HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsMPs must advance pro-poor policies as true representatives of the people

MPs must advance pro-poor policies as true representatives of the people

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The House of Assembly and the Senate resume business on October 5 and October 12, respectively.

Parliament business includes both plenary and committee work. Committees, a product of the ongoing parliamentary reforms, are considered the heart and soul of the business of Parliament.

Given that committees are the engine of parliamentary work, the 20 portfolio committees for the House of Assembly and six Senate thematic committees have their work cut out on resumption of parliamentary business next month.

Despite the general economic stability ushered in by the inclusive government, the majority of Zimbabweans are still struggling to make ends meet.

As representatives of the people, the MPs must play a pivotal role in pushing for the enactment and implementation of appropriate legislation, policies and programmes that promote economic recovery, growth and poverty alleviation.

MPs have to be strong advocates of pro-poor policies in order for them to be genuine representatives of the people.

There are numerous other governance and human rights issues that parliamentary committees should prioritise, especially now as the country prepares for a general election.

In his address to mark the official opening of the Third Session of the Seventh Parliament, President Robert Mugabe outlined a number of bills expected to come before Parliament during the session.

The main ones include the following:

l Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill;
l Electoral Amendment Bill;
l Electoral Commission Amendment Bill;
l Referendums Amendment Bill;
l Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill;
l Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill; and
l Media Practiotiners Bill.

We also have a bill before Parliament to amend the Public Order and Security Act. It was brought as a private member bill by Hon Innocent Gonese and is currently at Second Reading stage.

All the above bills have to be drafted, gazetted and introduced in Parliament. Standing Order 105 says whenever a bill is gazetted, it is referred to the relevant portfolio committee of Parliament.

The portfolio committee shall consider the bill and shall have power to call for and receive evidence from the public.

This is an excellent opportunity for civic society, non-governmental organisations, interest groups and any other interested stakeholder to make submissions and participate in the legislative process.

Over the years, I have noticed that civic society and other stakeholders fail to take advantage of this opportunity to influence amendments – only to cry afterwards when bad law is enacted.

The committee is given 14 business days to table before the House its report on the Bill.

Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs
The major piece of legislation likely to come before Parliament before the end of the year is the much-awaited Electoral Amendment Bill, which is part of the electoral reform package agreed upon by the three parties to the Global Political Agreement.

The Portfolio Committee on Justice, Constitutional, Parliamentary and Legal Affairs has a mammoth task of scrutinising the bill.

In tandem with this bill is the Electoral Commission Amendment Bill which seeks to operationalise the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).

The afore-mentioned bills will set the stage for the forthcoming elections.

A good electoral law is necessary (although not sufficient) to ensure that problems experienced in June 2008 will not haunt the country again.

Issues that quickly come to mind as work begins on the electoral laws include the following:

l The role of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the Registrar General in voter registration;
l Proposed polling station-based voter registration as opposed to the current constituency-based voter registration;
l Voter education;
l Diaspora voting;
l Accreditation of international and local observers;
l The independence of the Zec itself; and
l Time frame of announcement of election results and detailed breakdown of these results.

The Committee on Justice will also have the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill and Referendums Amendment Bill to deal with.

The former bill seeks to operationalise the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission which was established in terms of the provisions of Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 19.

The Referendums Bill will be amended to conform to constitutional and electoral changes that will take place.

The Bill will pave way for the Constitutional Draft plebiscite. The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill will be referred to the Justice Committee upon gazetting.

The President in his address simply stated that the Bill seeks to incorporate into the Code suggestions by members of the public.

In my view, some of the most pernicious provisions of the Code which should be addressed include the continued criminalisation of defamation and provisions which criminalise statements regarded to be demeaning to the President.

Budget, Finance and Investment Promotion Portfolio Committee

The major task awaiting the Budget Committee is the review of the 2011 National Budget expected to be presented to Parliament end of November 2010.

Parliament should demand adequate time to scrutinise the estimates of expenditure and the Finance Bill, and ensure that what is passed is a credible budget.

The recent practice to fast-track the budget should be a thing of the past.

The MPs should not forget to demand adequate budgetary allocations for their own operations. In other parliaments, MPs have refused to pass the budget if their demands are not met.

As part of budget process reforms underway in the Ministry of Finance, the Budget Committee is now empowered to submit its recommendations to the Ministry of Finance for consideration during the crafting of the budget.

It is important that the committee consult stakeholders (in line with Parliament’s representative functions) before finalising its submissions to Treasury.

Nationwide public hearings are highly recommended in order for Parliament to reach out to as many parts of the country as possible. The Committee will also have before it the Zimbabwe Income Tax Amendment Bill.

This bill seeks to make tax laws in the country user-friendly, as well as aligning them to regional and international best practices.

Mines and Energy Portfolio Committee

The long overdue bill on the Mines and Minerals Act will be re-introduced in Parliament. This bill was first introduced and passed by Parliament in 2007.

However, it was not assented to by the President.

It is anticipated that the bill will address concerns of large-scale and small-scale miners as well as ensuring sustainable use of the environment.

Media, Information and Communication Technology Portfolio Committee.

There have been increasingly loud calls for media reforms, in particular repeal or amendment of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

While the Zimbabwe Media Commission has taken commendable steps to open up the print media, we are still to see the same for broadcasting.

At this stage, it is not clear if the proposed Media Practitioners Bill will address all the concerns that the media fraternity has been raising, or is just going to confine itself to the issue of professional ethics by media practitioners.

The expectation of the media fraternity is that the Bill should address issues such as press freedom, media pluralism, self-regulating disciplinary mechanism, registration and licencing requirements etc.

Women, Youth, Gender and Community Development Portfolio Committee

The Women’s Council Bill is expected to be introduced in Parliament. The bill seeks to establish a Women’s Council, which will be tasked with coordinating the implementation of women’s development programmes.

It is hoped that this will ensure equitable distribution of resources among women across the breadth of the country.

Yes, we can have a council, but I do not think this is the solution to addressing the plight of women and children.

This portfolio committee should instead concentrate more on monitoring enforcement of the Domestic Violence Act – a very good piece of legislation if it was to be enforced.

I call upon my civic society friends to invest more of their resources to assist this committee.

John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust. Feedback: johnma@sapst.org

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