Bill Watch 37/2014 of 24th September

Last Week of the Present Parliamentary Session

Houses Resolve to End “Session” on 25th September

Last week both Houses of Parliament resolved that “the First Session of the Eighth Parliament will end on Thursday 25th September 2014”. [Full text of the resolutions available from the addresses given at the end of this bulletin.]

This is the first time in the history of the Zimbabwe Parliament that the Houses have had the power to do this. The Constitution makes provision for each House of Parliament to “determine the time and duration of its sittings … and its periods of recess” [section 146]. Under the former Constitution it was the President who, by way of Presidential proclamation, fixed the opening date of each session and later ended it by “proroguing” Parliament [i.e., putting it in a state of abeyance until he saw fit to summon it back for the next session].

It should be noted that some confusion may arise from the terminology of the resolution:

• The Constitution does not use the term “session”. The term comes from the former Constitution in which the life of each Parliament was divided into annual sessions.

• There seems no serious objection to Parliament’s continuing, for the sake of convenience, to use the term “session” to denote the series of sittings making up each Parliamentary year. [It has continued to use “session” right from the start of the present Parliament. The daily Hansards and Votes and Proceedings, for example, have all been headed “First Session – Eighth Parliament”]

• Care should be taken, however, that Parliament does not, by using the previous Constitution’s terminology of “sessions”, hand back to the President his former power to determine the start and end of these so-called “sessions”. It would be advisable for Parliament’s new Standing Orders [still awaited] to explain exactly what this Parliament means when it uses the word “session”.

President to Open New “Session”

The warning in the preceding paragraph may be particularly pertinent in view of the fact that both Houses, in the same resolutions, also resolved—

• to maintain the convention of having the President officially opening the “sessions” of Parliament every year

• that the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the National Assembly invite the President to officially open Parliament “on a convenient date”.

Both Houses stated that maintaining the convention of an annual Presidential opening would serve a useful purpose because it would afford Parliament “an opportunity to be briefed on the legislative programme of Government for the ensuing year” and enable it to “effectively plan for its legislative and oversight agenda”. [An opening by the President is permissible under section 140 of the Constitution which provides that the President may address Parliament at any time.]

This resolution asking the President to “open” the next “session” should not be taken as giving the President the power to determine when the Houses will reconvene.

When Will Parliament Sit Again?

As pointed out above, the date of the official opening of the “Second Session” is not stated in the resolutions. Instead, the resolutions mandate the President of the Senate and the Speaker to “invite the President to officially open Parliament on a convenient date”.

The opening date of the next “session” should be agreed with the President by the end of Thursday 25th September to enable the Houses to resolve, before they adjourn, the date on which to recommence – thereby enabling the Houses to decide the duration of the coming recess in line with their constitutional powers.

This is important because, as pointed out above, just as the President no longer has the power to end a session or sitting he no longer has the power fix the date for a new “session”.

If, with the President being absent at the current United Nations General Assembly session in New York, the convenient date for the start of the new “session” has not been agreed by the 25th September, the Houses will have to adjourn to a specified date of Parliament’s own choosing [they cannot adjourn indefinitely]. Should it then turn out that the President cannot perform the opening ceremony on that specified date, there is no real reason why the “session” should not start then anyway, leaving it to the President to deliver his opening speech as soon thereafter as convenient.

Note: There are only two situations in which the President can summon Parliament to meet. They are:

• for the first sittings of the Houses after a general election; these sittings must take place not later than 30 days after the date on which the President assumes office [Constitution, section 145]

• when there is “special business” to be conducted while Parliament is in recess [Constitution, section 146].

Neither provision applies to the present situation.

The Coming Recess is Likely to be Short

There are still important Bills that must be dealt with in the next session, three of which still under consideration by the Parliamentary Legal Committee, and cannot be taken further this week. There are other Bills in the pipeline [see below] and there is the hope of more legislation being introduced to align laws with the Constitution. The Parliament pre-budget programme should start towards the end of October. Also towards the end of the year there are traditionally recesses when party congresses take place.

Update on Bills with the Parliamentary Legal Committee

Three Bills are still under consideration by the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC]:

• Gender Commission of Zimbabwe Bill – as pointed out in Constitution Watch 8/2014 of 26th August, this Bill fails to comply with the Constitution in several respects. The PLC and the responsible Minister are discussing the changes that need to be made to the Bill to bring it into compliance with the Constitution.

• Public Accountants and Auditors Amendment Bill

• Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (Debt Assumption) Bill – this controversial Bill is also under consideration by the Portfolio Committee on Finance and Economic Development, which last week held public hearings on the Bill in Harare, Mutare, Gweru and Bulawayo. At these public hearings the provisions of the Bill were severely criticised by members of the public.

[All available from the addresses given at the end of this bulletin.]

Other Bills in the Pipeline

[not available to Veritas or the public until gazetted]

Bills in the pipeline include—

• Marondera State University of Agricultural Science and Technology Bill, which is with the Government Printer.

• General Laws Amendment Bill, which has been approved by Cabinet and is ready for printing. It will tackle a large number of the more straightforward changes needed to align existing laws with the Constitution; the more complex alignment Bills are still to come.

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