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Opening of next Parliament announced & Acts assigned to President's Office - Bill Watch 49/2012
Veritas
October 22, 2012

The Official Opening of the Next Parliamentary Session will be on Tuesday 30th October

Neither House is sitting this week

President to Open Fifth and Final Session of Seventh Parliament

The Government Gazette of 19th October contained the President’s proclamation proroguing [ending] the current Parliamentary session on 29th October and fixing the following day, Tuesday 30th October, as the first day of the next session.

The President will perform the official opening at 12 noon on 30th October in the chamber of the House of Assembly. There will be all the pomp and circumstance customary on this annual occasion. After the President’s speech outlining the Government’s programme for the session, both Houses will adjourn to a later date still to be notified. The adjournment after an official opening is usually for at least two weeks, but it may be for a shorter period this time, given the long delayed opening of this next session and the amount of work that needs to be done by Parliament before the end of the year. [More details of the opening will be available nearer the date.]

All pending Parliamentary business lapses - Neither House will sit again, unless summoned, before the end of the present session on 29th October. At that point all uncompleted business will lapse, as laid down in Parliamentary Standing Orders. On the 30th October both Houses will start the new session with a clean slate. It is, however, possible in the next session for either House to pass resolutions restoring lapsed items to the Order Paper.

Last session of Seventh Parliament -The new session will be the fifth and last annual session of the present Parliament – Parliament’s five-year life-span will expire at the end of June 2013. The constitutional Referendum is due during the session. So if, after a Yes vote at the Referendum, Parliament adopts a new constitution, this session may also be the final Parliamentary session under the Lancaster House constitution.

President’s Office Takes Over Radiation Protection Act from Minister of Health

The President has removed responsibility for the administration of the Radiation Protection Act from the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and assigned it to “the Office of the President and Cabinet”. Contrary to a sensationally headlined article in one of the Sunday papers, this is the only change to the pre-existing situation made by two statutory instruments in the Government Gazette of 19th October:

  • SI 162/2012 – a list of Acts assigned to the Office of the President and Cabinet [replacing and repeating SI 49/2010 with the addition of the Radiation Protection Act]
  • SI 161/2012 – a list of Acts assigned to the Minister of Health and Child Welfare [replacing SI 66/2010 and omitting the Radiation Protection Act].

The Radiation Protection Act, which dates from 2004, establishes the Radiation Protection Authority and contains provisions designed to protect the public and workers from dangers resulting from the use or abuse of equipment or materials capable of producing ionizing radiation.

All the other Acts on the latest President’s Office list [see below] have been assigned to the President’s Office since at least 2010. These include the Interception of Communications Act, the National Security Council Act and the Procurement Act incorrectly highlighted in the weekend press as Acts newly assigned to the President’s Office in a sinister new concentration of power in the President’s hands.

MDC-T is also complaining that the President acted without consultation with the other GPA parties. In fact the only new complaint on this score can be directed towards the assignment of the Radiation Protection Act. They complained about the unilateral assignment of the other Acts when the President’s allocations of all Acts was gazetted in March 2010 [see Bill Watch 8/2010 of 6th March 2010. But this complaint was apparently never followed through.

Assignment of Administration of Acts to the President’s Office

[SI 162/2012 and SI 49/2010 available from veritas@mango.zw]

This is the full list of Acts assigned to the Office of the President and Cabinet in SI 162/2012:

The only new item on the list – see previous paragraph]

  • Radiation Protection Act

Repetition of list of Acts allocated by SI 49/2010

  • Commissions of Inquiry Act
  • Emergency Powers Act
  • Honours and Awards Act
  • Interception of Communications Act
  • Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act
  • Procurement Act
  • Research Act
  • Zimbabwe National Security Council Act

A Fundamental Legal Point Needing Clarification

As Bill Watch pointed out in 2010 when the Acts were originally assigned – there could be a legal objection to the assignment of responsibility for administering Acts of Parliament to the “Office of the President and Cabinet”. Under section 31D(1)(a) of the Constitution the President may appoint Ministers and assign functions to them, including the administration of any Act of Parliament; section 31C(2) allows him to assign similar functions to the Vice-Presidents. Both these sections envisage assignments to people — Ministers and Vice-Presidents — rather than to an amorphous organisation such as the Office of the President and Cabinet, which does not even have corporate personality in law. A Minister or a Vice-President is an identifiable person who is responsible to the President and answerable to Parliament for the proper administration of legislation that has been assigned to him or her, and who can be sued if he or she acts illegally. But if an Act is assigned to an organisation that is not even a corporate body, who can be held responsible?

Some of the Acts that have been assigned to the Office of the President and Cabinet contain references to “the Minister” and confer decision-making functions on that “Minister”. In those Acts, quite obviously, the Legislature envisaged a ““Minister” making the decisions, not an anonymous functionary in an amorphous office – the “Office of the President and Cabinet”.

Hence the legality of the “assignment” of these Acts is doubtful and could probably be challenged in court.

Undesirability of Assigning Acts to Unaccountable Bodies

Apart from the legal aspect, assigning an Act to an “Office” is undesirable. One of the assigned Acts is the Interception of Communications Act, which allows government agencies to tap phones and intercept communications if they are authorised to do so under a warrant issued by “the Minister” [originally the Minister of Transport and Communications]. Now, it seems, warrants are to be issued by a nameless bureaucrat or securocrat in the “Office of the President and Cabinet”. Ministers are identifiable and answerable to Parliament. Bureaucrats and securocrats are not. This has grave implications for protection of privacy of communications and freedom of expression.

Status of Bills as at 22nd October 2012

Private Member’s Bills held up pending Supreme Court decision

[See Bill Watch 20 and 21 of 15th May 2012]

Bill awaiting Second Reading

Bill being considered by Parliamentary Legal Committee

Bills gazetted and ready for presentation in Parliament

  • Microfinance Bill [gazetted on 31st August] [not yet available]

Government Gazette of 19th October

[copies not available unless stated as available]

Bills None

Statutory Instruments

Prorogation of Parliament and Start of New Session SI 166/2012 [Proclamation 4/2012] [see note at beginning of bulletin]

Administration of Acts SIs 161 and 162/2012 [see note above] [copies available]

Magistrates Courts Civil Jurisdiction SI 163/2012 is a set of rules made by the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs increasing the monetary jurisdictional limits of the magistrates courts in civil cases. The limits set by SI 21/2009 are replaced.

Collective bargaining agreements SIs 164 and 165/2012 spell out wages and allowances for the years 2010 and 2011.

General Notices

Government financial statements GN 481/2012 announces the publication as separate supplements to the Gazette of the consolidated statements of financial performance for July and August 2012, as required by the Public Finance Management Act.

Veritas makes every effort to ensure reliable information, but cannot take legal responsibility for information supplied

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