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House resumes with serious business

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The House of Assembly resumed business on Tuesday this week with serious intent to tackle long outstanding legislative business.

This comes against the background of general concern that Parliament is not fully justifying its existence by making good laws for the country and fulfilling its obligations in the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

They are many people who are still to be convinced that Parliament can exercise its independence and enforce full accountability on the part of ministries and their departments.

The Second Reading debate on the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) Amendment dominated proceedings on Tuesday.

The Bill was introduced as a private member bill by the MDC-T’s Hon Innocent Gonese.

It was refreshing to see the amendments receiving unanimous support across the political divide.

In the past, the House has always been divided on such contentious pieces of legislation.

It is a fact that Posa is a bad law and should not have any space in a democratic society.

Surely, more than 30 years into independence we cannot still have notorious laws used to suppress individual liberties and freedoms during the struggle for independence.

I am fully aware that many people would like to see a total repeal of Posa because it has been associated with suppression.

While this position is valid, my own view is that the compromise amendments are a big step in the right direction.

I say so because the amended Posa endorses the principle that those applying to hold a public meeting need only notify the police rather than seek authority from the force.

The amendments recognise that freedoms of association and expression are fundamental constitutional rights that require protection by law.

The new legislation seeks to limit the nature of meetings requiring police notification and takes away the right of the police to bar a meeting on account of insufficient notification by the convener of a public meeting.

Furthermore, the amendments enable an aggrieved party to seek redress from a court of law, rather than appeal to higher offices within government.

They enjoin the police as regulating authorities to apply to a magistrate if they want to impose a temporary ban of public demonstrations unlike under the current dispensation where they have absolute discretion.

Another major positive arising out of the amendments is the removal of the right of the police to stop people and ask for identification.

Nobody can contest that such a requirement is a relic from colonialism.

It is expected that the Bill will sail through the House of Assembly next week and transmitted to the Senate, which resumes business on October 12.

It would be very surprising if the Senate was to block such progressive amendments.

After the Senate, the Bill is transmitted to the President for assent and then gazetted into law.

The image of Parliament in the eyes of the public would greatly improve if the stance taken by members on Posa would apply to the other bad pieces of legislation.

There is no need to delay bringing bills relating to elections, media reform etc before Parliament especially given that Article 17 of the GPA binds parties to come up with a legislative agenda that reflects the letter and spirit of the agreement.

Article 17 also says the Government will discuss and agree on further legislative measures which may become necessary to implement the Government’s agreed policies, and “in particular with a view to entrenching democratic values and practices”.

Having strongly advocated for the enactment of legislation that satisfies all the basic principle of good law, I would however want to say good laws on their own are not sufficient to realise a true democratic society.

What is needed is enforcement of these laws and for everyone to uphold the rule of law.

Article 12 of the GPA binds all parties to work together in a manner which guarantees the full implementation and realisation of the right to freedoms of association and assembly and that the Government shall undertake training programmes, workshops and meetings for the police and other enforcement agencies directed at the appreciation of the right of freedom of assembly and association and the proper interpretation, understanding and application of the provisions of security legislation.

This is of utmost importance if the amended Posa is going to make any difference at all.

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

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