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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 17 - 2011
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
June 01, 2011

Introduction

As reported in our last Bulletin, the House of Assembly and Senate had adjourned to 14 June and 5 July 2011 to allow Members to participate in the COPAC Thematic Committees. However, the Houses were recalled by the President to sit yesterday to ratify a Concessional Loan Agreement between the Government of Zimbabwe and the Export-Import Bank of China relating to the construction of the National Defence College currently underway. The Loan Agreement was concluded on the 21st of March 2011 in Harare and amounts to US$98 million, payable in 20 years with an annual interest of 2%.

Plenary Debate in Both Houses

In an unprecedented move, debate on the ratification of the Loan Agreement was done simultaneously in both Houses of Parliament. In Senate, the Loan Agreement was tabled by Hon. Herbert Murerwa (Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement) whilst the Minister of Defence, Hon. Emerson Mnangagwa steered debate in the House of Assembly. In the House of Assembly, debate was preceded by procedural arguments as the MDC-T Chief Whip, Hon. Innocent Gonese called for a point of order before the Minister of Defence, Hon. Emerson Mnangagwa could make his speech. Hon. Gonese challenged the manner in which the motion was put on the Order Paper, without a notice of motion. On that score, he sought deferment of the debate on the motion until it was properly introduced in the House. However, his point of order was over-ruled by the Acting Speaker, Hon. Nomalanga Khumalo who pointed out that Standing Order No. 194(2) allowed for introduction of motions without notice in circumstances where the House is recalled for an earlier sitting.

Procedural matters aside, the Minister of Defence informed the House that the National Defence College was a strategic institution which will provide professional and academic courses to military officers and civilians as well up to a Master’s Degree level. He said many countries had similar institutions and thus Zimbabwe was lagging behind. Hon, Mnangagwa also explained to the House that through the construction of the Zimbabwe National Defence College, the country will realize many benefits; the major being the savings on the fiscus. He said government was currently incurring huge costs for sending senior military officers for training in other countries with similar defence colleges. The Minister further revealed to House that there were 122 senior officers or so attending training and academic courses in foreign countries at a cost of US$15 000 – $50 000 per student per year.

Members from both MDC parties were not happy with the short notice they were given to study the Loan Agreement. They felt “ambushed” by the executive so that they could just rubber-stamp the Loan Agreement without meaningful debate. Thus, they appealed to no avail to the Minister of Defence to defer debate on the Loan Agreement to a later date to allow them adequate time to study it. They pointed out to the Minister that they were not against the construction of the National Defence College per se but the manner in which the ratification process was being rushed through parliament.

Members also questioned the urgency of having the National Defence College given other pressing national priorities in health, education, water and manufacturing sectors. They argued that the loan would have been better spent in those sectors.

Members also queried the rationale of the loan agreement given that the country was currently saddled with a foreign debt of over US$7 billion dollars. Thus they quizzed the Minister as to how the government intends to service this loan. The Minister said this was the best deal that government has ever entered into given the generous repayment period and the concessional interest rate of 2% per annum.

Most Members across the political divide who debated on the issue, implored the executive to ensure that the Chinese loan should benefit the local industry and the people of Zimbabwe in terms of employment opportunities. They pointed out that Chinese companies had a habit of importing all the materials and labour from their home country, thus disadvantaging the host country.

Deposit Protection Corporation Bill

Although Parliament had been recalled to ratify the Chinese Loan Agreement, the Minister of Finance, Hon. Tendai Biti took advantage of the sitting to present the second reading of the Deposit Protection Corporation Bill. In his remarks on the Bill, the Minister informed the House that the Bill was meant to harmonize the regulatory authorities in the financial services sector. Currently, this sector was regulated by different authorities; a situation he said was undesirable.

He said the enactment of the law was very urgent to deal with such problems as manifested by the ReAnnaisance Bank issue.

He also took the opportunity to dispel press statements that he directed NSSA to invest US$20 million in the ReAnnaisance Bank. Hon. Biti said, although he had powers to do so under the Insurance Act, he had not done so. He explained to the House that his ministry only directed NSSA to do a due diligence and assess whether it was prudent to invest in the ReAnnaisance Bank since NSSA was sitting on US$130 million investment money.

The House of Assembly passed all the clauses of the Bill save for 3 clauses which the Minister said he wanted to further consult on. Hence the Assembly of Assembly adjourned to today to pass the Bill. It is expected that the House of Assembly will adjourn today to 14 June 2011 as per the original date before the recall. Senate adjourned to 5 July 2011.

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