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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 8 - 2011
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
March 08, 2011

Both Houses resumed business yesterday, Tuesday 8 March 2011, after a week-long break. The motion on interference by the Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development, Hon. Ignatius Chombo, in the administration of local authorities dominated debate in the House of Assembly. On the other hand, the Senate was seized with debate on a motion on the achievements of the Inclusive Government.

House of Assembly Plenary

Hon. Alexio Musundire (MDC-T Zengeza East Constituency), seconded by Hon. Innocent Gonese (MDC-T Chief Whip) introduced a motion in the House of Assembly yesterday condemning interference by the Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development, Hon. Ignatius Chombo, in the administration of local authorities in the country, especially the urban councils which are predominantly the stronghold of MDC-T.

Hon. Musundire argued that Hon. Chombo was abusing and manipulating the Urban Councils Act and the Rural District Councils Act to advance partisan and personal interests in local authorities. In particular, Hon. Musundire questioned the appointment of Special Interest Councillors by the Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development. He said the Minister was using this provision to subvert the aspirations of the residents by sneaking into councils defeated ZANU PF candidates through the "back door".

MDC MPs said the process of appointing Special Interest Councillors should be transparent and consultative to ensure that people with technical skills that may be missing in councils were appointed.

The Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development also came under heavy censure from MDC-T MPs who accused him of "corruptly amassing wealth" by using his political office to acquire property from local authorities in shady deals.

The debate was generally partisan in nature; with MDC MPs attacking Hon. Chombo for allegations ranging from political interference in local authorities to allegations of corruption. ZANU PF MPs on the other hand took a defensive approach on the debate, attempting to justify the actions of the Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development. Hon. Kudakwashe Bhasikiti (ZANU PF Mwenezi East Constituency) said the Minister acted within the confines of the law (Urban Councils' Act and the Rural District Councils' Act) which empower him to give direction to the administration of local authorities.

ZANU PF MPs argued that MDC Councillors did not have requisite skills and experience to run local authorities which was compounded by their lack of understanding of the legislation that governs the administration of local authorities. They cited this as the reason why MDC-T run local authorities were always at logger-heads with the Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development. Thus, ZANU PF argued that the Minister was just enforcing the law.

On the alleged acts of corruption by Hon. Chombo, which Hon. Msundire and other MDC-T MPs cited in their debates, ZANU PF MPs failed to give a convincing defence other than arguing that it was not a criminal offence to amass wealth in the country.

There was drama in the House during the debate on the above motion. The Speaker interrupted Hon. Gonese's contribution and stopped him from further debating and cited provisions of Standing Order 62 (d) which he said Hon. Gonese was repeatedly violating despite the Speaker's advice. The provision of the cited Standing Order says that no Member shall "reflect upon any statute unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal". Hon. Gonese pointed out that he was within the limits of the motion and pointed out that the last paragraph of the motion was actually calling upon government to "review the Urban Councils Act and the Rural District Councils Act". Nonetheless, he was ruled out of order.

However, the Speaker later on gave another opportunity to Hon. Gonese to finish his debate which had been cut shot earlier. This did not go down well with the ZANU PF Chief Whip; Hon. Joram Gumbo who pointed out that House procedures did not allow that. In terms of parliamentary procedures and practices, a Member is given one opportunity to debate a motion and if a Member is ruled out of order by the Speaker and stopped from further debating the motion, the Speaker cannot later on allow the Member to debate again on the same motion. It appears the Speaker was not properly advised by the Clerks-at-Table on the correct interpretation of the provision of the above-cited Standing Order. There is certainly no way Members can debate government policies without referring to the relevant statutes.

Senate Plenary

The Senate debated a motion on the need for government to take stock of the achievements and failures of the Inclusive Government ushered in by the Global Political Agreement (GPA) vis-à-vis the need to hold elections this year. The motion was introduced in the Senate by Senator Siphiwe Ncube (MDC-T Emganwini Constituency) seconded by Senator Sithembile Mlotshwa (MDC-T Matobo Constituency).

The movers of the motion noted that while the Inclusive Government has had some positive achievements, conditions for free and fair elections were still not conducive. They called for the implementation of all the agreed reforms in the GPA before elections could be held. Senator Siphiwe Ncube suggested that the country should hold a referendum to find out in people wanted elections this year under the current conditions.

MDC Senators who contributed on the motion pointed out that elections in this country have always been characterized by violence. Hence they recommended that elections should be held only after parties had agreed on the election road map as envisaged in the GPA.

However, ZANU PF Senators said elections should be held this year. Their argument was that the "GPA was meant to last for two years" paving way for elections. They accused MDC for dragging its feet on elections because they were not yet ready for elections.

ZANU PF Senators said it was also critical to hold elections this year in order to do away with many centres of power in government. They also tried to link the necessity of holding elections this year to the issue of "sanctions". Their argument on this issue did not come out clearly.

Parliament Business Today

Both Houses are sitting today. Question time and private members business will dominate proceedings of the House of Assembly today. No new motions are expected in the Senate except for those already on the Order Paper.

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