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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 41 - 2011
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
December 07, 2011

Introduction

After some heated haggling over the date to which the budget debate had been adjourned last week, the House of Assembly finally debated and passed the 2012 National Budget in fast-track fashion. Hon. Brian Tshuma (MDC-T Hwange Central) gave notice of motion calling for the dismissal of the Clerk of Parliament, Mr. Austin Zvoma. Hon. Settlement Chikwinya (MDC-T Mbizo) gave notice of motion for the dissolution of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) as it was improperly constituted and consequently the cancellation of the radio licences recently awarded to Zimpapers Talk Radio and AB Communications by BAZ.

House of Assembly Plenary Proceedings:

Debate on the 2012 National Budget

Debate on the 2012 National Budget yesterday was preceded by a heated procedural argument by ZANU PF and MDC-T Members over the date to which the debate on the budget had been adjourned last week. ZANU PF argued that the debate had been adjourned to Tuesday 13 December 2011 whereas MDC-T Members said it was Tuesday 6 December 2011. After some caucusing between the Acting Speaker, Hon. Nomalanga Khumalo, the Acting Leader of the House, Hon. Professor Arthur Mutambara, the Minister of Constitutional Affairs Hon. Advocate Eric Matinenga and the respective party Chief Whips, sanity finally prevailed and the debate on the 2012 National Budget went ahead.

Report of the Budget Finance and Investment Promotion Committee

As per Parliamentary tradition, the Chairperson of the Budget Finance and Investment Promotion Committee, Hon. Paddy Zhanda led debate on the 2012 National Budget as he presented the Committee’s report on the proposed budget. His report dwelt much on the macro-economic aspect of the budget whereas reports from Portfolio Committees focused on their relevant sectors. Hon. Zhanda noted that parliamentary committees were not afforded adequate time to scrutinize the Budget. He therefore called for the amendment of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) to “allow parliament enough time to consult and analyze the budget to avoid continuous discord between the Executive and Parliament”. Notwithstanding this setback, Hon. Zhanda commended the Minister of Finance Hon. Tendai Biti for coming up with a “very reasonable budget under very difficult circumstances”. He also commended the Minister for conducting public consultations on the 2012 National Budget.

The Committee noted in its report that key sectors such as energy, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, tourism, financial sector, health etc needed to be looked at closely. On dealing with challenges facing the energy sector, the Committee recommended that government should convene an Energy and Investment Conference to thrash out problems bedeviling this sector. On the agriculture sector, the Committee commended the Minister of Finance for coming up with the idea of an Agriculture Three-year Rolling Financing Strategy. However, the Committee argued that in addition of this strategy, government should look into alternative financing sources for agriculture as government alone could not sufficiently do it. On the mining sector the Committee emphasized on the need for transparency and accountability in the mining of all minerals in the country to ensure that all Zimbabweans benefit from these “finite resources”. Regarding the financial sector, the Committee noted that “total sanity in the financial sector can only be achieved once there is sanity at the central bank itself’. The committee further urged government to bring closure to the demonetized Zimbabwe dollar deposits, which have remained outstanding since 2009.

In his report, Hon. Zhanda noted that parliament’s role on the debt overhang was reduced to “rubber-stamping” through ratification of the debt instead of taking part in the whole debt origination and contracting process. He thus called for amendments to the PFMA to ensure Parliament played an active oversight role in debt “origination and contracting by analyzing, reviewing and scrutinizing the purpose of debt and its terms and conditions before the agreements have been signed government.”

Hon. Zhanda appealed to the Minister of Finance to allocate 1% of the National Budget to the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) if this programme is to make a meaningful impact in community development. He lamented the fact that decisions on the fund were currently left to the discretion of the executive. He thus called for the enactment of legislation to deal with CDF matters in order to achieve transparency, accountability and permanent future of the fund.

Portfolio Committee Reports

Chairpersons of Portfolio Committees noted in their reports that the 2012 National Budget attempted to address key sectors of the economy despite limited resources. Though they were not very happy with allocations to some programmes under their sectors, they urged Treasury to release the allocated resources timeously for the smooth implementation of programmes. They noted that late release of funds by treasury resulted in key national projects remaining incomplete for years.

Minister’s Response to Concerns of Committees

In his response, Hon. Biti acknowledged concerns raised by Members regarding the 2012 National Budget as it affected the economic and social sectors they shadow. However, he said there was not much his ministry could do given the “small size of the cake”. He said the challenge was to expand the cake so that it was big enough to meet the needs of all the ministries.

Regarding the late release of funds by treasury which all portfolio committees lamented in their reports, the Minister said this was due to the fact that the country was operating a “cash budget system” as there were no reserves in government coffers.

Hon. Biti also pointed out that much of the budget resources were skewed in favour of the re-current expenditure, of which the wage bill accounted for 63%, a situation that was clearly untenable. This left little resources for capital projects and key national programmes. And even in terms of releasing the resources, Treasury had to prioritize recurrent expenditure.

The Minister argued that given limited government resources, there was a need to encourage the participation of the private sector in major infrastructural projects like dam construction and power station construction through the Private-Public Partnership concept.

On the CDF concerns raised by Members, Hon. Biti agreed with observations made by Hon. Zhanda that the fund should be legislated. He made an undertaking to look into the possibility of bringing in a Bill to Parliament next year after liaising with the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs.

Budget Legislation

After the Budget debate had been exhausted, the budget legislation, namely; Finance (No. 2) Bill (H.B. 6, 2011) Appropriation (2012) Bill (H.B. 6, 2011) and the Appropriation (2011) Amendment Bill (H.B. 8, 2011) were fast-tracked and passed in no time. The Budget now awaits approval by the Senate on Tuesday 13 December 2011.

Notices of Motions

Dissolution of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) Board

Hon. Settlement Chikwinya gave notice to introduce a motion in the House of Assembly calling for the dissolution of the BAZ Board and the cancellation of the radio licences that it recently awarded to Zimpapers talk Radio and AB Communications. He said the BAZ Board was improperly constituted and ultra vires the Broadcasting Services Amendment Act (2007) which provides for the appointment of BAZ Board by the President in consultation with the parliamentary Standing Rules and Orders Committee (SROC). However, the current BAZ Board was unilaterally appointed by the Minster of Media, Information and Publicity, Hon. Webster Shamu.

Dismissal of the Clerk of Parliament

Hon. Brian Tshuma gave notice of a motion calling for the dismissal of the Clerk of Parliament, Mr. Austin Zvoma in terms of section 48(2) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, for the following “misdemeanors” which he said brought the image of parliament into disrepute:

i) Failure to conduct elections of the Speaker on 25th August 2008 in accordance with section 39 of the Constitution and Standing Order No. 6 as noted by the Supreme Court Ruling nullifying the afore-mentioned election.

ii) Unprocedurally and unilaterally deferring the sitting of the House of Assembly on 22nd March 2011,

iii) Disdain for the legal advice from the Attorney General regarding the status of the Matobo North Constituency following the Supreme Court's Ruling on the 2008 election of the Speaker of the House of Assembly.

iv) Condescending attitude towards Honorable Members of this August House and in particular, the Office of the Speaker.

v) Issuance of press statements contemptuous of Honourable Members of this House, and:

vi) Tempering with the records of the proceedings of this House by expunging some material from the Hansard of 29 March 2011 without the authority of the House.

Adjournment of Parliament

Parliament adjourned to Tuesday 13 December 2011, to allow ZANU PF Members to attend their party’s conference in Bulawayo, which begins this Thursday.

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