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Review of the last session of Parliament – Bill Watch 30/2010
July 31, 2010

The House of Assembly has adjourned until 5th October, the Senate until 12th October

Review of the Last Session of Parliament

The just-ended Second Session of the Seventh Parliament of Zimbabwe lasted from Tuesday 6th October 2009 to Monday 12th July 2010.

Number of Sitting Days

During the session, a period of just over nine months:

  • the Senate sat on 16 occasions [10 in 2009, 6 in 2010],
  • the House of Assembly sat on 30 occasions [17 in 2009, 13 in 2010].

Normally sittings are on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, commencing at 2.15 pm for the House of Assembly and 2.30 for the Senate. Standing Orders envisage work continuing until 7 pm, but very seldom did either House sit after 5 pm. There were a significant number of short sittings, when one or other of the Houses met only to adjourn after sitting for less than an hour and sometimes after 10 minutes. The Session was also marked by long adjournments – six weeks over the Christmas-New Year period, and a premature adjournment for more than three months from March onwards to allow legislators to take part in the Constitution outreach programme – which eventually only started at the end of June.


Vacant Seats: The number of vacant constituency seats rose to 16 [Senate 6, House of Assembly 10] during the Session. The failure to hold by-elections to fill the vacant seats is in breach of the Constitution and the Electoral Act [Note: the excuse of first having to update the voters rolls is not a valid one as the law currently limits voting at a by-election to those on the roll when the vacancy occurred; and some of these vacancies arose in 2008.] There are a further 4 vacancies in non-constituency seats: 1 chief’s seat, still to be filled by the Matabeleland South Assembly of Chiefs; two ZANU-PF appointed seats in the Senate; and 1 ZANU-PF appointed seat in the House of Assembly.

Suspended Members: At the beginning of the Session 4 MDC-T members of the House of Assembly were under suspension in terms of section 42 of the Constitution, having been convicted of various offences and sentenced to more than 6 months imprisonment. During the session one of them had his conviction overturned on appeal and was automatically reinstated. The other 3 remain suspended pending the determination of their appeals against conviction and sentence. They continue to hold their seats, but while suspended cannot vote or participate in Parliamentary business and receive no remuneration. If they win their appeals, they will be reinstated; if their appeals are unsuccessful, their seats will fall vacant. Meanwhile, MDC-T voting strength in the House is reduced, by 3.

Party Voting Strengths: [figures are for the end of the Session – they take into account vacancies and suspensions]

House of Assembly: MDC-T 96; ZANU-PF 96; MDC-M 7

Senate: MDC-T 27; ZANU-PF 56; MDC-M 8 [Note: the ZANU-PF figure is made up as follows: 25 elected, 4 appointed, 10 provincial governors, 17 chiefs – chiefs included because they have traditionally voted ZANU-PF.]

Police Action against MDC-T Legislators: Arrests and/or prosecution of MDC-T parliamentarians continued, and MDC-T continued to complain that its legislators were being specially singled out by police. Charges of insulting the President featured in several such cases. No convictions have yet ensued. The then MDC-T Deputy Minister of Youth, Thamsanqa Mahlangu, was arrested, spent time in custody and after weeks of court hearings was acquitted of theft of a cellphone. MDC-T Deputy Minister-designate of Agriculture, Roy Bennett, spent weeks in remand prison and then at the end of a protracted trial was acquitted of terrorism and banditry charges, whereupon the Attorney-General applied for leave to appeal. The Chief Justice heard legal argument on the application on 28th July, then said his decision would be handed down later, but warned that this would not be soon, given the lengthy trial record.

Legislation Dealt With

Bills Passed: Only 6 Bills were passed, 5 of them in a flurry of hasty legislative activity in December 2009 [3 were Budget Bills which have to be passed each year]. This fell far short of the 15 Bills forecast for presentation by the President in his speech opening this Second Session of Parliament last year; nor did it include the reform legislative agenda referred to in STERP and the Prime Ministers Speeches, upon which so much foreign investment is depending. The Bills passed were:

  • Finance Bill
  • Appropriation (2010) Bill
  • Public Finance Management Bill
  • Audit Office Bill
  • Financial Adjustments Bill
  • Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill [finally passed in March]

Acts Gazetted: all these Bills were gazetted as Acts. [Electronic versions available.]

Private Member’s Bill introduced: In what was seen as a sign of back bench frustration over the failure of the Inclusive Government to bring forward Bills aimed at restoring basic freedoms, MDC-T Chief Whip Innocent Gonese introduced a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Public Order and Security Act, having first been granted permission to do so by the House of Assembly. [As the Bill had not been passed by the time the Second Session came to an end on 12th July, it automatically lapsed on that date. But the House of Assembly has since agreed to restore the Bill to the Order Paper, so it has not been abandoned.]

The Budget

A key Parliamentary power over the Executive is its power to approve or disapprove the Budget, but it is not effectively wielded in practice. Although there were some pre-Budget consultations before the main 2010 Budget, Parliament ended up fast tracking and rubber-stamping the presented Budget – with dissatisfaction about Ministerial allocations raised in post-Budget Portfolio Committees, too late to make changes.


Motions passed included:

  • call for the removal of sanctions
  • approval of SADC Protocol on Gender and Development
  • approval of the Agreement for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments [BIPPA] between South Africa and Zimbabwe
  • approval of Agreement between Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe for the establishment of the Limpopo Watercourse Commission
  • acknowledgement that conferment of hero status should not be decided by one party alone
  • condemnation of corruption and call for Codes of Conduct for Executive, Judiciary and Legislature [Note: Parliament’s own Code of Conduct and register of financial interests are still not operational, although they have been in preparation for years.]

Motions Not Finalised at End of Session:

  • motion in response to the President’s address opening the Session on 6th October 2009
  • condolence motions on the death of Vice-President Msika and Senator Richard Hove
  • motion for appointment of select committee to investigate 2008 election violence [debate commenced 16th March]
  • motion calling for audit of the voters roll [debate commenced 17th November 2009]
  • “take note motions” on reports of committees work and parliamentarians

Questions Raised: although some good questions were raised the attendance of Ministers to answer them was poor and the answers given often failed to provide full and informative responses.

Second Session Committee Work

Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC]: A non-adverse report on the Indigenisation Regulations [SI 21/2010] was issued, conditional on the Minister of Indigenisation and Empowerment amending the regulations to meet the PLC’s objections [that the obligation to “cede” controlling interests in businesses to indigenous Zimbabweans smacked of unconstitutional compulsory acquisition.] The Minister eventually made an appropriate amendment in SI 116/2010. [Electronic versions of both SIs available on request.] Adverse PLC reports on four statutory instruments were issued, but have not yet been released for public information. The statutory instruments concerned are SI 78/2010 [Lupane Local Board vehicle licensing tariff]; SI 85/2010 [increased fine for offence under Parks and Wild Life Regulations]; SI 87/2010 [Chipinge Town Council rents and service charges]; SI 88/2010 [Chipinge Town Council cemetery charges]. [These reports do not automatically invalidate the statutory instruments but may result in their repeal or amendment in due course.]

Thematic and Portfolio Committees:

Public Hearings: There were public hearings on the POSA Amendment Bill; the state of the public media; the Indigenisation Regulations; local authority service delivery; and provision of telecommunication services.

Reports Tabled:

Only a few committee reports were tabled during the session:

  • POSA Amendment Bill [Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs]
  • Status of University of Zimbabwe [Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology]
  • Health Care Financing [Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Welfare]
  • Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Special Report on First Quarter of 2009 Financial Year [Public Accounts Committee] [this was the report that covered the irregular engagement of thousands of “youth officers” by the previous Government in the run-up to the 2008 elections]
  • Role of Ministry of Agriculture [Thematic Committee on Peace and Security]
  • Access to Clean Water [Thematic Committee on Gender and Development]

Other reports were being finalised for presentation when the Session ended, including reports on:

  • the Indigenisation Regulations, by the Portfolio Committee on Industry and Commerce
  • the food industry, by the Portfolio Committee on Industry and Commerce
  • access to treatment, by the Thematic Committee on HIV/AIDS
  • the state of the public media, by the Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology
  • the state of SMEs in Zimbabwe, by the Portfolio Committee on Small and Medium Enterprises.

It is unfortunate that these reports could not be presented before the end of the Session, as it is only after committee reports have been presented that they can be made public.. The committees appointed for the new Session can adopt the work done by their predecessors and present the reports to the appropriate House. It is to be hoped that this will happen, in order to make committee work already done available for public information – but even if it does happen, much time will have been lost and some content may be out of date or of limited relevance so long after the events reported on.

Parliament’s Oversight Role – Tensions between Executive and Legislature: There was a reluctance from some Ministries to cooperate with the committees responsible for their oversight. The Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy had its frequently planned visit to the Chiadzwa diamond fields obstructed. The Speaker described this as “unacceptable”, saying that in carrying out its oversight role it is not Parliament’s intention to invade the Executive's territory, but rather to execute Parliament’s “constitutional mandate”. “The Chiadzwa diamond fields are a national resource, it is therefore Parliament's obligation to play its oversight role and scrutinize the exploitation of the resource on behalf of the nation. There is urgent need to clear all existing misunderstandings in line with the doctrine of Separation of Powers, so as to ensure the smooth running of Parliamentary activities without any interference and intimidation.” [Electronic version of remarks available.]

Verdict on the Session

This was not a productive Session. Very little legislation was passed. While it may well be that internal difficulties in the Inclusive Government, and having to have Cabinet approval from three parties that have different agendas, prevented the presentation of more Government Bills, this is no excuse for continuing the bad old habits of fast tracking Bills. Backbenchers could have presented more Private Members Bills – even if these do not get through it would show that legislators are aware of public concerns for legislative reform and promote national debate.

Delays in completing and issuing Parliamentary committee reports reduces their usefulness and detracts from the undoubtedly valuable work done by committees.

There was no excuse for not having used the ample available Parliamentary time to dispose of pending motions more promptly. Did MPs and Senators simply take the easy way out, frequently knocking off after sitting for only ten minutes instead of putting in four hours or more of solid work to finish debates, motions and pursue questions in the public interest?

Although Parliamentarians’ involvement in the Constitution outreach process was a complicating factor, better co-ordination could have resulted in an earlier recall of Parliament once it became clear that the outreach was not going to take off in March – and that would have enabled more work to be completed.

Parliamentary sittings are costly, with attendance allowances and accommodation for out-of-town members having to be paid for. Was Parliament a cost-effective institution during the Session? The amount of time wasted in short sittings, the meagre output of legislation and committee reports and the failure to complete debates on motions suggests a definite “NO”.

As one of the three arms of the State – and perhaps the most important one for an effective democracy – Parliament has hardly justified its existence. Until politicians take the work of Parliament more seriously Zimbabwe cannot claim to be a functioning Parliamentary democracy.

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