as Deputy Clerk of the Pan African Parliament [PAP]. Ms Dingani is the first woman to hold the post.

Party voting strengths change as MDC-T MP wins appeal: Ernest Mudavanhu, MDC-T MP for Zaka North, has won his appeal against a fraud conviction based on allegations of misusing agricultural inputs. This signals an immediate end to his suspension from the House of Assembly. As a result, party voting strengths in the House now stand at: MDC-T 96; ZANU-PF 96; MDC-M 7. The Senate strengths remain unchanged [see Bill Watch 2/2010 of 20th January].

Singing senator charged with insulting president: Police have charged MDC-T Senator Morgan Komichi with insulting the President. The charge arises from his singing of a song at a party rally in Bindura in January.

Challenges to parliamentary oversight of work of ministries?

Resistance to inquiries by portfolio committees: One of the roles of Parliament, which it fulfils through House of Assembly portfolio committees, is oversight of the performance of Ministries. This seems to be challenged by at least some Ministers, who say that committees have been overstepping the mark.

In March the Prime Minister and the Speaker held a meeting with Ministers and key Parliamentary officials in an effort to heal developing rifts. Attendance by Ministers was disappointing, and continuing problems between committees and Ministries suggest it has not achieved its purpose.

The stand-off between the Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy and the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and/or the Ministry of Home of Affairs over the committee’s intended visit to the Chiadzwa diamond field is still not resolved. After weeks of trying, and one costly wasted visit to nearby Mutare, Parliament is still patiently pressing the Ministries to give the go-ahead for this visit.

MDC-T MP detained by police: Hon Paul Madzore, the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee with the duty of overseeing the work of the Ministry of Defence and Home Affairs [and therefore the work of the police force, which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs] was arrested and briefly detained by police on 5th May on unfounded allegations of absconding from the magistrates court some 3 years ago. He was released after proving that at the time he was in State custody on a terrorism charge [this was later dropped by the State]. The following weekend police prevented Mr Madzore, also a popular musician, and his band from performing in Masvingo, despite a magistrate’s order saying the event could go ahead; another concert nearby was allowed. Police conduct like this supports claims of anti-MDC-T bias and harassment. It also raises the question of whether these sorts of actions are designed to prevent Parliament carry out its oversight of the police force.

Party principals to meet on negotiators’ report

The three party principals are due to meet on Friday 28th May to discuss the negotiators’ report. During the six weeks since the report was presented on 3rd April the principals have not discussed it. Certain issues were said to have been agreed by the negotiators, but these have not been made public nor implemented, and there are still a number of important unresolved issues, and the latest judicial appointments have added to these. The failure of the three principals to meet for so long has delayed President Zuma’s presentation of his own report to the SADC Organ Troika and provoked some impatience at regional level, resulting in the South African facilitation team paying a one-day visit to Harare to meet the three principals and the SADC chairman, DRC President Kabila, sending an envoy to Harare for discussions. The MDC-T National Council met on 16th May and called for:

  • implementation of the agreed positions;
  • the immediate convening of a SADC Summit to resolve the outstanding issues and to discuss the roadmap to an election and guarantees of the legitimacy of this election. [Full text of National Council resolutions available.]

Last week South African Defence Minister Lindiwe Zulu, a member of the South African facilitation team, reacted coolly to the idea of a SADC Summit, insisting the principals should meet to discuss the negotiators’ report and suggest the way forward on the outstanding issues. She also said that if the delay continued “too long” without a solution to the outstanding issues, the facilitation team would proffer their own proposals and President Zuma would report to the SADC Organ Troika chairman, President Guebuza of Mozambique.

Reserve Bank directors appointed

Although former RBZ governor Kombo Moyana was one of the new Board members announced on 4th May and in the Gazette notice of 7th May, Dr Moyana has not taken up the appointment, citing a potential conflict of interest with other commitments. This leaves Board membership as follows:

Ex officio: Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and the two deputy governors [these posts are still vacant, pending appointments to be made by the President after consultation with the Minister]

Appointed by the President: Charles Kuwaza [former Secretary for Finance], Primrose Kurasha [academic], George Smith [retired High Court judge], Mordecai Mahlangu [legal practitioner], Daniel Ndlela [economist], Godfrey Kanyenze [labour expert], Nyasha Zhou [economist] and Tony Hawkins [economist]. These appointments were made after consultation with the Minister of Finance.

Appointed by the Minister of Finance: Willard Manungo, Secretary for Finance, representing the Ministry of Finance

Chairperson: As Governor, Dr Gono is the ex officio chairperson of the Board

Deputy Chairperson: Mr Kuwaza, appointed by the President

When Finance Minister Biti announced the appointments he said: “There is a huge task at the bank. This board is expected to restore viability.” The bank's debt is about 1.2 billion US dollars and it faces lawsuits from creditors and other aggrieved parties. The new Board had its first meeting this week.

Legislation Update

Bills: No Bill was gazetted last week. The Government Printer is still working on the Criminal Law (Protection of Power, Communication and Water Infrastructure) Amendment Bill; it may be gazetted next Friday. The National Security Council Amendment Bill, gazetted on 14th May, could be introduced into the Senate when it resumes on the 15th June. [Electronic version available]

Statutory Instruments: Two statutory instruments were gazetted on 21st May [wage increases for the printing, packaging and newspaper industry, and an extension of the Bulawayo general valuation roll].

General Notices: Six notices were gazetted giving official notification of special grants issued under the Mines and Minerals Act.

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