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MDC-T Chief Whip Innocent Gonese on POSA amendments
Lance Guma, SW Radio Africa
October 12, 2010

The Public Order and Security Amendment Bill, brought to Parliament by MDC-T Chief Whip Innocent Gonese, went through its second reading stage on Tuesday. On Behind the Headlines SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to the Mutare Central legislator and finds out what his proposed Bill is seeking to change in the draconian POSA.

Interview broadcast 07 October 2010

Lance Guma: Hallo Zimbabwe and welcome to Behind the Headlines. Now this week the Public Order and Security Amendment Bill brought to parliament by MDC Chief Whip Innocent Gonese went through its second reading stage on Tuesday. Now for more on this story and what the Amendment Bill is meant to achieve we have the MDC-T Chief Whip, Mr Innocent Gonese joining us on the programme. Va Gonese thank you for joining us.

Innocent Gonese: Good afternoon Lance, how are you?

Guma: Right, first things - this is classed as a Private Member's Bill - clarify that for our listeners - why is it called that?

Gonese: Well what happens is that in terms of our system under the usual circumstances, Bills are introduced by cabinet ministers and they will be emanating from the executive but in terms of the procedures and systems under which parliament operates it is permissible for a member who is not a member of the executive, a back bencher like myself to introduce a Bill.

What I realised was that there was that gap in the sense that although the GPA made it quite clear that we must democratise our laws and that laws such as POSA needed to be improved and nothing was happening, I did feel that it was important to introduce the Bill as a Private Member because it is something that is allowed in terms of the standing rules and orders of parliament and also in terms of the constitution.

And that's what it actually means it's a Bill which is not emanating from the executive arm of the government.

Guma: OK. Can we draw any conclusions from the fact that ordinarily we would have expected maybe the Justice minister or someone from Home Affairs to have pushed this through do we draw any conclusions from the fact that it's a private member who's actually sought these amendments?

Gonese: Well definitely. What it means is that the government was a bit slow in terms of introducing this kind of legislation. In terms of the nature and spirit of the Global Political Agreement it was made quite clear that we need to have such laws to be introduced but because it was taking rather long, it was quite clear that some initiative had to be done in order to ensure that I know the freedoms of the people of Zimbabwe which are sacrosanct and which are guaranteed by the constitution can be enhanced and that was the main motivation in bringing this Bill to parliament.

Guma: OK so we are told the Bill went through its second reading stage on Tuesday. Explain the process for us, from the second reading stage, what happens?

Gonese: Yah first of all let me clarify what second reading entails. The second reading is actually the stage where you discuss or debate the objective, the principles underlining the Bill and at that stage that is when all members of parliament who wish to contribute to the general principles, so in other words a general debate without necessarily going into the specifics, that is the stage that we dealt with on Tuesday although that stage actually commenced in the last session of parliament to be precise on the 18th of March 2010 when I introduced the second reading debate.

I debated together with and we also received a report from the portfolio committee on Defence and Home Affairs. After that we adjourned parliament for the outreach programme and it is only now that we are able to review the debate on the Bill.

So that stage was completed on Tuesday and whilst that is being done we're now going into the committee stage and at the committee stage that's when we then go into the Bill clause by clause to discuss the various clauses and at that stage some indications have been made that members from ZANU PF might wish to have some amendments and I've not yet heard what particular changes they might like to have.

As long as those amendments do not change the primary objective of the Amendment Bill, they would be welcome. So up to now I haven't had a discussion with Honourable Paul Mangwana who I understand would like to make some suggestions.

So at that stage, when we are at the committee stage, that's when we can then discuss the various clauses and if there are any minor changes to be made, and I want to emphasise that those changes have to be minor otherwise it will really destroy the whole essence of bringing an Amendment Bill to parliament if you are going to make drastic changes.

Guma: OK, now before we get to the actual clauses that you are putting forward as amendments, there was some rather surprising support for the Bill from several ZANU PF MPs. Did you think that support was genuine?

Gonese: Well actually I had a very pleasant surprise and sometimes I would think like this happens one wants to take them positively. The basic point obviously is that the members who contributed are private members and I think that if they also listened to the report of the portfolio committee, on Defence and Home Affairs, it was quite clear that the majority of Zimbabweans would actually want the Bill to be repealed, to be expunged from our statute books.

So I want to think that that kind of support came from a realisation that the majority of Zimbabweans would like to see an improvement to this particular piece of legislation. Obviously the mood that was in the House it was quite clear that generally speaking people were in favour of the Bill and I found that a bit surprising but it was a pleasant surprise all the same and I want to hope that this is the beginning of better things to come in future and that our attitude as legislators would be more informed by what is in the best interests of the people of Zimbabwe.

Guma: Now it has been suggested by some commentators that it's only recently that the US and EU governments refused to remove targeted sanctions on members of the Mugabe regime so do you think maybe ZANU PF MPs supporting your Bill are making the right noises out of convenience?

Gonese: Well it's difficult to draw conclusions of this nature at this particular point in time. I think in the fullness of time we will be able to tell exactly what is motivating (inaudible) But at the same time I would also want to say that obviously members of parliament do have the right sometimes to think independently and I think at the fullness of time if we are able to steer this Bill through both Houses of parliament then that will be a better indication of the attitude, whether there has been a genuine change of attitude.

Guma: OK, now we know the Public Order and Security Act, otherwise known as POSA has been used countless times to suppress freedom of expression and movement, what are you suggesting as amendments? Without going into too much details, what is the essence of what you are trying to change via this Bill?

Gonese: The essence of this Bill really is to try to ensure that the police have a better understanding of their role. That is why for instance in the definition section we actually want to have a clause which actually emphasises that our freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and all other freedoms are enshrined in our constitution, and that our legislation must be in accordance with that spirit which is enshrined in the constitution.

And the Bill also emphasises that the police have to undergo some kind of training and these are actually in furthering the objectives stated in the Global Political Agreement that it is actually necessary to have our police having a better understanding of human rights and so on and so forth so that they have a better understanding and then they can apply the law in a way which is different from what they have been doing in the past.

Guma: Is it likely then that this Amendment Bill will be pushed through before the next elections because everyone is talking about the forthcoming elections, whether they will be in 2011 . . .

Gonese: Yah in terms of the timeframe there shouldn't be any difficulty because right now next week parliament sits if we are able to get through the clauses, the committee stage then next step will be to go to the Senate. The question really is even if the Bill is passed by both houses it still awaits Presidential assent.

Otherwise those changes will make it easier for people to express themselves. We are proposing for example that the notice periods required for public demonstrations be reduced from 7 to 4 (days). That will make it easier for people who want to organise public demonstrations.

We are also envisaging a situation where if the Amendment Bill is passed people will be able to express themselves before their elected representative, because currently people cannot demonstrate outside the buildings of parliament, that will be removed.

If people want to express themselves and make their views known to the courts for instance then that can also be done but obviously there will still be the requirements that they notify the police so that the police are aware that this is the intention of that particular group of people.

But you see the current law is too restrictive and that is why I moved for these changes which will actually improve the current Act.

Guma: Now from the countless interviews that we've done with pressure groups like WOZA, a dominant theme that has always come out is the interpretation of the police is always that demonstrators need their permission and human rights activists have stated that they don't need police permission under POSA. Is this something your Amendment Bill will seek to clarify and make sure there are no grey areas?

Gonese: Well that is exactly, that is precisely the point. This is also the reason why the Amendment Bill if it is passed would then make it clearer that the police themselves actually need reorientation. Also their powers have been reduced because where for instance directions need to be given this time it's not the police who have that power if they want to give any directions for public demonstrations so if they want to impose any measures, they will then have to appeal to the judicial authority, to the magistrate.

So in other words (inaudible) we'll also be taking away some of these powers from the police and give them to a judicial officer like a magistrate and the police would then not have the power like now where they can simply say that as far as they are concerned they refuse permission for a demonstration.

Because currently they don't believe, some of them believe, some don't, some actually know the true state of affairs but the problem that you have is that they will be following superior orders but to avoid any doubt it will be necessary to have the law legislated in such a way that everyone is getting a common understanding of what the provision actually entails.

Guma: OK, so apart from the Public Order and Security Amendment Bill which you are pushing through as a private member, what else is on the legislative agenda? Which other draconian pieces of legislation are set to be tackled by this parliament?

Gonese: Well unfortunately when we had the opening of the first session of parliament among the bills which the President indicated would be coming to parliament, we don't find some of those which we (inaudible) for example, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, AIPPA. We would have expected that should be one which would be amended.

Unfortunately that is not happening. Most of the other bills really are not the ones we were expecting but be that as it may, we still have other bills like the Electoral Amendment which might be coming to parliament shortly, I has not yet been gazetted but hopefully that one will make our elections easier to manage if we've got an improvement to the current electoral law.

Guma: Well that's the MDC-T Chief Whip Innocent Gonese joining us on Behind the Headlines. Va Gonese thank you so much for your time.

Gonese: OK thank you very much Lance.

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