On Tuesday 25th September both Houses of Parliament began ordinary business for the first time. This followed:-
- four preparatory meetings during the course of the month: for the swearing-in of MPs on 4th September, for the election of presiding officers on 11th September, and for the joint sitting on 18th September at which the President officially opened this Parliament – the Ninth Parliament of Zimbabwe – and presented his State of the Nation Address [SONA] and the Government’s legislative agenda.
- a one-and-a-half day induction workshop for all MPs on 24th and 25th September, covering the following topics:-
ü Rules of Procedure in Parliament
ü Code of Conduct and the Assets Declaration Framework for MPs
Note: All MPs had previously been informed that the deadline for submission of their completed Assets Declarations to the Clerk of Parliament is Friday 5th October. MPs have thirty days after taking their oaths of office in which to comply with the obligation to register all their financial interests; default constitutes contempt of Parliament [Standing Order 49 of the National Assembly, Standing Order 48 of the Senate].
ü Privileges and Immunities of MPs
ü The Committee System and the Administration of Parliament
ü The Mandate, Roles and Functions of Parliament
ü The Constituency Development Fund.
Vacancies in Senate Membership
On 25th September the President of the Senate officially notified Senators of two Senate vacancies, one arising from the death of Senator Thokozile Mathuthu on 13th August, the other from the resignation of Senator Obert Mpofu. Both were ZANU PF Senators from Matabeleland North.
As both vacancies are in proportional representation seats, they will be filled by ZANU PF nominees in due course, a woman to replace Senator Mathuthu and a man to replace Senator Mpofu, as required by the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
Debate on the President’s Speech at the Opening of Parliament
In both Houses the Order Papers [printed agendas] for Tuesday afternoon were brief. There was only one item for debate, and it was the same in both Houses: a motion that a respectful address be presented to the President expressing members’ loyalty to Zimbabwe and their respectful thanks for his speech to the joint sitting on 18th September.
Debate on this motion gives backbenchers the opportunity to respond to what the President said in SONA and to comment on the Government’s legislative agenda. Some new MPs will also take the plunge and make their maiden speeches.
Standing Orders stipulate 35 hours as the total allowed for contributions by members who are not Ministers, and each member contributing to the debate is allowed to speak for a maximum of 20 minutes, extendable for 5 minutes if other MPs unanimously agree. These time-limits apply in both Houses, which means that unless speeches are kept much shorter than 20 minutes, over half of the 280 MPs in the National Assembly will not have a chance to speak in this particular debate.
In the Senate on 25th September
The motion was introduced by Senator S.K. Moyo and seconded by Senator Mbohwa in brief speeches. Senator Moyo referred to the legislative agenda and reminded Senators of the need to complete realignment of laws with the Constitution, predicting that in the year ahead all Parliamentarians should observe a new maxim “business unusual, not business as usual”. Notwithstanding this exhortation, the Senate adjourned at 3.07 pm after another brief contribution from Senator Hungwe.
In the National Assembly on 25th September
Debate lasted longer than in the Senate. The House sat until 4.17 pm. The motion was introduced byGoodluck Kwaramba MP and seconded by David Musabayana. Contributions came from MPs Mhona[who said MPs should think seriously about leaving Parliament after serving two terms, to allow new minds to replace them and serve our people], Joseph Chinotimba, Temba Mliswa, and Mudarikwa and Tererai Moyo. Mr Mliswa who named two fellow MPs as being land barons; land barons as a class had been castigated by the President in his speech as responsible for the cholera outbreak by disregarding the need for proper infrastructure when establishing per-urban settlements.
In the National Assembly on 26th September
Wednesdays are when Private Members’ business takes precedence in the National Assembly, commencing with Questions without Notice [about Government policies only] for until 3.45, followed by Written Questions with Notice, if any have been put down on the Order Paper by MPs [there were none put down for yesterday].
Questions without Notice went ahead yesterday, despite most Ministers not being present at the start. When MPs complained about absentee Ministers, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, who is the Leader of Government Business in the House, said he had been assured Ministers would attend, and the Speaker he said he would raise the issue of absenteeism with Ministers and Deputy Ministers at their special Induction Seminar on Parliamentary Business scheduled for the whole morning of 27th September. Standing Orders provide for sanctions against defaulting Ministers.
New Ministers Joel Biggie Matiza [Transport and Infrastructural Development], Sekai Nzenza [Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare] and Obediah Moyo (Health and Child Care] had first experience of Question Time. With reference to recent commuter omnibus fatalities, Minister Matiza was asked about compensation for road accident victims and will come back to the House with a comprehensive statement about the Road Accident Fund. Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing will come back with a statement in response to a question about the appointment of a named debt collection company to collect debts on behalf of all local authorities. These appointments are said to have been made by the Government-appointed caretakers who controlled local authorities during the period of a month or more when council members had not yet assumed office after the 30th July election.
In the Senate on 26th September
The debate on SONA continued on 26th September with contributions from Senators Chimbudzi, Mohadiand Maluleke. The Senator adjourned at 3.10 pm.
Coming up in Parliament on 27th September
In the National Assembly
The only item on the Order Paper is the continuing debate on the President’s speech opening Parliament.
In the Senate – Question Time
Thursday afternoon each week is when Question Time comes up in the Senate. In the first segment Senators will be able to put Questions without Notice to Ministers as long as they are on matters of Government policy. After that, there are 13 Written Questions with Notice on the Order Paper, all put down by Senator Alice Chimbudzi and directed at several different Ministers. If questions and answers do not take up the whole of the allotted time, Senators can resume their debate in response to the President’s speech opening Parliament.
In this morning’s seminar on their Parliamentary duties and responsibilities, Ministers and Deputy Ministers will have been urged not to skip Question Time and warned of the penalties that Parliament is able to impose on defaulting individuals.
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