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POSA Amendment Bill blocked - Bill Watch 33/2011
Veritas
August 11, 2011

Both Houses of Parliament have adjourned until Tuesday 30th August

Before then it is likely that the President will have ended the present session and opened a new session –the 4th session of the 7th Parliament

POSA Amendment Bill: Introduced in Senate, but Blocked

Eight months after it was passed by the House of Assembly Mr Gonese’s Private Member’s Public Order and Security Amendment Bill was finally introduced in the Senate on 2nd August, when Mr Gonese delivered his speech opening the Second Reading debate and explaining the Bill in detail. He pointed out that the Bill had been passed by the House of Assembly with co-operation of members of all parties; denied any intention to usurp the powers of the Executive by introducing a Private Member’s Bill; and argued that the Bill was furthering Articles 12 and 13 of the GPA. Those Articles deal with freedom of assembly and the need for law enforcement agencies to be impartial. After ZANU-PF Senators questioned the need for the Bill and said more time was needed for “research”, the debate was adjourned until 3rd August. On 3rd August Justice Minister Chinamasa, who is ZANU-PF’s chief GPA negotiator, objected to the Bill being before the Senate at all, saying that the amendment of POSA was a matter under consideration by the GPA negotiators as part of the Election Roadmap and that further debate might undermine the Inclusive Government.

The Minister moved that the debate be adjourned. Mr Gonese agreed that the debate be adjourned but emphasised the Bill was not being withdrawn. But, the Senate then adjourned until 30th August and a new Session of Parliament will probably be opened before that date, meaning that the Bill will lapse. So Mr Gonese’s marathon, which began in November 2009 when the House of Assembly gave him permission to introduce his Bill – unopposed by ZANU-PF MPs – has been brought to a halt on the last lap. This is probably the end of the Bill – after these developments it seems unlikely that the Bill will be revived next Session, unless all three parties agree to do so following further negotiations.

This tactical blocking of the Bill suggests a change of heart by ZANU-PF since December last year, when the Bill was approved by the House of Assembly with the co-operation of ZANU-PF members. If there was an objection to the introduction of a Private Member’s Bill, that could have been raised at the beginning of the Bill’s journey or at any time since. The Bill was gazetted on 11th December 2009, went through Portfolio Committee meetings and public hearings round the country, was in the Lower House for a year and has been on the Senate’s Order Paper since December 2010. So, the Senators’ claims to need further time for research also ring hollow. The end of the Session has given ZANU-PF a convenient procedural method of stopping the Bill without incurring the odium of having to vote against what are really very mild compromise amendments to a piece of legislation that many want to see repealed altogether.

Questions raised:

Is the Inclusive Government really going to come up with more comprehensive amendments? In the meantime, who benefits from POSA continuing in its present unamended form? Should a member of the Executive pressure a private member to stop debate on a Bill and let the Executive deal with the matter? Is what has happened to the POSA Amendment Bill another regrettable illustration of Parliament’s continuing subservience to the Executive?

Human Rights Commission Bill: Public Hearings Disrupted

Parliament’s public hearings from the 18th to 22nd July in Chinhoyi, Masvingo and Mutare on the Human Rights Commission Bill were all disrupted. The Harare hearing was originally scheduled for 23rd July at Highfield. Fear of disruption by the same unruly mobs led Parliament to change the venue to a committee room in Parliament. But outrageously, the hearing in Parliament itself was also invaded by a violent mob - they were bussed in and several hundred were toyi-toying in Africa Unity Square before invading Parliament. Inside the committee room members of Parliament, those attempting to make representations to the committee, journalists and members of the public were assaulted. The hearing had to be prematurely terminated. These events, which were clearly orchestrated and seemed to have nothing to do with objections to the Bill, are deeply disturbing because they testify to a determination by whoever organised them to erode the power and standing of Parliament as a national institution. Also disturbing is the fact that the chaos at the hearing in Parliament went on for so long without effective police intervention. These events recall the invasion of the Supreme Court in November 2000 by elements not prepared to entertain the notion of an independent and fearless judiciary. It is important, as the constitution-making process nears its final stages, to remember that if State institutions are weak they cannot provide the checks and balances without which true democracy is not possible.

Speaker’s Statement on Disturbances

On 26th July the Speaker issued a press statement on the disturbances. He attributed the disruption in Parliament on 23rd July to “rowdy gangs identified as ZANU-PF activists who were dropped off at Parliament as they chanted their party songs and slogans.” Condemning the events as showing contempt for the authority of Parliament and as punishable offences under the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act, the Speaker called on law enforcement agents to move with speed to bring “the sponsors and perpetrators of these crimes” to book, pointing out that “it is these displays of lawlessness, human rights violations and violence that continue to keep Zimbabwe high up on the international relations scene for all the wrong reasons”. [Note: Identification of the perpetrators of the disturbances in Parliament on 23rd July should be easy for the police. Parliament is equipped with surveillance cameras which recorded everything that happened.]

Electoral Amendment Bill: Tabled but will have to be Revived next Session

On 26th July the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs tabled the Electoral Amendment Bill in the House of Assembly. In accordance with the Constitution and the House’s Standing Orders the Bill was immediately referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] for the committee’s report on its constitutionality. The PLC has until 2nd September to compile its report, although it has the right to ask the Speaker for more time if it needs it. [Electronic version of Bill available.]

2007 Suppression of Terrorism Act Brought into Force

The Suppression of Foreign and International Terrorism Act has been brought into force with effect from the 29th July 2011, almost four years after it was gazetted on 3rd August 2007. The commencement date was fixed by SI 88/2011. The Act comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

This Act does not cover terrorism aimed at the government of Zimbabwe - that is dealt with in the Criminal Law Code. The Act gives effect to Zimbabwe’s obligations under the UN Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries and OAU Conventions on the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa and the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism. “Foreign or international terrorist activity” is defined as terrorist activity directed against the government of any foreign State, and includes “mercenary activity”. New criminal offences relating to foreign or international terrorist activity are created, such as: engaging in it; undergoing or providing training to engage in it; recruiting persons to take part in it; possessing weapons for us in it; soliciting support for or supplying weapons or information to foreign or international terrorist organisations. There is also provision for banning foreign or international terrorist organisations and penalising membership of such organisations.

[Why Now? Why has the Act been brought into operation at this particular time? Fears that it could be misused against legitimate internal opposition groups seem groundless - the Act’s focus is on activities directed against foreign states. Is Zimbabwe being used or likely to used as a base or transit route for foreign or international terrorist organisations or mercenaries? Or was the need to fix a commencement date simply overlooked for nearly four years?]

Speaker’s Ruling on Contempt of Parliament: Chinamasa Off the Hook

House of Assembly Speaker Lovemore Moyo ruled on 4th August that there was no prima facie case of contempt of Parliament against Justice Minister Chinamasa. [The Mines and Energy Portfolio Committee had reported possible lying by Mr Chinamasa, based on his failure to produce documents to back up his evidence that the Government possessed the bearer share certificates in SMM Holdings.] The Speaker said that when the Minister failed to respond to its requests for the documents, the Portfolio Committee should have ordered him to produce them by serving a summons on him. As the Speaker also said that the Committee has the discretion to revisit the matter in order to finalise its investigation of the SMM case, there may be further developments.

In the same ruling the Speaker stated that there was a prima facie case of contempt of Parliament against SMM Administrator Gwaradzimba for statements strongly criticising the Portfolio Committee made in a newspaper interview. The statements “could reasonably be deemed to demean the proceedings and character of the committee”, so the appointment of a Privileges Committee to go into the matter was warranted. If a Privileges Committee is appointed and he is found guilty, Mr Gwaradzimba could be sentenced by the House to a fine of up to $400 or imprisonment for up to 2 years or to both a fine and imprisonment.

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