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Parliamentary Legal Committee issues adverse report on Electoral Bill
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
May 12, 2012

The House of Assembly and the Senate resume sitting on 15 May 2012 after a six-week break. A perusal of the Order Paper or sitting agenda shows that there is going to be some very important legislative business to transact, especially by the House of Assembly.

On the agenda for the House of Assembly is the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill, which is now at Committee Stage. At this stage, the Bill will be examined clause by clause and amendments moved if there are any. The Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Hon. Patrick Chinamasa has already given notice of amendments which are on the Order Paper and open to public scrutiny. The proposed amendments followed representations made by the Justice, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Portfolio Committee and the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC). The amendments, though not sufficient, will go a long way in improving the legislation and provide a legal framework for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to operate. Although created by the Constitution, the Commission has been stifled in its operations by the absence of enabling legislation. A fully operational Human Rights Commission is an essential institution for the conduct of a credible election process. With these amendments, I expect the Bill to sail through both houses and assented into law by the President.

Another important item on the sitting agenda of the House of Assembly is the Parliamentary Legal Committee’s adverse report on the Electoral Amendment Bill. An adverse report means that the PLC has come up with an opinion that some sections of the Bill violate the Constitution. Since the report has not yet been tabled in the House and become a public document, I am not aware of the provisions that have been condemned by the committee. I am however aware of the objections that came from citizens during nation-wide public hearings by the Justice Committee and public comments made by various civil society groups. Of concern include question marks on the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission from the Minister of Justice, restrictions on funding for voter education by civil society groups, executive dominance on the Observer Accreditation Committee, failure to give the Commission sole and exclusive responsibility for the registration of voters and the maintenance of the voters roll, absence of provisions to ensure the courts expedite dispute resolution, lack of specific punitive sanctions against media firms that do not provide fair media coverage to all political parties and barring of Diaspora voting. Reports that the principals have agreed to do away with the proposed polling station-based voting is a good development. What is left is for Minister Chinamasa to bring this amendment to Parliament.

The other Bill that preferably should be concluded before the closure of the 4th Session is the Urban Councils Amendment Bill. The filing of an urgent application to the Supreme Court by the Minister of Local Government barring Parliament from debating the Bill is highly regrettable. Approaching the courts to stop Parliament from exercising its law-making functions is unwarranted interference in the lawful functions of the legislative branch. Private member bills are permitted by the country’ statutes. I therefore cannot understand how the Constitution has been breached to necessitate this application to the Supreme Court. In fact, we need more private member bills in order for Parliament to fulfil its constitutional mandate of making “laws for the peace, order and good government of Zimbabwe”. Sadly, this application will delay debate on the Bill until the Supreme Court makes a determination on the matter.

The House of Assembly will also have to deal with a motion by Hon. Gonese seeking leave of the House to amend Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act. This motion has to be approved by the House to allow a Bill to be gazetted and introduced in Parliament.

The Privileges Committee set up by the House of Assembly to investigate contempt of Parliament allegations against Shabani Mashava Mines Administrator, Afaras Gwaradzimba, has started hearings on the matter and will most likely conclude its business before the session comes to an end. Gwaradzimba is alleged to have demeaned the integrity of the committee when he gave an interview to the Daily News during the time that the committee was investigating the operations and collapse of Shabani Mashava Mines.

In the Senate, the most important legislative business is a motion again by Hon. Gonese to reinstate the Public Order and Security Amendment Bill at the stage it had reached when Parliament was prorogued. This motion has been resisted by Zanu PF senators who have been arguing that the negotiators to the Global Political Agreement are seized with the matter. Allowing this motion to lapse again due to a prorogation of Parliament for the 5th and last Session, could mean the end of this private member Bill. It is up to Hon. Gonese to move a motion to wind up debate in order for the senators to vote on it. A rejection of the motion will mean that the two houses would have reached a disagreement on the matter, paving the way for invoking constitutional provisions that allow the House of Assembly to override the Senate and submit the Bill directly to the President for assent.

It is most likely that the legislative branch will have only six weeks to conclude all this business before adjourning for the 5th Session of the 7th Parliament, which will be the last in the life of this Parliament. The last session is expected to be officially opened by the President in July and will run for another 12 months unless the President sooner dissolves Parliament for the elections.

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