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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 12 - 2011
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
March 25, 2011

Introduction

The House of Assembly had been scheduled to resume business on Tuesday 22 March 2011 after a one week's break. As reported in our previous Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 11, the sitting of the House of Assembly was unilaterally deferred by the Clerk of Parliament to a date yet to be announced.

Effect of Clerk's Unilateral Decision

The Clerk of Parliament's unilateral decision to defer the sitting of the House of Assembly which had been scheduled for Tuesday 22 March, on the basis that the supposed sitting had been "superceded by the Supreme Court ruling" has received condemnation mainly from MDC-T and political and social commentators. Actually, information at hand reveals that MDC-T has filed an urgent chamber application in the High Court seeking to compel the Clerk of Parliament, Austin Zvoma to reconvene the House of Assembly as soon as possible and also to declare as null and void the adjournment of the House of Assembly by the Clerk of Parliament.

When he announced his decision to the media to defer the sitting of the House of Assembly on Tuesday 22 March to a later date, Mr. Zvoma said "the Constitution, Standing Orders and the Supreme Court Ruling" obliged him to arrive at the decision he made. Be that as it may, he did not cite the relevant sections of the Constitution and parliamentary Standing Orders that gave him powers to unilaterally defer the sitting of the House of Assembly indefinitely which was scheduled for Tuesday 22 March.

The argument is that notwithstanding the Supreme Court ruling, the Clerk of Parliament should have let the House sit on the day to which it had adjourned, Tuesday 22 March, and announce the Speaker's vacancy and let the House resolve the way forward; whether the House wanted to conduct the elections on the same day or defer them to an agreed date. But Mr. Zvoma chose a press conference to defer the sitting of the House indefinitely.

Granted that the effect of the Supreme Court Ruling means that the House did not finish the business for which the President had summoned it to meet on 25 August 2008, through a proclamation in the gazette, what would have happened in that scenario was that the House would have resolved by itself to adjourn to a later sitting to finish up the business of swearing-in of Members and the election of presiding officers. This would not have required another Presidential Proclamation nor would it have empowered the Clerk of Parliament to adjourn the House indefinitely. The sittings and adjournments of the House are regulated by the provisions of Standing Order No. 21.

Standing Order No. 28 provides that if the House fails to meet on the appointed day, it shall stand adjourned until the next sitting day. Sitting days as prescribed in Standing Order No. 21 are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursday and Fridays unless otherwise ordered by the House. This therefore means since the House failed to meet on Tuesday 22 March 2011, it should have met the following day, Wednesday 23 March 2011.

In his urgent chamber application, Hon. Innocent Gonese (MDC-T Chief Whip) is arguing that the Clerk of Parliament does not have powers to adjourn the House or to defer the sitting of the House. Rather, Hon. Gonese is arguing that the Clerk of Parliament was required in terms of Standing Order No. 16 to announce the Speaker's vacancy the first day the House was due to sit, which was Tuesday 22 March 2011. For the avoidance of doubt, the afore-said Standing Order reads as follows;

Whenever the office of Speaker is vacant otherwise than by reason of dissolution, the Clerk shall report such vacancy to the House; and, unless a motion for the election of a Speaker is moved forthwith, no further motion shall be moved save for the adjournment of the House, the question upon which shall be put by the Clerk.

Whether it was a genuine error by the Clerk of Parliament in interpreting the Standing Orders and the Supreme Court Ruling or otherwise, it remains to be seen how this debacle will finally be resolved.

ZANU PF has since nominated Oppah Muchinguri to fill in the seat created by the appointment of Hon. Joice Mujuru as Vice President. Cynics contend, therefore, that the effect of the Clerk's decision was to allow ZANU PF to nominate Vice President Joice Mujuru's replacement in the House of Assembly before the election of a new Speaker, in order to boost their numbers. This is likely to give rise to another procedural predicament.

Zvoma's argument is that the process of swearing in of Members and the election of Speaker was left incomplete on 25 August 2008 and therefore when the House next meets it will continue from where if left off. This seems to suggest that Oppah Muchinguri will be able to be sworn-in before the election of the Speaker can take place. Be that as it may, if logical flow of events necessitated by Zvoma's argument that the process will roll back to 25 August 2008 is followed, then the swearing in of Oppah Muchinguri ahead of the Speaker's elections will be unprocedural as that position came about through the Global Political Agreement, signed on 15 September 2008 and Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 19, passed by Parliament on 5 February 2009 and assented to by the President on 10 February 2009. Consequently, Non-Constituency MPs created by the GPA and Amendment No. 19 were sworn in as Members of Parliament after the promulgation of Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 19 Act. Thus, Hon. Morgan Tsvangirai, Hon. Arthur Mutambara and Hon. Gorden Moyo were sworn in on 3 March 2009. Does it mean therefore that the 3 aforementioned Members will not be eligible to vote? This question can be answered with a degree of certainty after the court ruling on the urgent chamber application by Hon. Gonese.

It is hoped that the courts will speedily make a determination on Hon. Gonese's application otherwise parliament business stands to suffer the longer it takes to finalize the issue as the House of Assembly cannot transact any business. Committees cannot conduct any business e.g. field visits, public hearings etc) beyond the precincts of parliament as the Speaker's approval is required.

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