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Parliamentary Sittings Resume - Bill Watch 39/2011
September 21, 2011

Both Houses of Parliament met today, Tuesday 20th September

On the Agenda for the House of Assembly and Senate for 20th September

Today, Tuesday 20th September, the first working day of the Fourth Session of the present Parliament, the only item on the Order Paper in both Houses was the traditional motion expressing loyalty to Zimbabwe and thanks to the President for his Speech opening the current Session on 6th September. This was all that took place in both Houses. Although under Parliamentary rules of procedure, all pending Bills and other unfinished business lapsed at the end of the Third Session on the 5th September, no motions were proposed to revive them.

Lapsed Bills that could be revived by resolution Standing Orders permit both Houses to pass resolutions restoring lapsed Bills to the Order Paper at the stage reached in the previous Session. The following Bills lapsed on 5th September at the end of the last Session.

In the Senate

  • Public Order and Security Amendment Bill. Mr Gonese’s Private Member’s Bill has already been passed by the House of Assembly. Senators heard Mr Gonese’s speech explaining the Bill on 2nd August, but debate was adjourned after Minister Chinamasa told the Senate that amendment of POSA was a matter under consideration as part of the Election Roadmap negotiations and that further debate might undermine the Inclusive Government. MDC-T has since rejected Hon Chinamasa’s claim. Mr Gonese, who had consented to an adjournment on the Bill, is expected at some stage to ask that it be restored to the Order Paper.

In the House of Assembly

Question Time - Wednesday No written questions with notice are listed on Tuesday’s Order Paper, but there is still time for new questions with notice to be included on Wednesday’s Order Paper, and for unanswered questions from the last Session to be restored to the Order Paper at the request of the MPs concerned. MPs will have an hour to raise questions without notice – which are limited to requests for information on Government policy – if the responsible Ministers or their deputies turn up. In the last Session Ministers’ attendance at Question Time was unsatisfactory, prompting an undertaking from the Prime Minister to galvanise Ministers into compliance with their duty to deal with backbenchers’ questions.

Prime Minister’s Question Time

The new Session will see the introduction of Prime Minister’s Question Time in both Houses. Details have not yet been announced.

Motions: No motions have yet been put down for debate.

Third Anniversary of Global Political Agreement

Three years have now passed since the GPA was finalised and initialled on the 11th September 2008, followed by the formal public signing ceremony at the Harare International Conference Centre on 15th September. The agreement was in fact immediately followed by further disputes which delayed the swearing in of the inclusive government until 13th February 2009. Although there have been some achievements such as the stabilisation [although not much growth] of the economy and a marginal improvement in service delivery – the whole three-year period has been marred by gamesmanship and procrastination. The last year has been marked by talk of imminent elections although conditions for credible, free and fair elections have not yet been achieved. The national healing initiative has not produced tangible results. The constitution-making process is way behind schedule. Legal reforms to promote freedom of assembly and freedom of speech have not been brought to Parliament. Security sector development has not occurred. There has been no Land Commission set up; no National Economic Council. These were all important measures agreed to in the GPA which would have moved the situation in the country forward instead of it being in the present state of uncertainty.

Run-up to 2012 Budget

In just over two months it will be time for the Minister of Finance to present his budget for the 2012 financial year to the House of Assembly. [The Budget for a financial year is almost invariably presented to and passed by Parliament in December, just before the financial year begins – only in exceptional circumstances can it be presented later, but even then the Constitution states that it must be presented before the end of January.]

Role of Portfolio Committee in Budget formulation: The mandate of the House of Assembly Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance and Investment Promotion includes oversight of budgetary matters. This responsibility is recognised by section 28(5) of the Public Finance Management Act which provides that “the Minister [of Finance] may through the appropriate portfolio committee of Parliament, seek the views of Parliament in the preparation and formulation of the national annual budget, for which purpose the appropriate portfolio committee shall conduct public hearings to elicit the opinions of as many stakeholders in the national annual budget as possible.” Unfortunately this is a weak provision: it does not oblige the Minister to enlist the assistance of the portfolio committee or indicate how long the portfolio committee should be given to hold hearings and formulate its views.

Minister’s promise of August launch of Budget Strategy Paper: When presenting his mid-term Fiscal Policy Review on 26th July, Minister of Finance Tendai Biti referred to the Public Finance Management Act and told the House of Assembly that the Government’s Budget Strategy Paper would be launched in early August and tabled in Parliament. The strategy paper would “facilitate broader participation and in-depth debate on national priority issues” and its launching in August would, unlike previous years, “allow more time for stakeholder participation during the consultative and formulation phases of the Budget, hence enriching the budgeting system.”

But Budget Strategy Paper still not launched: Halfway through September the BSP has still not been launched. Although it is ready for final Ministerial approval, the Minister will not be able to present it this week because he will be attending IMF and World Bank meetings in the USA. This delay will make it more difficult for stakeholders, the Budget Portfolio Committee and other Parliamentarians to participate meaningfully in budget consultations and formulation. It is to be hoped that next time around delays can be avoided. Perhaps to ensure this the new Constitution should state the principle that Government must undertake early consultations with Parliament and others on budget formulation.

The Portfolio Committee’s plans:

The Budget Portfolio Committee is planning a programme of consultations on budgetary issues. This will include public hearings in provincial centres. Details will be give in due course.

Cabinet Opposition to Public Hearings on Electoral Amendment Bill?

There have been press reports, not confirmed, of a Cabinet decision, conveyed to Parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders Committee by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, to “push Parliament” to stop holding public hearings. This came after Parliament’s public hearings on the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill were disrupted by serious disturbances, culminating in a violent invasion of the last hearing in Parliament itself on 23rd July. Public hearings around the country on the important Electoral Amendment Bill have been expected for some time, but have had to be postponed while the country’s political leadership discusses the problem of violence. As neither Cabinet nor any of its members, not even the President, has power under the Constitution to give binding directions to Parliament about such matters, it is up to Parliament to decide whether or not to respond to Cabinet’s wishes. No doubt Parliament will take into account the security situation and police willingness/ability to forestall or deal with a repeat of the July disruptions should hearings be convened. The chairman of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon Douglas Mwonzora, has said the committee wishes to persist with its public hearings. The committee now awaits the results of discussions between the MDC and ZANU-PF chief whips.

Government Warning to Media Organisations not Valid

Media, Information and Publicity Minister Webster Shamu was last week reported to have said that “Government” will not hesitate to revoke the operating licences of foreign and local media organisations accused by the Minister of abusing journalistic privilege by “denigrating the country and its leadership”. In fact, it is not for “Government” or the Minister to revoke these licences. Under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act [AIPPA] it is only the Zimbabwe Media Commission [ZMC] that has the power, after a full inquiry, to cancel the registration of a media organisation and it can only take such drastic action on limited grounds, which do not include “denigrating the country and its leadership” and even if this happened a media organisation would have the right to appeal through the courts [AIPPA, section 71]. As an independent constitutional commission ZMC cannot be ordered to cancel media licences by the Government.

Update on Legislation

Finance Act Gazetted

The Finance Act (No. 8/2011) was gazetted and came into effect on 16th September. It enacts the changes to the main Finance Act, the Income Tax Act, Value Added Tax Act, Customs and Excise Act and Revenue Authority Act passed by Parliament following the Minister of Finance’s Mid-term Fiscal Policy review. [Note: “As some of the Act’s provisions are stated to be “with effect from the 1st September 2011” it should have been gazetted on or before the 1st September. The late gazetting could prompt legal argument about the extent to which those provisions can be given retroactive effect back to 1st September.]

Older Persons Bill Gazetted

The Older Persons Bill was gazetted on 9th September. It is designed to provide for the well-being of older persons [defined as Zimbabwean citizens 65 or older who are ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe] by appointing a Director for Older Persons Affairs, establishing an Older Persons Board; and creating of an Older Persons Fund to be used primarily for providing social welfare assistance to destitute or indigent older persons. The Bill will be ready for presentation in Parliament 14 days after its gazetting, so it could be presented on 27th September. [Electronic version NOT yet available.]

Statutory Instruments [electronic versions NOT available]

High Court Fees and Allowances – SI 107/2011, dated 2nd September, corrects errors in the schedule of High Court fees and allowances set out in SI 12/2011.

Competition Act – Notifiable Mergers – SI 109/2011 and 110/2011 contain amendments to the Notification of Mergers regulations and the Notifiable Merger Thresholds regulations.

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