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Parliament started work last week - Bill Watch 48/2013
October 02, 2013
started work last week
Houses of Parliament are sitting this week
sat on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week. Attendance was
good and there were no unduly short sittings. Both Houses will sit
again this week, starting on Tuesday 1st October.
up in Parliament this week
[see below for
last week’s proceedings]
In both Houses
debate will continue on the President’s speech.
Motion on an
Inquiry into the Health Sector - Debate will continue on this motion,
following its introduction last Thursday. There are no other motions
on the Order Paper at the moment.
[Wednesday] - The Order Paper for Wednesday lists no written questions
with notice. But oral questions without notice will be allowed for
the first hour of Wednesday’s sitting. Questions are addressed
to Ministers, and when notice is given usually ask for details of
a Ministry’s achievements or lack of achievements either nationally
or in a particular constituency. Oral questions are usually more
general and ask about matters of Government policy. When a question
is on the agenda the Minister to whom it is addressed should make
a point of attending that sitting. During oral question time the
nature of the questions, and whether they get replies, will depend
on which Ministers are in attendance. During the last Parliament
Ministers tended to be conspicuous by their absence, and it is hoped
that more questions will be both asked and answered during this
The Senate Order
Paper lists no motions apart from the motion on the President’s
speech. There are no written questions with notice. Questions without
notice will be taken on Thursday afternoon.
in Parliament last week
Debate on the
President’s speech - Senators and members of the National
Assembly had one week within which to digest the President’s
speech at the opening of Parliament on 17th September. In both Houses
the debate on the President’s speech is opened with motions
being moved for the presentation of a respectful address to the
President in the following terms: “May it please you, your
Excellency the President: We, the Members of Parliament of Zimbabwe,
desire to express our loyalty to Zimbabwe and beg leave to offer
our respectful thanks for the speech which you have been pleased
to address to Parliament.”
The debate provides
an opportunity for all members of Parliament not only to discuss
the national issues raised by the President in his speech, but also
to display their knowledge of their constituencies and provinces
and to voice the concerns of the people they represent. [Bill
Watch 47/2013 of 20th September outlined the content of the
President’s speech, concentrating on the legislative agenda
he laid out for legislators in the coming Parliamentary session.]
It is during this debate that new members of Parliament often make
their maiden speeches.
No Bills so
far - No Bills have been gazetted as a preliminary to their introduction
in Parliament. Although the President mentioned that the Government
would be bringing a respectably large number of Bills to Parliament
[see Bill Watch 47/2013], it is probably too soon to expect Ministers
to bring forward Bills at this early stage in the life of a new
Government and Parliament. For example, the new Minister of Lands
and Rural Resettlement, Dr Douglas Mombeshora, said on Monday that
that his Ministry is drafting the Land Commission Bill, which is
one of the Bills mentioned by the President. If the Ministry is
still drafting this Bill, it is probably months before it will get
All three sittings saw good attendance: with about 220 members present
each day out of a possible 270. [Note: The attendance list that
features in each day’s Votes and Proceedings does not necessarily
mean that each member listed as present was in the House the whole
afternoon. Members are marked as present if they enter the Assembly,
even if they do not stay for long.] The impossibility of accommodating
all members in the chamber of the House became apparent when some
members, unable to find seats, had to stand in the aisles.
Motion on inquiry
into health sector - The whole of Thursday afternoon was taken up
by a motion calling for a portfolio committee inquiry into the health
sector introduced by new MDC-T MP Dr Ruth Labode, a party-list member
from Matabeleland North. Dr Labode is MDC-T Shadow Minister for
Health and Child Welfare. Her motion was seconded by another new
MDC-T MP, Dr Peter Mataruse, who is Shadow Minister for Higher &
Tertiary Education, Science & Technology Development. The motion
was well received by both sides of the House and several maiden
speeches were made during the debate, which lasted until the House
rose just after 4.30 pm.
[Wednesday] - No written questions with notice had been tabled,
but there were enough Ministers present to allow backbenchers to
use up the entire hour set aside for oral questions.
As in the National Assembly, attendance figures were good: 63, 66
and 64 out of a possible 78. There are already two vacancies in
the 80 member Senate, as pointed out in Bill
Watch 44/2013 of 6th September.
persons with disabilities - The Senate approved a suspension of
Standing Orders to permit the presence in the Senate chamber of
the assistants of the two Senators representing persons with disabilities.
Motions - The
only motion debated was the one on the President’s speech,
already mentioned above.
[Thursday] - As in the National Assembly, no written questions with
notice had been tabled, but Senators kept those Ministers present
busy answering oral questions without notice on Government policy.
Rules and Orders Committee
This, the most
important Parliamentary committee, is provided for in section 151
of the Constitution.
- be constituted
“as soon as possible after the beginning of the first session
of each Parliament” and
- have members
“selected so that the committee reflects as nearly as possible
the political and gender composition of the combined Houses of
Rules and Orders Committee [SROC] is chaired by the Speaker or,
in his absence, by the President of the Senate. Its membership is
a mix of ex officio and appointed or elected members: two members
appointed by the President, one member appointed by the Speaker
and one by the President of the Senate, and eight elected members
[four backbench Senators elected by the Senate and four backbench
members of the National Assembly elected by the National Assembly].
Until these appointments have been made and the backbench members
elected, the committee cannot be constituted.
In terms of
section 139 of the Constitution, the proceedings of the Senate and
the National Assembly are regulated by rules known as Standing Orders.
These rules must be made by the Houses, individually or jointly,
on the recommendation of the SROC. So, as section 151 of the Constitution
explicitly recognises, an important function of the SROC is formulating
Standing Orders and recommending them to the Houses for adoption.
Orders that dovetail with the new Constitution are badly needed.
For instance, section 140 of the Constitution allows Standing Orders
to provide for the President to attend Parliament to answer questions
“on any issue” and MPs have already expressed the need
for this to be done. Draft new Standing Orders, including provision
for Presidential question time, are being prepared by the staff
of Parliament for consideration by the SROC when it is constituted.
Standing Orders of the previous Parliament, suitably modified where
necessary to meet the changed circumstances brought about by the
new Constitution, will regulate proceedings in both Houses until
they are replaced.
Legal Committee and other committees
such as the Parliamentary Legal Committee, Public Accounts Committee,
National Assembly Portfolio Committees and Senate Thematic Committees
are appointed by the SROC. The setting-up of these committees, therefore,
will have to wait for the SROC to be constituted.
The need for
this committee to be up and running has already become apparent.
The principal purpose of this committee is to scrutinise Bills and
statutory instruments for consistency with the Constitution, particularly
but not exclusively the Declaration of Rights. A recent statutory
instrument, gazetted last week, raises serious issues of compatibility
with the Declaration of Rights. [See next Bill Watch for details
of this SI on telephone subscriber registration.]
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