Parliament Takes a Break after SONA

State of the Nation Address : 20th December

President Mnangagwa delivered his first State of the Nation Address [SONA] at a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament on Wednesday 20th December.  The event took place at the Harare International Conference Centre [the same venue used for the joint sitting of 21st November called to consider the impeachment of former President Robert Mugabe], as neither the Senate nor the National Assembly chambers can accommodate a joint sitting.  The full text of the address is available on the Veritas website [link].

The President began his address by commending the Defence Forces for their role over the past few weeks:

“in defending the national interest by initiating what has now become known as “Operation Restore Legacy”. This was indeed in line with their mandate of protecting Zimbabwe, its people, its national security and interests and its territorial integrity, and by upholding the Constitution, as provided for in section 212 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.”

He went on to:

“… commend the entire nation for their role in ensuring a peaceful transition.  Zimbabweans demonstrated that sovereignty resides with the people.  The sons and daughters of this great nation on this occasion demonstrated unity, love, tolerance, endurance, patriotism, peace and maturity.”

He reiterated the announcement by the new Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Phillip Sibanda, that “Operation Restore Legacy” had ended “since the situation in the country has returned to normalcy”.

Looking ahead the President said, growing the economy is the Government’s top priority, as already shown in the 2018 National Budget Statement.  Concrete and comprehensive instruments would be put in place in line with “our new market economy thrust”.  Policy inconsistencies would be removed to make Zimbabwe an attractive investment destination for capital.  The One-Stop-Shop Investment Centre project would proceed with renewed impetus.  He called on all Zimbabweans across the political divide to accept “collective responsibility” for projecting Zimbabwe as a welcoming investment destination and to “subordinate our partisan and personal interests to the higher objective of building a strong economy for the benefit of both current and future generations”.

After referring to the other measures to be taken, including controlling State expenditure, dealing with corruption and reforming the State Enterprises and Parastatal Sector, the President ended with the assurance that the Government “is committed to entrenching a democratic society driven by respect for the Constitution, rule of law, mutual tolerance, peace, and unity. To this end, Government will do all in its power to ensure that the 2018 Harmonised General Elections are credible, free and fair.”

Attendance by members of both Houses at the Joint Sitting was 282 –over 80% of current members..  The proceedings took just over half an hour.  No opportunity was afforded for MPs to put questions to the President.  MPs then started their holiday break.

Note:  When at the previous day’s sitting of the National Assembly Hon Chamisa asked the Speaker whether MPs would be allowed to question the President after SONA, the Speaker said that the constitutional right given to MPs to put questions to the President should be exercised on another occasion.

In Parliament on Tuesday 19th December

Both Houses of Parliament sat briefly on Tuesday for their last separate working sittings of 2017.  Among the announcements made was formal notice of the Joint Sitting the following day for the State of the Nation Address.

Next sittings in 2018

Both Houses also decided on the dates of their first sittings of 2018, as follows:

National Assembly – Tuesday 9th January

Senate – Tuesday 13th FebruaryNote: The Senate can be recalled early if necessary.

The early start for members of the National Assembly will allow them to get down to work on business that might well have been completed by now had it not been for the focus on the Presidential transition and last week’s ZANU(PF) Extraordinary Congress.  That business includes:

·        the 2018 National Budget which is primarily the National Assembly’s responsibility, as the Senate cannot make substantive alterations to the Budget

·        the backlog of important Bills that has built up over the past two months [to be covered in a following bulletin]

·        international agreements requiring Parliamentary approval.

In the National Assembly on Tuesday

Land Commission Bill finally passed

The House approved a motion that the Bill be submitted to the President for assent and gazetting as law in the form in which it was originally passed by the National Assembly [link] [i.e., without the amendments wanted by the Senate – amendments which the National Assembly rejected when the Senate sent the Bill back to the National Assembly for its approval].  The Constitution allows this to happen when the two Houses cannot reach agreement on a Bill, but imposes a waiting period before the National Assembly finally resolves to go ahead and overrule the Senate [Constitution, Fifth Schedule, paragraph 6(3)].

President’s Letter re Deployment of the Defence Forces

The Speaker responded to the question raised by MDC-T Chief Whip on 6th December concerning the then current deployment of the Defence Forces in aid of the Zimbabwe Republic Police – whether the deployment had been authorised by President Mnangagwa and whether the President had, as required by section 214 of the Constitution, notified Parliament  accordingly.  On Tuesday the Speaker told the House that, as promised, he had engaged the President; he then proceeded to read out the President’s reply, conveyed to him by letter from the Minister of Defence.  The letter confirmed that President Mnangagwa had indeed authorised the deployment as part of the Government’s Operation Restore Legacy, that the deployment would continue as long as necessary but would be reviewed before the end of the month, and that Parliament would be kept advised.  The full text of letter is available on the Veritas website [link].

Note: The end of the deployment has been publicly announced by the new Army Commander, and confirmed by President Mnangagwa in his State of the Nation Address.

Withdrawal of motion of thanks to President Mugabe

When the motion of thanks to President Mugabe for his address opening the present Parliamentary session came up for debate on Tuesday, Hon Maridadi of MDC-T suggested it would be inappropriate to continue debate in the light of President Mnangagwa’s accession to the presidency.  The Speaker agreed that to continue with the motion would be invidious, and its mover, Hon Rungani of ZANU(PF), withdrew the motion.

Proposed reappointment of Mrs Mildred Chiri as Auditor-General

On 9th January the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning is due ask the House to approve the reappointment of former Auditor-General Mrs Chiri to the post – an appointment that, given Mrs Chiri’s sterling reputation, will reassure stakeholders and potential investors in Zimbabwe’s new market economy. The Senate’s approval is also required, as the appointment must be made by the President with the approval of both Houses of Parliament [Constitution, section 310].  The proposed appointment is “for a further term in office effective from the 25th of February, 2017” – the backdating calls for an explanation from the Minister when he addresses the House on 9th January.

Note:  Minister Chinamasa’s 27th July attempt to secure the National Assembly’s approval of someone else to fill the Auditor-General’s position was not persisted with when MPs objected that there had been no prior consultation with the Public Accounts Committee. See Bill Watch 27/2017 [link].

In the Senate

After hearing announcements from the President of the Senate, Senators contented themselves with postponing further debate on all outstanding motions on the Order Paper before putting an end to a pointless sitting lasting all of 27 minutes.  The Senate then adjourned until Tuesday 13th February.  As already mentioned, it can be recalled if that becomes necessary – for instance, if the interim the National Assembly manages to complete work on a sufficient amount of business to justify the Senate’s early recall.

Post-Budget Seminar and Committee Meetings: Revised Dates

Before closing the Joint Sitting on Wednesday, the Speaker announced that:

·        the Post-Budget Seminar will be on Monday 8th January

·        Post-Budget consultations by Portfolio Committees will be held from Tuesday, 9th January to Friday 12th January.

Members of the National Assembly are in for a busy January, with an unusually early start.  May this prove the start of something good.

Veritas makes every effort to ensure reliable information, but cannot take legal responsibility for information supplied.

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