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Parliament resumes Tuesday 5th February – Bill Watch 4/2013
Veritas
February 04, 2013

Both Houses of Parliament Will Resume Sitting on Tuesday 5th February

Draft Constitution to be Tabled in Parliament 5th February

When will the Parliamentary debate start?

At a press conference at 6 pm on 31st January the Constitution Select Committee [COPAC] officially announced its intention to table the draft and present the Select Committee’s report when Parliament resumes on Tuesday 5th February. COPAC have emphasised that:

  • the draft is for MPs’ information only - it is only if there is a YES vote in the Referendum that it will be gazetted as a Bill which they will be asked to pass.
  • only the report will be debated
  • they expect the debate to end on Thursday with the adoption of the report.

There is no other equally pressing business competing for Parliamentary time [see below] so completion of the proceedings this week is achievable - unless Parliament insists on debate. But, as the Principals have reached agreement and both MDC parties and the ZANU-PF Politburo have thrown their weight behind the Principals’ agreement, and SADC has been told the constitution is ready for Referendum, the Parliamentary Party Caucuses and Whips will have strict instructions to adhere to COPAC’s timetable.

As the COPAC Select Committee is a joint committee of both Houses, the draft constitution and the report must go to the Senate as well as the House of Assembly. The Senate proceedings can run at the same time as those in the House; there is no need for the Senate to wait until the House of Assembly has finished.

Although private members’ business usually has precedence on Wednesdays in the House of Assembly and Thursday in the Senate, the importance and urgency of the debate on the COPAC report should override everything else.

Little time left

An early conclusion to the proceedings in Parliament is needed – even though Article 6 of the GPA allows Parliament up to a month. Time is very tight. If the Referendum is to be held before the end of March or in early April, and the end of June is now being touted as an election date, the sooner the proceedings are over and the draft constitution can be taken to the country the better.

Also on the Agenda in Parliament this Coming Week

House of Assembly

Bills No Bills are on the Order Paper for when the House resumes. The current Bills and the stages they have reached are as follows:

  • Microfinance Bill - still being considered by the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] after its First Reading last year. The Second Reading stage of this Bill cannot commence until the PLC has presented its report.
  • Income Tax Bill - gazetted, but has not yet had its First Reading. It awaits introduction by the Minister of Finance. After First Reading it will have to go to the PLC for its report on the Bill’s constitutionality.
  • Securities Amendment Bill - introduced last Session and considered by the PLC but lapsed at the end of the Session before the presentation of the PLC’s non-adverse report. The Minister of Finance needs to get the House to restore it to the Order Paper, so that the Second Reading stage can begin.
  • Attorney General’s Office Amendment Bill - not yet gazetted, so cannot be introduced yet. The page-proofs are still with the drafter for checking, so it is unlikely to feature in the House until the following week.

[The first three Bills are available from veritas@mango.zw. The Attorney General’s Office Amendment Bill is NOT yet available.]

Motions In order of appearance on the Order Paper for 5th February, after the usual motion of thanks to the President for his speech opening the Session, the list includes motions calling for:

  • all Government departments to remit all revenues collected directly to Treasury, without retaining funds for own use, and Treasury to ensure adequate remuneration of Government workers
  • Hwahwa, Skhombula and Gonakudzingwa prisons to be recognised as monuments in honour of leaders such as President Mugabe and late Vice-President Nkomo and others who underwent imprisonment in them.
  • the Sports Minister to dissolve the Sports and Recreation Commission and make recommendations to Parliament for the achievement of success in al sporting disciplines, and the Finance Minister to allocate adequate resources for sports development.

Senate

Bills

No Bills are listed on the Order Paper.

Motions - Apart from the motion of thanks to the President for his speech opening the Session, the only motion listed for discussion is MDC-T Senator Marava’s motion calling for Government action towards eventually abolishing the death penalty, and in the interim the establishment of a legally binding moratorium on the passing of any more death sentences. [Note: Journalists invited by the Commissioner of Prisons on an official press tour of Harare Central Remand Prison on 1st February were told that there have been no executions in the past 12 years and that there are 76 prisoners, 2 of them women, awaiting execution.]

Private Member’s Bills

Urban Councils Private Member’s Bill Case: Supreme Court Reserves Judgment

The Supreme Court has reserved judgment in this case, having heard argument from both sides in the constitutional application in which Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development seeks an order stopping Parliamentary proceedings on the Private Member’s Bill to amend the Urban Councils Act. Bill Watch 1/2013 explained the background to the case and its ramifications.

Pending the Supreme Court’s decision, further proceedings on this Bill are still suspended in terms of the Speaker’s sub judice ruling of 15th May 2012.

Others - Two other Private Member’s Bills reached Parliament last Session, but lapsed uncompleted at the end of the Session:

  • POSA Amendment Bill –This was stalled in the Senate all last Session, so has gone for well over a year without being dealt with by the Senate. Mr Gonese has indicated that he intends to ask the House of Assembly to send the Bill, as passed by the House, to the President for assent – as allowed by the Constitution [see Bill Watch 2/2013 of 18th January].
  • Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill – Mr Gonese has already put down a motion seeking leave to restore to the Order Paper his original motion, introduced last Session, to bring up this Bill, which would repeal section 121(3) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [see see Bill Watch 2/2013 of 18th January].

It remains to be seen whether MDC-T MPs will continue to observe the apparent de facto moratorium on these other Private Member’s Bills that we referred to in Bill Watch 2/2013 of 18th January.

In the Pipeline

Media Bill MDC-T MP Settlement Chikwinya has not yet put down a motion seeking leave to bring up his proposed Media Freedom and Transparency Bill. MDC-T have said they must have media reform [among a raft of other reforms] before the election. Opposition from ZANU-PF is likely – speaking for ZANU-PF, Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs Chinamasa has rejected the idea of media reform at this stage. [Note Zimbabwe has dropped 16 places to 133 out of 179 in the latest Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters without Borders.]

Death of Vice-President Nkomo Affects House Voting Strengths

The death on 17th January of Vice-President John Landa Nkomo altered voting strengths in the House of Assembly to:

  • ZANU-PF 91, MDC-T 96, MDC 8.

No by-election is required to fill the seat, as this was an ex officio seat attached to the vice-presidency, not a constituency seat.

Were it not for the GPA, it would not be necessary for this second Vice-President’s post to be filled. Section 31C of the Constitution allows for one or two Vice-Presidents, as the President sees fit. But Article 20 of the GPA, which is in Schedule 8 and has temporary constitutional status for the duration of the GPA, envisages that there will be two Vice-Presidents, to be nominated by the President and/or ZANU-PF.

[Note: ZANU-PF’s Constitution and the 1987 Unity Accord require the party to have two vice-presidents.]

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