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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 15 - 2011
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
April 08, 2011

Introduction

The House of Assembly struggled to maintain a quorum on Wednesday 6 April 2011 as only 26 Members were present in the House for the greater party of the sitting and of these Members some of them kept going out of the Chamber, necessitating some stoppages in order to satisfy the required quorum. In terms of the House Standing Orders, the quorum for the House of Assembly is 25 Members. This therefore means that 25 Members out of the possible 215 Members can transact any business in the House and this includes the passage of legislation.

Questions Without Notice

As noted above, most Members did not attend the sitting on Wednesday and this included Ministers. Thus, backbenchers only had the opportunity to pose questions to the Ministers who were present, namely Senator David Coltart, Hon. Francis Nhema, Professor Heneri Dzinotyiwei, Deputy Minister Dr. Undenge and the Deputy Prime Minister Professor Arthur Mutambara. The following questions were raised and the Ministers present in the House
answered as follows;

Exhumation of Bodies in Mount Darwin

Hon. Eddie Cross asked the Deputy Prime Minister Professor Mutambara government’s policy regarding exhumation of bodies buried in mass graves; whether it can just be done by anybody or specialists such as forensic experts, pathologists etc. The question was asked in reference to exhumations currently taking place in Mount Darwin. Professor Mutambara said exhumations should be in keeping with Zimbabwe’s laws. He further informed the House that government through the ministry of Home Affairs has taken over the exercise.

UNICEF Tender for School Textbooks

Hon. Kudakwashe Bhasikiti asked the Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Senator David Coltart why the tender for the printing of school textbooks was given to one publishing house. He further questioned the Minister regarding the distribution of books by the publisher not by book sellers. He also alleged in his question that the books were of inferior quality and that many schools did not want those books. In his response, Senator Coltart gave a historical background to the project of producing books for schools which his ministry embarked on in 2009. He said due to the hyperinflationary environment that prevailed during the Zim Dollar era, the textbook-pupil ratio was 1:15 on average, a situation his ministry found untenable. Hence his ministry mobilized funds in 2009 to improve this ratio. Thus, an Education Transition Fund was established and this was coordinated by UNICEF. Hon. Coltart informed the House that all the stakeholders, including the 3 major textbook publishers - Longman, College Press and ZPH were consulted. However, after realizing that there was an informal cartel by the publishing houses, UNICEF decided to flight a tender which was won by Longman on the basis of the lowest prices they submitted, high material quality and conformity to content specifications by the Curriculum Development Unit. Price differential between Longman and the other two publishers ran into millions of dollars and thus giving the tender to Longman resulted in a saving of $10 million. This assisted the ministry in a great way to achieve a textbook-pupil ration of 1:1 in all schools across the country, something which the ministry could not have achieved if the tender had been given to either of the two losing publishers. Regarding allegations that the content of the books was of poor quality and that many schools did not want these books, the Minister said those allegations were unfounded as his ministry consulted widely all stakeholders including school heads, teachers unions, educationists, the Curriculum Development Committee etc. He said Cabinet also gave a nod of approval to the project.

Mobility of District Education Officers and Regional Education Directors

While commending the Minister for the textbook project, Hon. Paul Mazikana asked Hon. Coltart what his ministry was doing to improve mobility of District Education Officers and Regional Education Directors to ensure close supervision of schools. The Minister said Cabinet recently approved a budget of $1.3 million specifically for the acquisition of vehicles for the aforementioned officers. He said this would go a long way in ensuring that schools
were closely monitored so that they produced better results.

Disruption of learning activities in Schools

Hon. Thamsanqa Mahlangu asked the Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture the policy of his ministry regarding disruption of learning activities in schools. He gave the example of ZANU PF officials whom he alleged were going around in schools forcing teachers and school children to sign the Anti-Sanctions Petition. Hon. Coltart said while he had read about those allegations in the Press, there had been no reported cases to his ministry.
Howver, he said the long standing policy of his ministry was that schools should be “apolitical zones” of learning. He urged Members of Parliament to assist his ministry in ensuring that this policy was adhered to.

Vilification of Foreign Governments by State-controlled Media

Hon. Mathias Mlambo asked Professor Mutambara government’s position regarding vilification of foreign governments, Heads of States and regional bodies such as SADC by state-controlled media houses. Hon. Mlambo’s question was in reference to the disparaging remarks by the Sunday Mail and Herald directed at the SADC Troika on Politics and Defence and in particular to President Jacob Zuma, following the communiqué on Zimbabwe issued at the Livingstone Summit. In his response, Professor Mutambara said governments communicated with each other through official channels not the media.

National Policy on GMO

Hon. Simbaneuta Mudarikwa wanted to know from the Minister of Science and Technology government’s policy regarding the use of GMO technologies in agricultural production. Hon. Professor Heneri Dzinotyiwei said Cabinet was currently seized with the matter. He further indicated that from a scientific or technological point of view, existing knowledge has shown that GMO products were not harmful to health.

Rampaging Elephants and Lions

Hon. Sibonile Nyamudeza asked the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management to inform the House measures his ministry was taking to control the movement of wild animals like elephants and lions which often stray into communities and destroy crops and domestic animals. Minister Francis Nhema said government introduced CAMPFIRE as one of the strategies meant to minimize conflict between humans and wild animals. The Minister urged communities to desist from settling in animal corridors to minimize the conflict that Hon. Nyamudeza referred to in his question.

Highlights of Committee Activities

Portfolio Committee on Agriculture

The Committee visited Tobacco Auction Floors to assess the situation regarding the services offered at the Auction Floors and the challenges that tobacco farmers were facing. Mr Mutambanesango briefed the committee on the general challenges at Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF) and these are summarized below as:

  • Unregistered farmers just bring their crop to the floors without prior arrangements hence creating congestion at the floors.
  • Farmers were avoiding making bookings at their designated provincial centres and hence it was taking long before they could be served.
  • Vendors who were operating outside the premises were contributing to the challenges that farmers were facing. Their presence was exposing farmers to robbery among with other problems.
  • Accommodation was limited as farmers were bringing along with them some of their family members to the floors.
  • Farmers were buying goods from town and stocking it in the premises awaiting transport back home.
  • Transporters were overcharging farmers (about $25 a bale).This has been attributed to the use of unregistered transporters which the farmers were resorting to.

Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Welfare

The committee received a briefing from the Chairperson of the Public Health Advisory Board, Dr Loewenson on the progress made so far towards the amendment of the Public Health Act. Present were representatives from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights. Dr Loewenson highlighted the following to the Committee;

  • The Act was passed in 1924 hence the need to review it as it was an ancient piece of legislation and had fallen out of line with trends in the health sector. The Act does not allude to critical United Nations Conventions on Health because it was passed before their promulgation.
  • Since independence there have been major health policy changes which have not been incorporated into the Act.
  • There was a lot of outdated terminology in the Act which made it difficult to refer to.
  • The Public Health Services Board has been tasked with coming up with a white paper which it will submit to the ministry. The board has set up a technical working group comprising of various stakeholders to come up with the white paper.
  • The major challenge being faced was lack of funding for stakeholder consultation
  • The board would want to hold wide consultative meetings in the form of public hearings but available funding can only allow for two hearings.
  • The board would therefore welcome consultations on the same by other organizations.
  • The Committee concurred with views expressed by Dr. Loewenson that there was need forwide consultations in the form of public hearings throughout the country.

Portfolio Committee on Natural Resources and Environment

The Committee received oral evidence from the National Parks and Wildlife officials on the land reform based conservancy policy. The officials highlighted the following to the Committee;

The Ministry and National Parks have had several meetings with stakeholders concerning the land reform based conservancy policy. The aim of this policy was to protect conservancies from un-orderly settlements by communities as it happened to farms under the fast-track land reform programme.

  • The political environment was making it difficult for the implementation of the policy as some policy makers were sending contradictory policy signals.
  • Some white farmers have ignored leases offered by government to new farmers and there has been no dialogue between them and the new beneficiaries.
  • Some of the beneficiaries were not chosen on merit, based on expertise, and as result they were failing to run their conservancy businesses professionally.
  • White farmers have complained about partnerships being imposed on them and the exclusion of their names on the lease agreement forms.
  • The old and new farmers will be required to craft business plans to guide their operations.
  • The major challenge with respect to timber plantations was to do with illegal settlements in the plantations. These illegal settlers have converted some of the plantation land into food crop agricultural use. 20% of the plantation land has been lost in Manicaland. The illegal settlers were also causing bush fires which often destroy the timber plantations.
  • From January 2010 - March 2011, 2572 people have been arrested for poaching and 16 killed for poaching activities.

The Committee resolved to engage timber producers in order to get a full picture of the challenges they were facing as a result of illegal settlements in their plantations.

Legislative Update

General Laws Amendment Bill

On Thursday 7 April 2011, the House of Assembly passed the General Laws Amendment Bill. In keeping with his undertaking on Tuesday, the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Hon. Chinamasa dropped off amendments to do with the centralization of procurement processes for local authorities. He also withdrew proposed amendments to the Copy Right and Neighbouring Act which had sought to make some public documents copyrightable. The concession by the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs was a major victory for the Justice and Local Government Portfolio Committees as well as the Parliamentary Legal Committee whose compelling arguments positively swayed the Minister’s position. The Bill has since been transmitted to the Senate.

  • Deposit Protection Corporation Bill (H.B. 7, 2010)
  • National Incomes and Pricing Commission Amendment Bill [H.B. 10, 2010].

The above-mentioned two Bills are before the House of Assembly at the second reading
stage.

This Bill is still stuck in the Senate.

Adjournment of Parliament

The House of Assembly adjourned to Tuesday 17 May 2011 and the Senate to Tuesday 10 May 2011. But Committees will continue with their activities during the adjournment of parliament.

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