Debate on the Public Order and Security Amendment Bill (Posa) dominated proceedings in the Senate last week.
The Bill is being sponsored by Honourable Innocent Gonese as a Private Member Bill. The Senate adjourned debate on the Bill after Honourable Patrick Chinamasa moved that Parliament could not proceed with debate as the Global Political Agreement negotiators were seized with the matter.
With the Third Session of the seventh Parliament having come to an end yesterday, this means the motion by Honourable Gonese has lapsed. This, however, does not mean that we have come to the end of the story on Posa amendment.
The rules of Parliament allow any Bill that has lapsed by reason of a prorogation of Parliament before it has been agreed by both Houses to be proceeded with in the next ensuing session at the stage it had reached in the preceding session.
This means Gonese can still re-introduce his motion when the next session of Parliament is officially opened by President Mugabe on August 23 2011.
It is important to clarify that Honourable Gonese did not withdraw his Bill from the Senate after Chinamasa moved for the withdrawal.
Debate was simply adjourned to August 30 when Senate business resumes. It is at this stage that Honourable Gonese can move a motion to re-introduce the Bill at Second Reading Stage if he wishes to.
What is also important to highlight is that this Bill was passed by the House of Assembly a few months back. There appears therefore a disagreement between the House of Assembly and the Senate.
The Constitution is very clear on what happens if there is such disagreement.
Schedule 4 to the Constitution says if the Senate and the House of Assembly have not agreed on the amendments to be made to a Bill before the expiration of 90 days beginning on the day of the introduction of a Bill into the Senate, the Bill may be presented to the President for assent in the form in which it was passed by the House of Assembly.
In simple language, this means if the Senate does not pass the Bill from the day that it first sat after the Bill was transmitted to the Senate, then it is transmitted to the President to sign into law.
However, a resolution needs to be passed by the House of Assembly for the Bill to be transmitted to the President for assent. Unlike a Constitutional Bill which requires two-thirds majority, for this Bill it is simply the majority of members present. I do not have dates on when the Bill was introduced into the Senate, but want to believe that the 90 days are almost up.
But the question still remains, what then happens if the President does not sign the Bill into law? The President is required by the Constitution to sign a Bill into law within 21 days. Where the President withholds his assent, the Bill shall be returned to the House of Assembly.
If within six months of a Bill being returned to the House of Assembly, the House resolves upon a motion supported by at least two-thirds of all members that the Bill should again be presented to the President for assent, the President has two options: to sign it into law or dissolve Parliament. Dissolution of Parliament will spark a constitutional crisis that will require elections to take place.
I do not think that the President would therefore take such an extreme measure to dissolve Parliament.
While it has been very difficult to get Posa amendment passed by both houses, a significant result of all this is that this is the first time that a back bencher was able to initiate a Private Member Bill on a contentious matter. It is an important lesson to other MPs that ministers are not the only ones allowed to initiate legislation.
About the Author
John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: email@example.com