The House of Assembly resumed sitting on Tuesday this week with debate on the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill dominating proceedings.
In a major development, members rejected attempts by Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa, to fast-track the Bill in the House without any major debate and amendments.
I applaud the decision by MPs to reject being used as rubber-stamping tools for Executive decisions.
The principle of separation of powers requires that Parliament makes law (not only approves law) while the Judiciary interprets the law made by Parliament and the Executive enforces that law.
So if ministers have approved a Bill at Cabinet level, this does not mean that Parliament has to agree with such a piece of legislation as it is a mere proposal.
The argument that Parliament should approve the Bill because this is a matter seized with negotiators to the Global Political Agreement should be dismissed outright because negotiators should not think that they are the only ones mandated with deciding for all Zimbabweans.
Members of Parliament, civic society and other interest groups have constituencies and therefore should play an important role in shaping political, social and economic decisions in the country.
This is what accountable governance is all about.
While fast-tracking of legislation is allowed by the rules with the approval of the House, it is a bad practice which is contrary to the spirit of parliamentary reforms of allowing Parliament more time to scrutinise proposed laws and push for amendments in order to come up with statutes that satisfy the principles of good law.
I am really puzzled as to why the negotiators believe that they came up with the best piece of legislation to govern the operations of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.
It is clearly evident to any ordinary person that the proposed Bill has serious weaknesses that must be addressed in order to come up with an effective commission.
The report by the Justice, Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Portfolio Committee, which was tabled in the House on Tuesday, was very precise in terms of the areas that need to be revisited before it is passed by the House.
Some of the key recommendations from the report, which was compiled after the conduct of public hearings in and outside Harare, are as follows:
The scope of human rights violations should cover all issues covered by international human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party.
Human rights should be defined not only by reference to domestic law, but also by reference to all international human rights instruments which Zimbabwe has ratified or to which it has acceded. Thus whether the treaty has been domesticated or not is immaterial.
That the functions and mandate of the commission should be elaborated and widened in order to comply with international human rights treaties and that the commission should be empowered to file its own reports before regional and international human rights bodies.
Ministers should not interfere with the appointment of the Deputy Chairperson of the commission and other staff members. These administrative duties are a preserve of the commission.
Matters of discipline and removal of commissioners should be done by the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders which recommended appointment of these commissioners in the first place.
The commission should submit its reports directly to Parliament and not via the Minister of Justice.
The commission should be given a retrospective mandate in its investigations and not begin from February 13 2009.
Revisiting clause which gives the Minister of Justice power to refuse information to the commission on the basis of such information being prejudicial to “State interests”.
The committee recommended that such “State interests” should be clearly defined or the provision removed totally as it was open to abuse.
Allowing the commission to mobilise funding from other sources without the minister’s approval. This guaranteed the independence and autonomy of the commission.
The committee certainly did an excellent job to come up with such clear and precise findings and recommendations.
Adoption of these recommendations will no doubt result in a very good piece of legislation that lays the groundwork for an efficient and effective Human Rights Commission.
I am sure members of Parliament will support fast-tracking of legislation as long as these well-thought-out recommendations are taken on board.
Let me repeat that at the end of the day we all want to see a good law enacted by Parliament whose enforcement will not face any difficulties.
John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity.