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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 20 - 2011
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
July 01, 2011

The Senate and the House of Assembly are in recess until 5 July and 12 July, respectively. However, committees of both houses have been conducting their business and below are some of the major highlights during the week under review.

Portfolio Committees Portfolio Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructural Development

Since the beginning of June this year, the Committee has been seized with the scrutiny of the provisions of Statutory Instrument 154 of 2010 (S.I. 154/10), which seeks, among other things, to ban Left Hand Drive Vehicles and the importation of vehicles assembled more than 5 years ago. As part of this process, SAPST facilitated public hearings for the Committee to gather views of the public and interested stakeholders on the issue. Thus, between 6 -8 June, 2011 the Committee conducted public hearings in Mutare, Masvingo and Bulawayo and wound up its programme on 27 June 2011 in Harare. The public hearings were attended by a number of stakeholders representing various organizations, while others came in their individual capacity.

Stakeholders and members of the public that made their representations at the afore-mentioned public hearings were vehemently opposed to provisions of Statutory Instrument 154 of 2010 (S.I. 154/10), citing various reasons. They argued that since Zimbabwe was a 3rd world country the majority of people could not afford to buy new vehicles. They informed the Committee that newer vehicles, be they locally assembled or imported, were more expensive. Stakeholders also pointed out to the Committee that duty charged by government on new vehicles was punitive and hence the influx of second hand cars, which were affordable to the generality of the population in Zimbabwe, given the suppressed incomes of workers in Zimbabwe.

The Committee also heard that the local car assembly industry was in a comatose state and was not able to meet demand and their products were priced way above what an average worker could afford.

Regarding the banning of Left Hand Drive Vehicles, especially the haulage trucks on the basis that they were a safety hazard that contributed to high accident rates on the roads, representatives of the Transporters Association of Zimbabwe (TAO) dismissed this assertion as fallacious. Instead they argued that major factors responsible for the carnage on the roads were to do with the poor state of the roads, reckless and incompetent drivers. They said police statistics confirmed this.

While stakeholders and members of the public welcomed the issue regarding other safety requirements like fire extinguishers and reflective triangles etc, they pointed out that specifications of these items stipulated in the Statutory Instrument were not available on the market and wondered how motorists were expected to comply with this requirement.

Stakeholders and members of the public lambasted the ministry for lack of extensive consultation on such a major policy that affected the lives of the majority citizens. They appealed to the ministry to re-think this policy as many people stand to lose jobs and businesses and thus impacting negatively on the economy, which they said was still fragile.

Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs

The Justice Committee received a briefing on the Human Rights Commission Bill from Phillip Muziri (SAPST Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Programme Advisor). In his presentation, Mr. Muziri pointed out the following provisions of the Bill, which the Committee need to pay close attention to;

  • Clause 2 of the Bill in its definition of human rights violations appears to limit the scope of what can be defined as such.
  • The Bill gives excessive powers to the Minister who is a member of the executive. Usually the executive is the major culprit in issues to do with human rights violations as it has control over organs such as the army, police and intelligence agencies.
  • In clause 8 the commission can only act on issues that would have been reported, one has to take into cognizance that some people who have had their human rights infringed upon can be cowered into not reporting.
  • The Commission is required to report to the minister who is a member of the executive. Options are the committee can report to parliament as an elected body or a committee of parliament.
  • Visitors and illegal immigrants have no legal recourse in the Bill if their human rights are violated during their stay in the country.
  • The Bill does not specify whether the Commission can visit places of detention without notice so as to avoid stage managing by officials manning these places. Malawi has such a provision.
  • The Paris Principles set the general framework for ensuring an effective human rights body and it was therefore important and incumbent upon legislators to make sure that the Bill conforms to the Paris Principles.

The Committee deliberated on the presentation and expressed concern on how the Bill dismissed human rights violations committed before the 13th of February 2009. The committee resolved to hold public hearings on the Bill in Chinhoyi, Gweru, Gwanda, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare and Harare before compiling its report to be tabled when the House resumes sitting on 12 July
2011.

Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance, Economic Planning and Investment Promotion

The Committee had been scheduled to meet the Minister of Finance on Monday to discuss the Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review but the meeting had to be deferred as the Minister was engaged elsewhere. However, the Committee took the opportunity to brainstorm on topics to be discussed at its workshop scheduled for mid July. The Committee agreed on the following topics among others;

  • Challenges of growing the Economy
  • Appropriate strategies for a sustainable Agricultural sector
  • Challenges facing the Industry; Opportunities for Revival
  • Macroeconomic Fundamentals as a requisite for Economic Growth
  • Maximization of the mining sector for the benefit of all

Thematic Committees

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Thematic Committee The Thematic Committee on MDGs had a briefing from the ministries of Economic Planning, Agriculture, Social Welfare, Health and Environment regarding progress on the fulfillment of the MDGs. The Committee was informed by officials from the afore-mentioned ministries that the country was unlikely to achieve the MDGs target of 2015 mainly because of budgetary constraints. The worst affected were MDG 1; eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, and MDG 2; achieving universal primary education.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social services, Mr. Museka informed the committee that the Vulnerability Assessment Survey done in 2010 had projected that 1.3 million people would require food assistance between January and March 2011 at a total cost of $5.9 million. However, the Ministry had only been allocated $3 million in the 2011 Budget for this purpose, which could only assist the vulnerable families over a period of less than two months. He further informed the Committee that treasury released the money late and the programme had to rely on donor funding.

Mr. Museka said the 2011 Second Crop and Livestock Assessment Survey indicated that 4 provinces in the country would be food insecure, affecting 1.34 million people. To provide food assistance to the affected people, the ministry required a budget of $7 million. This is against the same budget of $3 million that treasury was yet to release leaving a deficit of $4 million.

Regarding assistance to vulnerable children under the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), the Committee heard that 765 000 children were assisted in 2010 at a cost of $27 million of which $15 million was financed by donors. For 2011, the programme was allocated $23 million. Hence, if additional funding to the tune of $4 million was not provided, some children who were assisted last year may have to drop out of school.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Planning, Dr. Desire Sibanda informed the Committee that the Medium Term Plan (MTP) set to be launched on 7 July at the HICC focuses on strategies to expedite progress towards the achievement of the MDGs by 2015.

Legislation Update

Two crucial Bills, namely; the Human Rights Commission bill, which operationalizes the Human Rights Commission and the Electoral Amendment Bill setting out election roadmap, have been gazetted. The Portfolio Committee on Justice will be conducting extensive public hearings on the two bills as they have a bearing on the forthcoming elections.

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