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Biti expected to deliver mid-term fiscal policy review in July - Bill Watch 26/2010
Veritas
July 02, 2010

Both Houses are adjourned

The current second session of Parliament will probably be prorogued soon. This will be followed by the ceremonial opening of the third session of the 7th Parliament by the President.

Parliamentary Update

The Senate sat briefly on 15th June, heard two Senators make contributions to the debates on motions carried forward from previous sittings, and then adjourned until 19th October to allow Senators to participate in the Constitution Outreach.

The House of Assembly met for only a few minutes on 30th June and adjourned until 20th July [a mere 76 out of nearly 200 current members attended, Ministers, Deputy Ministers and other members who were not out of town on the Constitution Outreach, so the Outreach was not affected].

Both these adjournments will fall away if there is a proclamation summoning the new session before the periods of adjournment end.

Need for a new parliamentary session: Section 62 of the Constitution lays down that there must be a new session of Parliament beginning in each calendar year. Last year the new session started much later than usual, in early October, but this year the Government has decided to return to the normal practice of a July/August opening of the new session. The procedure is that a Presidential proclamation will be gazetted which will “prorogue” Parliament [this is the technical Parliamentary term for ending a session, it discontinues that particular session but does not dissolve the 7th Parliament] and will also summon Parliament to meet for the opening of the new session.

New session to be opened: Parliament expects the President will perform the ceremonial opening of the new session on Wednesday 14th July. The President’s speech always includes the Government’s plans for the legislation to be dealt with during the new session. After the President’s speech there will be an adjournment to the next day. [Usually the adjournment is for about two weeks so parliamentarians can study the President’s speech, but the Minister of Finance has asked to present his Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review before Parliamentarians go back to the constitution-making process]

Mid-Term fiscal policy review: Mr Biti, the Minister of Finance, is expected to deliver his Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review in the House of Assembly on Thursday 15th July.

Further intensive sittings in August: After the Fiscal Policy Review both Houses are expected to adjourn until early August when there will be intensive sittings lasting only a few days to deal with all Bills ready for introduction by then [see Legislation Update below]. “Fast-tracking” and late-night sittings are predicted.

Comment on Fast-Tracking: Before the inclusive Government the practice of “fast-tracking” Bills, involving the suspension of normal procedures, was deplored by those wanting to see a more effective parliamentary democracy. Fast-tracking means there is no time for consultation with Parliament’s electorate and stakeholders, and indeed often no time for Parliamentarians to consider and debate Bills. The practice has been considered by many as an abuse of Parliament by the Executive. It is regrettable therefore that the inclusive government is now suggesting continuing the practice. The excuse this time is that it is to ensure that essential Parliamentary work is completed, without interfering with the Constitution Outreach. Granted that there is much legislation that needs to be passed, but the government has had since last February to prepare and introduce legislation.

Effect of Prorogation/End of Session

At the end of a session, all pending proceedings are terminated. Bills not already passed by both Houses lapse, portfolio and thematic committees cease to exist, uncompleted motions and unasked questions fall away, and both Houses start the new session with a clean slate. Uncompleted work is not necessarily wasted, however, Standing Orders permit lapsed Bills to be restored to the Order Paper [agenda] at the stage previously reached, and new committees can adopt the work and draft reports of their predecessors.

More on Parliamentary Committees

Re-appointment of committees for new session: Thematic committees and portfolio committees are sessional committees, which means that committee members have to be appointed afresh at the beginning of each new session by the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders. In practice committee members are usually reappointed to their former committees, and continuity is preserved.

New Chairpersons needed for four parliamentary committees: A side-effect of the Prime Minister’s appointment of four backbenchers to Ministerial and Deputy Ministerial posts is that new chairpersons will be needed for the Parliamentary committees these four have been chairing up to now. [A Minister or Deputy Minister cannot be a member of a Parliamentary committee.] The four committees affected are:

  • Parliamentary Legal Committee [former chair Senator Gutu]
  • Public Accounts Committee [former chair Hon Mashakada]
  • Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs [former chair Hon Tongai Matutu]
  • Portfolio Committee on Information and Communication Technology [former chair Hon Chimanikire]

Committee reports: Although Senate thematic committees and House of Assembly portfolio committees were meeting throughout the long adjournment from March to June, and although at least five committee reports are believed to have been finalised, no reports were tabled on either 15th or 30th June. This is unfortunate, because it means that the reports cannot yet be released, thereby depriving the public of the fruits of the work carried out by the committees on subjects of great public interest. Given the importance of the committee system, it is to be hoped that the incoming committees will adopt the work of the outgoing committees and that the reports can be tabled early in the new session, after which public circulation will be permissible. The objectives of the Parliamentary Reforms that gave birth to the committee system would be defeated if valuable work done by the committees over the past several months were to be lost simply because of the end of the present session.

Inclusive government update

New Ministers and Deputy Ministers sworn in: Following the Prime Minister’s reshuffling of the MDC-T Ministerial team on 23rd June [details in Bill Watch 24 of 23rd June], new Ministers and Deputy Ministers were sworn in by President Mugabe at State House on Thursday 24th.

No movement on deadlocked GPA negotiations: There is no progress to report. President Mugabe, speaking on his return from the opening match of the World Cup in South Africa on the 11th June, said the South African facilitation team had been given the go-ahead to come and they were expected on Monday 14th . But they did not arrive and their spokesperson later denied any visit had been intended. Soccer has reigned supreme.

AU summit due in August: The next regular AU Summit is scheduled for 19th to 27th July, in Uganda. If the SADC report to the Summit on Zimbabwe is to record anything other than continued impasse on the main longstanding sticking-points and failure to implement most of those issues on which agreement has been reached, President Zuma and his facilitation team will have to move swiftly once the World Cup concludes on 11th July.

Resumption of EU-Zimbabwe dialogue: The dialogue between the European Union and Zimbabwe resumed today, 2nd July, in Brussels. The purpose of the dialogue is to explore ways of normalising relations between the two sides. The inclusive government team is led by Minister Mangoma and includes Ministers Chinamasa and Misihairabwi-Mushonga.

Legislation Update

Bills:

Public Order and Security [POSA] Amendment Bill: This Bill [a Private Member’s Bill introduced by MDC-T Chief Whip Innocent Gonese last year] is presently part-way through its Second Reading debate. Although the Bill will lapse when Parliament is prorogued [see above], it is expected to be restored to the Order Paper and proceeded with at the earliest opportunity. [Electronic version available on request.]

Bills already gazetted and ready for presentation:

  • Zimbabwe National Security Council Amendment Bill
  • Criminal Law Amendment (Protection of Power, Communication and Water Infrastructure) Bill

[Summaries of both these Government Bills were given in Bill Watch 22 of 8th June. Both are listed to be presented by the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs.] [Electronic versions of both Bills available on request.]

Bills being printed: Two more Government Bills have been sent to Parliament for presentation are being printed by the Government Printer:

  • Energy Regulatory Authority Bill [to be presented by the Minister of Energy and Power Development]
  • Attorney-General’s Office Bill [to be presented by the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs]

[These two Bills are not yet available.]

More Bills in the pipeline to parliament: More Bills are expected to be ready for presentation in August, such as the Electoral Amendment Bill and the General Laws Amendment Bill [also not yet available for distribution].

Statutory Instruments: No statutory instruments were gazetted on 2nd July.

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