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Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review postponed; progress on HRC and Electoral Bills - Bill Watch 31/2012
Veritas
July 11, 2012

Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review Postponed to Next Week

Finance Minister Tendai Biti has postponed this to Wednesday 18th July.

Progress Made on Major Reform Bills in House of Assembly

The Human Rights Commission Bill with amendments is now through its Committee Stage

The Electoral Amendment Bill has had its Second Reading – amendments on Order Paper for Thursday

[Note: Yesterday the House of Assembly approved the suspension of Standing Orders 22, 106 and 109. This meant that different stages of a Bill could be taken on the same day; the House could sit after 7 pm, and, if necessary, on Friday after 1 pm, instead of automatically adjourning at those times; and also that the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] did not have its usual 26 days within which to report on amendments made. This was to permit the fast-tracking through the House of these two urgent Bills]

Human Right Commission Bill Now Through Committee Stage

Amendments approved by House

As expected, the Minister moved his previously tabled amendments during the Committee Stage on Tuesday afternoon. [Bill and Minister’s Amendments available from veritas@mango.zw] All the amendments were approved. Also approved was an amendment proposed by Mr Gonese and accepted by the Minister, to delete the words “and has domesticated as part of its laws” from the definition of “human rights violation”. This means the Human Rights Commission will be able consider alleged violations of all international human rights agreements to which Zimbabwe is a party, even agreements which have not been specifically domesticated into Zimbabwean law. But the Minister would not accept an amendment to allow the Commission to investigate violations occurring before 13th February 2009, although MDC MPs contested this date hotly as they wanted the violence surrounding the 2008 elections to be investigated. The Minister was adamant that the GPA negotiators had compromised on the date the inclusive government was sworn in, and that there was no room for change. This was accepted by the House.

Amended Bill referred to Parliamentary Legal Committee

As required by the Constitution, the Bill as amended during the Committee Stage has been referred back to the PLC for a report on the constitutionality of the amendments. A non-adverse report is assured as the amendments were agreed between the PLC and the Minister.

Next Steps

The Bill is expected to pass its Third Reading and be transmitted to the Senate on Thursday 12th July.

Electoral Amendment Bill Through Second Reading

Withdrawal of Parliamentary Legal Committee’s Adverse Report

Yesterday’s House of Assembly proceedings on the Electoral Amendment Bill started with the PLC’s withdrawal of its adverse report after the Minister agreed to amend the Bill. This Second Reading stage then went ahead immediately.

Minister’s Second Reading speech

Hon Chinamasa began by giving the background to the Bill – that it was a result of negotiation between the three parties to the GPA. Work on it had begun in July 2009, when as Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs he submitted a Memorandum of Principles on proposed amendments to the Electoral Act for approval by Cabinet. Cabinet referred the proposed amendments to a Cabinet Committee made up of the six GPA negotiators. The negotiators took nearly two years to reach agreement, resulting in the Bill now before the House.

Portfolio Committee’s Report on the Bill

The chairman of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon Douglas Mwonzora, presented the committee’s report on the Bill, explaining that it had been prepared before it was known what amendments the Minister would be proposing.

Contributions to debate by MPs

In the course of a lengthy debate lasting until 6.49 pm there was some heated criticism of the Bill, although MDC MPS had been mollified by Minister’s agreement to amend it to provide that polling-station based voting will not apply in the forthcoming elections.

Minister’s response to the debate

The Minister referred to the “unique situation” of the inclusive government and returned to his point that the Bill is the collective effort of the political parties represented in Cabinet, arrived at painstakingly after many compromises. He said it would “not be in anyone’s interest to scuttle that understanding”. He assured MPs, however, that their views would be taken into account for future improvement of the electoral laws.

Bill passes Second Reading

Just before 7 pm yesterday the House of Assembly approved the Second Reading of the Bill without a division.

Next Steps

Committee Stage to be on Thursday

The Minister’s amendments [9 pages of them], including a new clause stating that polling-station based voting will not be used in the forthcoming election, are on the Order Paper. [Bill and Amendments available from veritas@mango.zw]

When the Committee Stage is complete the amended Bill will have to be submitted to the PLC again. If the PLC does not give it adverse report, the Bill will have its Third Reading, a formality, before being transmitted to the Senate.

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