Good civil service audit debate in Parly

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The House of Assembly and the Senate had two sittings on Tuesday and Wednesday last week before adjourning business to March 13 2012.

While the main reason for adjournment was the Liaison and Co-ordination Committee Retreat held in Bulawayo from Thursday to Sunday, we hope such brief sittings are not going to become a habit. We need the legislative branch of the government to sit more often and contribute meaningfully to the resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis.

Major accomplishments during the two sittings included notice of a motion to restore the Electoral Amendment Bill and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill on the Order Paper; notice of a motion to bring a private member Bill to amend Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act; the adoption in the House of Assembly of a motion which sought to condemn the unconstitutional and treasonous statements by service chiefs that brought into disrepute the professional institutions of the army and the police.

The motion also requested the security institutions to affirm their loyalty to the Constitution and the laws of Zimbabwe and directed the relevant authorities to carry out investigations into the said utterances and make such findings public. We wait to see whether or not this motion will be acted upon.

A motion moved by Shuwah Mudiwa (MDC-T) seeking the presentation of the Civil Service Audit Report to Parliament dominated debate on Tuesday last week.

The motion also sought the tabling before the august house of a roadmap to deal with ghost workers on the pay roll within 14 days.

There was general agreement across the political divide that this long overdue report must be tabled. Unfortunately, the mover of the motion failed to take advantage of this general agreement and wind up the motion for adoption in order to pave way for the tabling of the report. It is my hope the motion will be adopted on resumption of business next week.

The Urban Councils Amendment Private Member Bill was read for the first time and referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee, which is mandated with examining whether or not any of its provisions violate the Constitution.

The Urban Councils Amendment Bill is being moved by the MDC-Ts Tungwara Matimba from Buhera Central Constituency. Now that the Bill has been gazetted, the Local Government Portfolio Committee will scrutinise it and report to the House.

The Bill seeks to reduce the powers of central government over municipal and town councils, thereby encouraging democracy at local levels. The Bill also seeks to have all councillors elected not appointed.

This will ensure we have a council that has a full legitimate right to represent citizens in local governance affairs. The Bill seeks to ensure that central governments power to declare, alter and abolish local government areas is subjected to public consultation and consent.

The current law gives the Local Government minister excessive powers to change the boundaries of local authorities.

The minister will also be required in the proposed amendments to meaningfully consult municipalities and the Parliament Committee on Local Government when taking actions such as appointing caretaker councillors whose terms of office will be limited and allow elections to take place as soon as possible.

The thorny issue of suspension of councillors by the minister will be tackled in the Bill to allow the decision to be made by the High Court with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court. It is expected that the Bill will also bring in provisions to improve delivery of basic services.

Meanwhile, the Liaison and Co-ordination Committee, which is a forum of committee chairpersons, had a very good retreat in Bulawayo that came up with some very important resolutions aimed at advancing parliamentary democracy.

The major objective of the retreat was to take stock of last years achievements, assess progress and challenges and to plan for 2012 in order to deliver on the responsibilities entrusted to parliamentary committees.

Some of the key challenges to committee work that were highlighted included limited financial resources to conduct public hearings, field visits and fact-finding missions and poor publicity and disruption of public hearings by some political party activists clearly bused in for that purpose. Of major concern was that the perpetrators have not been arrested despite being well-known.

The other challenges were attempts by some ministers to force the Parliamentary Legal Committee to certify their bills as constitutional; serious delays by the Comptroller and Auditor-General in submitting audited reports to Parliament and failure by Parliament to enforce provisions of the Public Finance Management Act that require ministries to submit monthly and quarterly reports on budget performance to their respective portfolio committees.

In order for the Liaison and Coordination Committee to be the driver of parliamentary work, it was resolved this committee should meet regularly (monthly) to review implementation of its resolutions.

A comprehensive induction of chairpersons and members at the beginning of each Parliament was recommended in order for them to fully understand the rules of procedure.

Regular meetings between ministers and chairpersons were recommended in order to resolve the perennial problem of failure by ministers to respond to committee reports and members motions.

Adequate resourcing of Parliament was strongly recommended in order for the legislative branch to fully execute its constitutional mandate. Related to this was the need for Parliament to assert its independence and demand not to be treated as a government department in line with the principle of separation of powers.

A review of the Standing Orders and provisions of Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act in order to align them with parliamentary reforms, was recommended.

John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity.

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