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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 13 - 2012
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
April 25, 2012

Introduction

As reported in our previous Bulletin, both Houses of Parliament and their respective committees are currently on recess. However, some major developments have been taking place at parliament. The Minister of Local Government and Urban Development, Hon. Dr. Ignatius Chombo has filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking an interdict on a Private Member’s Bill currently before Parliament which is proposing to amend the Urban Councils Act. The Privileges Committee sat yesterday to consider the prima farcie case of contempt of parliament brought against the former Administrator of Shabanie Mashava Mines, Mr. Arafas Gwaradzimba.

Minister Chombo Challenges Introduction of a Private Member’s Bill

In October 2011, Hon. Tangwara Matimba (MDC-T Buhera Central) successfully moved a motion in the House of Assembly to introduce a private member’s Bill to amend the Urban Councils Act. The Bill seeks to reduce the powers of central government over municipal and town councils, thereby encouraging democracy at local levels. The Bill was gazetted on 16 December 2011 and subsequently introduced in the House and the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC) passed a non-adverse opinion on it paving the way for the Bill to be considered by the House. When the House adjourned for its recess, the Bill had its Second Reading Stage.

However, the Minister of Local Government and Urban Development, Hon. Dr. Ignatius Chombo wrote to Parliament when the Bill was still before the PLC, raising a constitutional matter in he which he said, if the Bill was allowed to be introduced in Parliament, would violate provisions of the Constitution. He alleged in his letter to parliament that Article 20.1.2(c) of Schedule 8 of the Constitution, brought in by Amendment No. 19 of the Constitution, takes away the right of MPs to introduce private member’s Bills. He argued that the cited provision now only mandated Government Ministers to introduce Bills in Parliament. Be that as it may, the PLC gave the Bill non-adverse opinion. In other words, the PLC did not find anything that violated the provisions of the Constitution in the Bill and about the introduction of the Bill in the House. Hence the Bill proceeded to its second reading stage, the stage at which the Bill is currently at.

Hon. Dr. Chombo has since filed an application in the Supreme Court challenging the introduction and consideration of the Bill by Parliament. The interdict he seeks is to bar Parliament from debating the Bill.

It is highly likely that Parliament will oppose this application and we will monitor developments around this issue closely.

First Hearing of the Gwaradzimba Issue

The Privileges Committee sat yesterday to consider Mr. Arafas Gwaradzimba’s case of contempt of parliament brought against him by the Chairman of the Mines, Energy and Power Development Portfolio Committee, Hon. Edward Chindori-Chininga. The Portfolio Committee on Mines Energy and Power Development alleged that Mr. Arafas Gwaradzimba issued contemptuous press statements after he appeared before the Committee to the effect that the Committee was biased against him and further insinuated that some Committee Members had been bribed by Mr. Mutumwa Mawere.

The task of the Privileges Committee is to establish if Mr. Gwaradzimba’s press statements amounted to contempt of parliament as prayed for by the Portfolio Committee on Mines Energy and Power Development. If found guilty, Mr. Gwaradzimba faces a maximum sentence of up to 2 years in prison or a level seven fine, depending on the recommendations of the Privileges Committee.

The major highlight of yesterday’s hearing was that Mr. Gwaradzimba’s lawyers were now questioning the accuracy of the Newsday report which formed the basis of the prima farcie case of contempt of parliament against Mr. Gwaradzimba. The Privileges Committee has since requested a statement from the Newsday reporter, Veneranda Langa, who interviewed Gwaradzimba and any evidence that supports the veracity of the interview.

The next session of the hearing is scheduled for Wednesday 2 May 2012. In its first meeting, the Privileges Committee resolved that the hearing will be done in the public gallery.

Resumption of Parliament Business

Portfolio and Thematic Committees are scheduled to resume their meetings on Monday 7 May 2012 and both Houses will resume their sittings on 15 May 2012.

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