Bill Watch 37/2012 of 6th August

Parliament Recalled to Sit on Tuesday 7th August

At President Mugabe’s request, the Speaker and the President of the Senate have recalled the House of Assembly and the Senate to sit from Tuesday 7th August. They had adjourned until 3rd September. Parliamentary Standing Orders permit the presiding officers to take this step at the request of the President if they are satisfied that the public interest so requires. [House of Assembly Standing Order 187, Senate Standing Order 194.]

Note Parliamentary Committees are still in abeyance until the start of new [5th] session of Parliament

Reason for Recall

To Ratify Chinese Loan for Victoria Falls Airport Upgrading

The Clerk of Parliament announced the recall late on 3rd August and said that the recall is “to consider the ratification of agreements and urgent public business”. No further details of the agenda items were given in the statement, but one agreement coming up is for a $164 million loan from China to finance the upgrading of the Victoria Falls airport ahead of next year’s UNWTO Congress. [Copy of agreement not yet available.] Parliament's approval of international agreements with financial ramifications for the Government is required by section 111B of the Constitution. The signing of this and several other financial agreements between Zimbabwe and China was announced in early April during a visit by Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu. Minister of Finance Tendai Biti signed for Zimbabwe.

Comment: If the deal was signed in April, it would have been sensible to bring it to Parliament any time since then while it was still sitting. It is very costly to the nation to recall Parliament. Recalls to secure urgent approval of Chinese loan agreements signed months previously are fast becoming a Government habit. The last such recall was in May 2011, when a long adjournment was interrupted to allow the Minister of Defence to get Parliamentary approval of a controversial loan agreement between Zimbabwe and China to finance the construction of the National Defence College. The recall coincided with a visit to Zimbabwe by a high-level Chinese military delegation. On that occasion MPs from both MDC formations complained that Parliamentarians were being railroaded into rubberstamping a transaction they had not had enough time to consider properly; and there was public outrage over the Government’s handling of the deal.

Other Business?

Although the Clerk of Parliament did not mention what other business Parliament would deal with – it is permitted, by the Standing Orders used to recall Parliament, for the Houses to resume work on outstanding agenda items. It is hoped that this will be done, considering the expense of the recall.

• Items still on the House of Assembly agenda include: presentation of the report of the Privileges Committee on the contempt of Parliament charges against Mr Arafas Gwaradzimba; Hon Sululu’s motion on the need for monitoring Government implementation of Portfolio Committee recommendations; Hon Zhanda’s motion calling for a Parliamentary investigation into allegations of corruption at the Reserve Bank; and Hon Musundire’s motion for the scrapping of the present Indigenisation Regulations; as well as “take note” motions for discussion of recent Portfolio Committee reports.

• An important issue still to be dealt with in the Senate is the backlog of Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] adverse reports on statutory instruments. It is hoped that these can be satisfactorily cleared; it would be regrettable to have a repeat of what happened at the end of the Third Session, when adverse reports, including one on an indigenisation SI, lapsed and were not heard of again.

Developments on PLC Adverse Reports on Statutory Instruments

Controls on entry into an army secondary school in Kadoma The Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] reported adversely on SI 61/2012, issued under the Defence Act, which declared the site of the new Army boarding school in Kadoma to be a military cantonment. The effect of the SI was to make entry into the school site without the permission of the officer in charge a criminal offence. The Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs – who has Ministerial responsibility for matters involving the implementation of the current Constitution – has accepted the PLC’s view and has advised the Minister of Defence that the SI must be repealed. A new SI to give effect to the repeal is awaited.

Penalties in local authority by-laws During the current Parliamentary session there have an unprecedented number of adverse reports by the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] on penalty provisions in local authority by-laws. 16 such reports, all on the same lines, have been presented, but not yet voted on, in the Senate by PLC chairperson Mushonga.

The PLC’s objection to these by-laws focuses on the need to protect the public from the abuse by councils and council officials of provisions in local authority by-laws on fee-charging and imposing penalties. The PLC says the way in which penalty-creating provisions are applied by councils and their officials infringes an alleged offender’s right to due process as laid down in the Constitution and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [CPEA]. An example of the abuse is that fines in practice are being imposed and collected by municipal police officers and receipted by municipal officials without reference to a court. This offends against the procedure laid down by CPEA for admission of guilt deposit fines and the processing of such fines under the supervision of the magistrates court.

The Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs has discussed these adverse reports with the PLC and an agreed position has been arrived at, as follows:

• language in by-laws will be tightened up to distinguish between fees and charges for services and penalties or fines for criminal offences

• by-laws will make it clear that deposit [spot] fines cannot exceed $20 [level 3] and that levying of these fines must be strictly in accordance with the CPEA, i.e., the paper work must be vetted by a magistrate

• municipal officials will be gazetted as “prescribed officers” under the CPEA, with power to invite and receive deposit [spot] fines under the CPEA procedures.

As the agreed position document is in general terms, it is expected to result not only in changes to by-laws already singled out by the PLC as constitutionally defective, but also to avoid similar problems in future by-laws.

New mining fees [SI 11/2012] This much-criticised SI also attracted an adverse report from the PLC. Both the Minister of Mines and Mining Development and the Minister of Finance have said the tariff of fees is being reviewed, but it is taking an inordinately long time to gazette a new SI.

Other statutory instruments affected by adverse reports Government reaction to other PLC adverse reports on SIs is still awaited. These include reports on: an amendment to the VAT fiscalised cash register regulations [SI 153/2011] and sub-catchment council rates under the Water Act [SIs 127/2011 and 10/2012].

Under the Constitution, the Senate’s adoption of a PLC adverse report means that the President must repeal the statutory instrument concerned or the particular provision/s in it condemned by the PLC reports as unconstitutional. The only way this can be stopped is for the responsible Minister to take remedial action to alter the unconstitutional provisions in the statutory instrument – or if the House of Assembly were to promptly pass a resolution overruling the Senate.

Status of Bills

[only one new item since Bill Watch 36/2012 – see Microfinance Bill below]

[Bills available from [email protected] unless otherwise stated]

Passed Bills being prepared for Presidential assent before gazetting as Acts

Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill

Electoral Amendment Bill

Older Persons Bill

Appropriation (2012) Amendment Bill

Finance Bill

Bills being printed for gazetting before presentation [not yet available]

Securities Amendment Bill

Micro-Finance Bill [This has recently been sent to the Government Printer. In his 2012 Mid-Term Monetary Policy Statement Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono said this Bill was a response to the inadequate legislative provisions for the microfinance sector, and referred to input received from a technical committee comprising the Reserve Bank, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Small to Medium Enterprises, Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, Zimbabwe Association of Microfinance Institutions and the World Bank local office.]

Bill approved by Cabinet, but not yet in ready

Income Tax Bill – mentioned by the Minister of Finance in his Mid-Year Fiscal Policy Review [Bill not yet available]

Government Gazettes of 1st and 3rd August

[copies not available]

This week saw a Budget-related Gazette Extraordinary on 1st August in addition to the regular weekly Gazette on 3rd August.

Statutory Instruments

Excise duty on fuel SI 129/2012, gazetted on 1st August is a Customs and Excise Tariff Amendment increasing excise duty on petrol and diesel from 20c to 25c per litre, with effect from 1st August. [In his Mid-Year Fiscal Policy Review the Minister of Finance said Government did not expect this increase to cause price increases for petrol or diesel, given the marked drop in the international price of crude oil. Strict arrangements would therefore be put in place to monitor retail prices.]

Collective bargaining agreement for agricultural industry SI 130/2012 sets out new wages applicable from June 2012.

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