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Proclamation proroguing Parliament & summoning new session gazetted - Bill Watch 27/2010
July 09, 2010

The current Parliamentary session will end on Monday 12th July and the new Session will begin on Tuesday 13th July

A Presidential Proclamation, Statutory Instrument 118/2010, gazetted today in a Government Gazette Extraordinary, prorogues the present Second Session of the Seventh Parliament of Zimbabwe on Monday 12th July and fixes Tuesday 13th July as the date on which the new, Third Session of the Seventh Parliament will begin. [“Prorogue” is the technical Parliamentary term for ending a session, prorogation discontinues a particular session without dissolving Parliament.]

Parliamentary programme for the coming week

Tuesday 13th July: Ceremonial Opening of the Second Session by the President. This will commence at noon. [Note: The original date given was the 14th July and this was reflected in the press and in Bill Watch 26, but this has now been changed to the 13th July.]

Wednesday 14th July: Presentation of Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review [mini-Budget - including Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure and taxation proposals] by the Minister of Finance.

Thursday 15th: Both Houses will sit to deal with Bills, including an Appropriation (Supplementary) Bill and a Finance Bill to give effect to the mini-Budget presented by the Minister of Finance [these Bills are not yet available]. [For a list of other Bills see below.]

Friday 16th July: If necessary, sittings of both Houses will continue, to enable completion of work on Bills.

The intention is that both Houses should pass all available Bills by the end of the week. This will require suspension of certain Standing Orders to permit fast-tracking of Bills and may also entail late night sittings [see below]. There will then be an adjournment, probably to October, in order to permit the Constitution Outreach to proceed. [Note: Parliamentary Standing Orders permit the Speaker of the House of Assembly and the President of the Senate to recall both Houses during an adjournment, if they are satisfied that the “public interest” requires a recall.]

Constitution outreach suspended 11th to 18th July

As Parliamentarians are essential members of all the outreach teams, these Parliamentary sittings necessitate the suspension of Outreach meetings. There will be no Outreach meetings from 11th to 18th July, inclusive. Meetings will resume on Monday 19th July.

Fast-tracking of bills

Normal procedure: The Standing Orders of both Houses lay down the normal procedure for consideration and passing of a Bill:

  • Preliminary gazetting at least 14 days before presentation
  • Consideration by the appropriate portfolio committee as soon as the Bill has been gazetted. The committee may consult the responsible Minister, call in stakeholders and even gauge public opinion by calling for submissions or holding public hearings.
  • First Reading [formal introduction of the Bill, without any debate] and immediate reference to the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] for its decision on whether or not the Bill is consistent with the Constitution, especially the Declaration of Rights. The Bill cannot proceed to its Second Reading until the PLC has had a chance to report its decision, and Standing Orders allow the PLC 26 days to do so.
  • Second Reading, when the Minister presenting a Bill explains what it does and why it is necessary, and members can debate the principles and policy issues raised. This is when the portfolio committee’s report on the Bill should be presented.
  • Committee Stage, when a Bill is considered and voted on clause by clause by the House sitting “in committee”. This is when amendments can be made.
  • Third Reading, which is the stage at which a Bill is “passed”. After this the Bill must be transmitted to the other House, where it goes through the same procedure and, if passed by it, can be sent to the President for assent.

Reasons for normal procedure: This procedure is to ensure that Parliamentarians have sufficient time to consider Bills properly and to consult their constituents, and that portfolio committees have an opportunity to examine a Bill in depth and, if considered necessary, call for input from stakeholders and hold public hearings to canvass public opinion. Standing Orders also guard against undue haste by requiring the various stages to be taken on separate days. This is so that Parliament’s legislative function must be taken seriously by both Government and Parliamentarians, and that Parliament must not be reduced to rubber-stamping whatever Bills Government sees fit to lay before it. From the public’s point of view, the normal procedure permits press coverage and engagement and lobbying by interest groups and concerned citizens.

Suspension to enable fast-tracking of Bills: All these Standing Orders can, however, be suspended by resolution of the House concerned and it will be necessary for both Houses to pass such resolutions if all the waiting Bills are to be passed by both Houses next week. And the rule that both Houses stop work at 7 pm can likewise be suspended to allow late- or all-night sittings [Comment: While it is obviously necessary for Parliament to be able to suspend Standing Orders in a true emergency, such as a wartime situation or a sudden natural disaster, it is not acceptable to apply fast-tracking to pass important Bills that have been delayed by the Inclusive Government’s inability to reach agreement on them before now. Neither past abuse of fast-tracking by the previous Government nor the need for the Inclusive Government to enhance its record of legislative achievements justifies a resort to fast-tracking.]

[Note: Parliament cannot dispense with the need to refer a Bill to the PLC after its First Reading, that is a constitutional requirement, but the 26-day time-frame can be changed. What has happened in past cases of fast-tracking, is that PLC has been asked to report back on Bills on the same day a Bill has been formally referred to it. This speeding up of the process may prevent the PLC from giving Bills the attention they deserve.]

Effect of prorogation/end of Session

When the present Parliamentary session ends on Monday, all unfinished business of the session falls away. This means that the POSA Amendment Bill currently before the House of Assembly will lapse, and uncompleted motions and unasked questions will lapse. Standing Orders permit lapsed Bills to be restored to the Order Paper [agenda] at the stage previously reached, and it is hoped that the POSA Amendment Bill will be placed on the agenda for the coming week.

Bills update

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 on Monday [see above], it can be restored to the Order Paper and proceeded with.

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: There are two Government Bills still being prepared by the Government Printer [drafters are presently checking page proofs]:

  • 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. They are unlikely to be presented during the coming week’s sittings.]

Note: there is still no sign of the promised electoral and media reform bills being ready for this coming week’s sittings.

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