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HRC and Electoral Amendment Bills passed, by-elections discussed - Bill Watch 33/2012
Veritas
July 22, 2012

Both Houses of Parliament will continue sitting on Tuesday 24th July

In Parliament Last Week

Key Bills Passed – Awaiting President’s Signature

This Bill, passed by the House of Assembly with amendments on 12th July, went through all its stages in the Senate on 19th July and was passed without further amendment. It now needs to be assented to by the President and then gazetted as an Act before it can become law.

This Bill was passed by the House of Assembly with amendments on 17th July. It also went through all its stages in the Senate on 19th July and was passed without further amendment. As with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill, this Bill, too, needs to be assented to by the President and then gazetted before it becomes law.

Note: There will be need for further amendments to the Electoral Act to bring it in line with the new constitution, for example, to give effect to new constitutional provisions on matters such as proportional representation in the election of Senators.

Implications of Supreme Court By-Elections Decision

In the Senate on 19th July, Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who is the Minister responsible for electoral matters, was questioned about the Supreme Court’s decision of 12th July ordering the President to call three long-delayed by-elections in Matabeleland. He made the following points:

  • the rule of law requires the Government to respect the decisions of the courts and to abide by the judgment
  • one implication of the decision is that there should not be by-elections in these three constituencies only, because the Government also has to face the prospect of holding by-elections to fill the other Parliamentary vacancies. He said “in total we have about 38 “vacancies”. But he also said “I will need to verify the exact figure”. In addition, referring to the numerous vacancies on local authority councils, he said Zimbabwe’s harmonised election system means that it will be necessary to also “fill the vacancies in the local authorities”.
  • he was still exploring the full implications of the decision and what it means for a “cash-strapped Government”.

Comment: This falls short of an undertaking or promise that by-elections will be held in all the vacant constituencies, or even in the three constituencies directly affected by the Supreme Court’s order.

Minister Overestimated Number of Constituency Vacancies

Minister Chinamasa will find when he checks with Parliament that that his figure of about 38 constituency vacancies is an overestimate. A recent figure Veritas obtained from Parliament was 28. Parliamentary officials are checking the record and Veritas will shortly issue a bulletin which will contain full details, verified with Parliament, of all the vacant seats and which party won them in the last election.

In Parliament Last Week

House of Assembly

The House sat on Tuesday 17th and Wednesday 18th July only.

Electoral Amendment Bill - This was passed on 17th July and transmitted to the Senate [see note at the beginning of this bulletin].

Mid-Year Fiscal Policy Review Statement - Minister of Finance Tendai Biti presented this statement on Wednesday 18th July. In terms of Parliamentary procedure, the statement is delivered in support of the Minister’s motion seeking the leave of the House to bring in a Bill “to make further provision for the revenues and public funds of Zimbabwe”. In a presentation lasting almost two hours, which included use of video equipment to screen charts and tables, the Minister said that:

  • the austerity measures he would be outlining were agreed to at a special Cabinet meeting on 14th June
  • revenue so far this year had fallen well below targets, meaning that the 2012 Budget would have to be revised downwards from $4 billion to $3.640 billion, which would affect all Ministries
  • local production and industry would be encouraged by changes to customs duties on such items as wheat flour, effective 1st August
  • zero-rating of products for VAT purposes would be rationalised
  • excise duty on diesel and petrol would go up, but was not expected to lead to an increase in retail prices for the products oil producer prices had come down
  • new mining fees would be announced in an attempt to encourage new entrants into the mining sector
  • revenue retention by Ministries and departments would be reviewed
  • expenditure on official foreign travel was disproportionately high and needs to be “managed downwards”.

On the legislative side the Minister referred to the forthcoming new Income Tax Act, the Bill for which had already been approved by the Cabinet Committee on Legislation and could now be printed and gazetted ahead of its introduction in the House of Assembly. He also said that Public Finance Management Regulations would soon be gazetted.

At the end of his speech the Minister tabled the 2012 Amended Estimates of Expenditure [the “Blue Book”] reflecting the proposed downward revision of the 2012 Budget. The House then adjourned until Tuesday 24th July, when it will debate the Minister’s statement and consider the Amended Estimates of Expenditure, and then move on to pass the two associated Bills needed to give effect to his proposals – the Finance Bill and the Appropriation (2012) Amendment Bill [both Bills available from veritas@mango.zw]. [See outline of Finance Bill below.]

Motions

The chairpersons of the respective Portfolio Committees presented committee reports on the State of Tertiary Institutions in Zimbabwe; on challenges in the Education Sector; and on a visit to China by the Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade [copies available from veritas@mango.zw].

Question Time was replaced by the Minister of Finance’s Fiscal Policy Review Statement.

Senate

Bills passed - On Thursday 19th July the Senate passed, without amendment, the three Bills received from the House of Assembly at the beginning of the week:

  • Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill [see note at the beginning of this bulletin].
  • Older Persons Bill [passed by the House without amendments on 12th July]
  • Electoral Amendment Bill [see note at the beginning of this bulletin].

The Bills now need to be assented to by the President and then gazetted as Acts before they can become law.

Parliamentary Legal Committee Adverse Reports on statutory instruments

The Senate did not continue with its discussion on these seventeen reports, so these agenda items have been carried forward to the 24th July.

Motions

The Senate approved Senator Makore’s motion calling on the Government to clear the Public Service payroll of ghost workers.

Question Time

The Minister of Labour and Social Welfare answered several questions about food relief, the grain loan scheme, and beggars in cities. The Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs was asked about the way the police deal with spot fines and gave an impromptu reply outlining in some detail what the law says on the subject. Points he made included the following:

  • spot fines are legal and constitutional
  • the maximum spot fine per offence is $20 [a level 3 fine]
  • spot fines are for use only for petty crimes where guilt is admitted by the offender – a crime warranting a fine of more than $20 should be taken to court
  • if the offender cannot pay on the spot, he or she can insist on paying at the nearest police station
  • records of all spot fines imposed are submitted to a magistrate to be reviewed, as a check to ensure police are acting within the law
  • the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs supports the proper use of the spot fine system because it helps to counter congestion of the court system by large numbers of petty cases in which guilt is admitted.

[Note: What is often not realised by members of the public is that the signing of an admission of guilt form, and payment of the spot fine requested, results in the offender being convicted of the offence concerned by the magistrate who reviews the form – section 356 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.]

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