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Public hearings on Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
July 14, 2011

Introduction

Both Houses of Parliament were in session yesterday. The House of Assembly debated a motion on the plight of civil servants while the Senate debated two committee reports and passed the Small Enterprises Development Corporation Amendment Bill.

House of Assembly Plenary

Motion on the Plight of Civil Servants

Hon. Moses Mare (MDC-T Chiredzi West) seconded by Hon. Greenbate Dongo (MDC-T Goromonzi South) introduced a motion in the House regarding the “low levels of remuneration for civil servants and everyone paid through the Treasury”. The motion noted that the country's resources were not being utilized in the best interest of the nation, in particular the lack of transparency in the distribution of the proceeds raised from the sale of the diamonds at Chiadzwa. The motion further bemoaned the existence of “ghost workers” who were drawing salaries from the fiscus. The motion called upon the House to;

  • Ensure that all proceeds from previous sales of diamonds from Chiadzwa are properly accounted for and remitted to Treasury;
  • Put in place the necessary legislation and mechanism to enable Treasury to take full control of all diamonds mined in the country;
  • Ensure that all minerals are sold to the best advantage of the country;
  • Remove all ghost workers from the Government payroll and;

Members across the political divide were generally agreed on the dire plight of civil servants in the country, they differed on the causes of the situation. MDC-T Members blamed what they called mismanagement of resources, especially proceeds from the mining sector, in particular proceeds from the Chiadzwa diamond fields, corruption and “ghost workers”. On the other hand, some ZANU PF Members argued that government was not able to pay civil servants decent salaries because of the “economic sanctions imposed by the West” on Zimbabwe. There was also unanimity by backbenchers that the issue of civil servants’ salaries should be depoliticized and focus more attention on ways of improving the economic situation and broadening the revenue base so that government can be able to pay its workers decent salaries.

Senate Plenary

First Report of the Thematic Committee on MDGs

Senator Japhet Dube tabled the Committee’s report on the Social Protection Schemes. The report was compiled after the committee conducted public hearings across the country.

Regarding the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), the committee noted that there wasn’t enough consultation on the selection of the deserving vulnerable children. For instance, the Village Selection Committees did not include school heads yet all queries regarding the programme were directed to the school heads. The Commiteee also observed that there were serious communication problems between the Ministry of Labour and Social Services and school authorities. As a result, children on BEAM were at times dropped from the programme or sent back home due to delays in the disbursement of funds.

The Committee also noted with concern that public assistance was inconsistent and unpredictable. Beneficiaries were not sure when they would next get their allowances.

The Committee observed that issues relating to disability were too complex to be left to one Ministry. The level of government support to people with disabilities left a lot to be desired. A lot needed to be done to ensure that children with disabilities had access to education. There is also need to protect girls with disabilities from sexual abuse.

Regarding the Drought Relief Programme, the Committee noted with concern the lack of proactiveness on the part of the Ministry of Labour and Social Services with regards to responses to drought situations. The committee was equally concerned about inconsistencies regarding the provision of health assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS.

First Report of the Thematic Committee on Human Rights

The Chairman of the Thematic Committee on Human Rights, Senator Misheck Marava presented the committee’s first report on the State of Prisons and Prisoners in the country. As part of its oversight function, the Committee visited Harare Central Prison, Chikurubi Maximum Prison, Mutare Prison, Mutimurefu Prison and Whawha. The Committee observed the following;

  • Prisoners’ living conditions left a lot to be desired mainly due to budgetary constraints. Inadequate funding made it difficult for the ZPS to operate effectively and prisoners found the life in prison hazardous, as they had to make do without most of life’s basic necessities.
  • The Committee noted that prisoners’ diet, uniforms, bedding, transport to take them to referral hospitals and courts, constant supply of medication especially ARVs and ablution facilities were critical for the health of the prisoners while they serve their sentences.
  • Mutare Remand Prison Complex was in a dilapidated state and needed refurbishment as a matter of urgency as it was no longer fit for human habitation. There was need for urgent maintenance to avoid eruption of diseases and other communicable infections. The complex was built with punitive intentions during the colonial period and should be renovated to suit a Rehabilitation Centre.
  • The Committee observed that nursing mothers in prisons fed their children from the rations they received. Children were being forced to survive on sadza served with beans and/or vegetables. Lack of balanced diet affected the growth of these children. There were no crèches/pre schools for these children and this affected their rights to basic education.
  • The Committee noted with concern that most of the prisons, if not all did not have information dissemination equipment such as radios and televisions. Inmates were forced to rely on censured newspapers for information. Information equipments should also provide entertainment.
  • The Committee noted with great concern the length of time the prisoners stayed on remand especially those convicted of murder, stock theft, robbery and rape. Some had gone for more than 6 years without trial.
  • The committee noted that in certain instances, individuals were subjected to two trials; after being convicted by the criminal court, they were subjected to a trial (usual in their absence) by the traditional leaders through the primary courts. If a person is found guilty in his/her absence at these traditional courts he/she is forced to pay fines. This means that a person faces two courts of law.
  • The Committee was also worried that young offenders were affected by lack of transport to transport them to Whawha Young Offenders Prison and sometimes stayed at Remand Prisons for more than 3 years. There were no facilities at the Remand prison to protect young offenders from being sexually molested by adults.
  • Lack of balanced diet was another critical issue that was raised by inmates. A number of inmates showed signs of malnutrition.
  • The Committee was concerned that Whawha Young Offenders did not have birth certificates and national identity cards.
  • The Committee observed that it was critical for government to avail adequate funds for bus fares for prisoners upon release because the current situation was that prisoners walked more than two hundred kilometers home because of lack of bus fares. The pass letters which used to be afforded to inmates to use for travelling were no longer accepted by transport operators.
  • The Committee noted lack of legal representation for most of the prisoners. Most of the prisoners said that they did not afford lawyers and they had lost their cases even if they were innocent because they would be competing with those that were fortunate enough to have legal representation.

Update on Portfolio Committees

Portfolio Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructural Development

The Minister of Transport, Communications and Infrastructural Development, Hon. Nicholas Goche appeared before the committee on Monday 11 July 2011 to brief the committee on the provisions of the Statutory Instrument 154 of 2010, Tollgate construction and dualization of major roads, and the situation regarding the national airline. Initially, the meeting had been scheduled for Monday last week but was abruptly postponed as some Members of the Committee, namely; Hon. Edward Raradza and Hon. Noel Mandebvu objected to the presence of an American Diplomat at the meeting despite the fact that the Minister had indicated that he was willing to go ahead with the meeting.

Statutory Instrument 154 of 2010

On the provisions of S.I. 154 of 2010, the Minister informed the Committee that the effective date for the implementation of S.I. 154/10 was July 1, 2011 for those sections that deal with red reflective triangles, fire extinguishers and reflectors. However, the ban on left-hand drive (LHD) vehicles and vehicles older than five years will be effected on October 31, 2011. The Minister further indicated that the extensions had been necessitated by concerns raised by the public and thus the Ministry needed time for further consultations on the policy.

On vehicles that are over five years old, the Committee heard that the Ministry was consulting with the Environment Ministry regarding current levels of pollution emitted by vehicles. On LHD vehicles, the Committee heard that concessions had been made to allow LHD vehicles that were already operating in the country to operate until they reached the end of their economic lifespan. The Minister informed the Committee that S.I. 154/10 would be amended to reflect the change in policy.

Tollgate Construction and Highway Dualization

The Committee heard that the rationale behind tolling is to fund the rehabilitation of the country’s roads. The Minister informed the Committee that the tolling points and shelters that were being constructed around the country were temporary structures as the Ministry was working on a long term plan to construct toll plazas similar to those found in South Africa to enhance collection of to fees by ZINARA.

On the dualization of major roads, the Committee heard that the government had decided to dualize roads during the Zimbabwe dollar era, but realized that the Ministry didn’t have the capacity and the resources to proceed with the project further than Skyline (on the Harare-Masvingo road) and Norton (on the Harare-Bulawayo road). Instead, the government decided that the Ministry would complete road dualization up to those points and leave the rest of the dualization to (Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs.)

Situation at Air Zimbabwe

The Minister briefed the Committee on the challenges that Air Zimbabwe was going through and noted that despite the airline’s impeccable safety record and friendly cabin crew, travellers were shunning the airline in preference to other airlines and hence the cash-flow problems at Air Zimbabwe. The Committee heard that the GNU had set up a cabinet subcommittee that made recommendations to streamline the airline’s budget through retrenchments to ensure that the airline’s overheads matched its revenues, to clear the airline’s debts (with IATA and other suppliers) and to find a technical partner for the national airline. However, the plan hit a snag at the implementation phase as some of the people earmarked for retrenchment had political connections in high offices. The Committee heard that US$8 million was needed to provide retrenchment packages, but the money was not available.The Minister also informed the Committee that apart from US$8 million needed for retrenchment packages, US$20 million was needed to clear the airline’s short-term debt and to finance the airline’s operations in the short-term.

In addition, the Committee also heard that the Ministry would be embarking on institutional reforms of the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ). At the moment, CAAZ is the operator of airports and the regulator. The reforms intend to create a new entity to run airports leaving CAAZ with a regulatory function as was the case with South Africa. The Committee heard that the proposed principles of the Bill that would provide for these institutional reforms had already been sent to the Attorney General’s office.

Legislation Update

The Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Hon. Patrick Chinamsa introduced the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill in the House Assembly. As per procedures, immediately after first reading, the Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee to ascertain if it conforms to provisions of the constitution. The Thematic Committee on Human Rights together with the Portfolio Committee on Justice have lined up public hearings on the Bill across major centres in the country as indicated below.

DATE TIME VENUE DISTRICT
18 July 2011 11.00 hrs Chinhoyi Cooks Hall Chinhoyi
19 July 2011 10.00 hrs Gweru Auditorium Gweru
19 July 2011 17.00 hrs Bulawayo Small City Hall Bulawayo
20 July 2011 12.00 hrs Gwanda City Hall Gwanda
21 July 2011 10.00 hrs Masvingo Civic Centre Masvingo
22 July 2011 10.00 hrs Queens Hall Mutare
23 July 2011 10.00 hrs Cyril Jennings Hall Highfield

The Senate passed the Small Enterprises Development Corporation Amendment Bill

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