[29th July 2014]
The Senate & National Assembly Will Not Sit Again until 26th August
Zimbabwe Gender Commission Bill
This Bill was gazetted on 25th July [soft copy of Bill available from Veritas at the addresses given at the end of this bulletin]. It will in due course be presented to Parliament by the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development. If passed into law, the Bill will become the enabling Act for the new Gender Commission established by the Constitution.
Presentation in Parliament In terms of Parliamentary Standing Orders the Bill will qualify for introduction in Parliament 14 days after its gazetting. It could therefore be introduced, have its first reading and be referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] when Parliament sits again on 26th August. Until the PLC has reported the Bill cannot proceed to the Second Reading stage.
Portfolio Committee public hearings Standing Orders oblige the relevant portfolio committee [Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development] to start work on the Bill immediately on gazetting with the aim of being ready with a report for the National Assembly when it comes to the Bill’s Second Reading stage. In accordance with constitutional requirements the committee will consult the public and will hold public hearings on the Bill for that purpose [programme yet to be announced].
In fact the committee has already been busy in preparation for public hearings. On 23rd July its members – along with members of the Women’s Caucus and the Thematic Committee on Gender and Development – benefited from a “sensitisation workshop” on the Bill organised by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development.
Summary and analysis of the Bill will be provided in a separate bulletin.
Appointment of Commission members Although established on paper by section 245 of the Constitution, the Commission does not yet exist in fact because it has no members. The process for the eventual appointment of its founding members by the President began in April, when Parliament called on the public to nominate candidates for appointment. The deadline given for submission of nominations was 23rd May [see Constitution Watch 3/2014 of 28th April, in which the appointment process was explained]. Parliament has not yet announced when the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders [CSRO] will conduct the public interviews of nominated candidate.
Parliament Invites Nominations of Candidates for Appointment to
Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission [ZACC]
Parliament has called on the public to nominate candidates for appointment to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission [Constitution Watch 7/2014 of 28th July gives the details].
Electoral Amendment Act to President for Assent
General Notice 274/2014, gazetted over the name of the President of the Senate in the Government Gazette of 25th July, gives public notice that on 16th July the Electoral Amendment Act was sent to the President for his assent. The President has 21 days within which to decide whether or not to assent, which gives him until 6th August. Once the President has given his assent the Act must be gazetted. Only then will it become law as Act 6/2014.
Will There be a Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review This Year?
It has become customary for the Minister responsible for finance to present a comprehensive Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review to Parliament in July each year. Appearing before the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Finance and Economic Development on 21st July, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Patrick Chinamasa said he was not sure whether he would do so this year, but would consider whether it was necessary to do so. [Note: However desirable such a review may be, neither the Constitution nor the Public Finance Management Act oblige the Minister to present a mid-year fiscal policy review.]
In Parliament Recently
Adjournment to 26th August At close of business on Thursday 24th July both Houses adjourned until Tuesday 26th August. This meant a departure from the newly-released Sitting Calendar [see further below]. Committees will break from 8th to 25th August.
By the adjournment, the Houses had met three afternoons a week for four weeks running since resuming on 1st July, making a total of twelve July sittings for each House.
No Bills dealt with by either House Only two Bills featured on the National Assembly Order Paper during the month:
• Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill [awaiting its Committee Stage and consideration of proposed amendments]
• Income Tax Bill [passed by the last Parliament but returned by the President in December 2013 for reconsideration of certain reservations].
They have remained unattended to since December and March, respectively, and were not dealt with during July. They seem to have been relegated to the back burner for the time being. Both Bills are the responsibility of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development.
No Bills reached the Senate during July.
Presiding officers admonish Ministers for neglecting Parliamentary duties
On Thursday 24th July the Speaker and the President of the Senate started business by making identical statements to members present in the National Assembly and Senate about what they described as “a very worrying trend” of some Ministers and Deputy Ministers “prioritising other commitments to the detriment of the business of Parliament”. As a result motions remained on the Order Paper from last year because debates could not be concluded for lack of responses from relevant Ministers. Citing sections 104, 107 and 119 of the Constitution, the presiding officers stated that Ministers and their deputies have “an inescapable obligation to attend to their Parliamentary duties as an integral part of the functions the President assigns to them” and that Parliament has its own constitutional mandate to protect the Constitution and promote democratic governance in Zimbabwe. Ministers and Deputy Ministers who persistently prioritise other duties above Parliamentary duties will be reprimanded by the National Assembly or the Senate, as appropriate, and if that does not produce the desired effect, the Houses “will be left with no option but to invoke other constitutional powers at its disposal, including contempt of Parliament”. [Statements available from Veritas from the addresses given at the end of this bulletin.]
Speaker admonishes MPs for absenteeism and lack of diligence
In the National Assembly, the Speaker, having concluded the warning to Ministers and Deputy Ministers described above, tackled the “equally worrying tendency” by some MPs who were in the habit of putting down motions and then abandoning or failing to move them in the House, or absenting themselves from the House during question time, after their motions or questions appeared on the Order Paper. Some members, the Speaker said, either constantly miss sittings of the House, or attend for just a few minutes to have their names marked as present, or do not attend portfolio committee meetings regularly, thus undermining the work of committees. MPs were warned that the Speaker will:
• “name and shame” the members concerned, and
• ask the Business of the House Committee to remove motions and questions from the Order Paper after a specified period has elapsed.
Parliamentary Sitting Calendar for 2014 Released
and Promptly Corrected
The Sitting Calendar for 2014 was released to MPs and the public on 17th July. It showed that both Houses would sit from 5th to 7th August and again from 19th to 21st August, but not during the week in between when the nation would be celebrating Heroes Day and Defence Forces Day, both public holidays. Only a week later, on 24th July, the Speaker and the President of the Senate informed both Houses of an error in this calendar: the Senate and the National Assembly would adjourn later in the day and not sit again until Tuesday 26th August. [Calendar available from Veritas from the addresses given at the end of this bulletin.]
Under section 146 of the Constitution, which is headed Sittings and recess periods each House of Parliament determines the time and duration of its sittings and its periods of recess. This is subject to three qualifications:
• the President decides the date of Parliament’s first sitting after a general election, but must fix a date no later than 30 days after he or she has assumed office as President [Constitution, section 145]
• the President may interrupt a period of recess at any time by summoning Parliament to conduct “special business”
• no more than 180 days may elapse between sittings of a House.
Comment: This means the President no longer has the power he formerly possessed, to terminate a “session” by “proroguing” Parliament and to start the next session by summoning MPs to meet. Indeed, the terms “session” and “prorogue” do not feature in the new Constitution. Parliament, however, is still referring to “sessions”; for example, the headings of the daily Votes and Proceedings and Hansards include the words “First Session – Eighth Parliament” and the Sitting Calendar says that the “First Session” will be at the end of August. This usage is now a matter of Parliamentary habit, rather than constitutional necessity.
Withdrawal of Adverse Reports: PLC Explains
Adverse report on SI 142/2013 The chairperson of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, Hon Samukange, appeared in the Senate on 22nd July to withdraw the Committee’s adverse report on SI 142/2013, following its withdrawal in the National Assembly on 10th July. For the benefit of Senators, Hon Samukange added an explanation of the withdrawal, referring to the fact that as a result of an “amendment” the provision the PLC had considered unconstitutional no longer existed. Police officers wanting access to the database of subscriber information would now, he said, have to get permission from a magistrate or judge.
Note: The “amendment” was in fact a new SI 95/2014 which repealed and re-enacted SI 142 with a few changes concerning access to the database. See Bill Watch 29/2014 of 21st July for a discussion of SI 95/2014, and a suggestion that the changes may not in fact have satisfied the adverse report’s insistence on judicial oversight of access to the database.
Adverse report on SI 156/2013: Deposit Protection Corporation Regulations
While in the Senate, Hon Samukange also withdrew the PLC’s adverse report on SI 156/2013. This SI has also been repealed and re-enacted by a new SI. The new SI 93/2014 has been modified to meet the PLC’s objections, which raised issues of ultra vires [going beyond the scope of the regulation-making powers granted by the enabling Act] rather than constitutionality.
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