HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsPolarised debate on legislation weakens Parliament

Polarised debate on legislation weakens Parliament

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There are two very important legislative motions currently before the House of Assembly the Urban Councils Amendment Bill and a motion that seeks leave of the House to bring in a Bill to amend some aspects of Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.

Both are private member Bills moved by Tungwara Matimba and Innocent Gonese (MDC-T), respectively.

It is unfortunate debate on these two motions has been rocked by polarisation, dealing a severe blow to the success of Bills initiated by individual members. We should not forget the story of the Public Order and Security Amendment Bill (Posa), another private member Bill currently stuck in the Senate because of polarisation.

The Urban Councils Amendment Bill mainly seeks to reduce the powers of central government over municipal and town councils. The aim is to strengthen local governance.

We are all aware local authorities have been seriously affected by corruption, acute budgetary constraints and persistent fights between democratically elected councillors and the Local Government minister who has vast powers in the current Act to remove councillors from office.

All these problems have worsened service delivery and compounded the misery of residents already grappling to survive the harsh economic and political environment.

The Bill was read for the first time and referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee to examine whether or not any of its sections violated the Constitution. The Portfolio Committee on Local Government is planning public hearings on the Bill in the countrys provinces.

Goneses motion seeks to amend Section 121(3) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, which empowers the Attorney-Generals Office to deny an accused person bail when the presiding officer would have seen it fit to grant such bail.

In other words, prosecutors have powers to overturn decisions of magistrates and judges to grant accused persons bail. Gonese argued this section had often been abused and in most cases the invocation of this section appeared to be motivated by malice. The MDC members who supported the motion also felt this section was selectively applied.

Predictably, the debate on this motion took a very partisan route with MDC members in support of the motion whereas Zanu PF members vigorously opposed it.

While each political party has a democratic right to take a position on a motion before the House, I dont think we are being fair to the people of this country if motions are rejected or accepted merely on the basis of who has brought the motion to the House.

Positions must be taken on the basis of the merits and demerits of a particular motion and not solely the political party the mover of the motion belongs to. In a functioning parliamentary democracy, we should see some Zanu PF members supporting motions brought by MDC members and vice versa.

Otherwise why have a Parliament if the back benchers are always whipped by their seniors (most of them ministers) to support a particular position?

If a Bill is good law, we cannot take that away from it. We, therefore, expect our elected representatives, regardless of political affiliation, to rally behind something that is good in order to advance the interests of the public, not partisan and narrow political interests.

Private member Bills are a very good development in order to give Parliament teeth to actually make law. In the past, all the Bills used to come from ministers, with Parliament merely existing to rubber-stamp these laws.

With private member Bills, law-makers get involved in actually drafting the law and steering it in plenary. This goes a long way in fulfilling the constitutional mandate of Parliament to make law which will be interpreted by the Judiciary and enforced by the Executive.

Unfortunately, this good development is being frustrated by the polarised nature of our politics, leaving Parliament still very weak when it comes to its law-making function.

Certainly, this is one area our new constitution should address and confer Parliament with supreme legislative powers.

Our legislators must remember we have entrusted them the responsibility to make public policies and monitor their implementation in order to promote and protect our rights whether civil, political, social, economic or cultural.

A true Parliament should be the custodian of the formulation of laws that govern us. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) came up with an appropriate definition of Parliament as follows: A Parliament is a generic term depicting a representative body of individuals to whom the people have entrusted the responsibility of representing them by laying down the legal framework within which society shall be governed and seeing to it that these legal conditions are implemented in a responsible manner by the Executive.

When these parliamentarians fail to enact any good laws because of unnecessary polarisation, they should ask themselves if they are fulfilling their mandate as per the IPU definition.

The inclusive government has executed a very poor legislative agenda since its formation. MPs would gain some credibility if they were to unite across political lines and pass legislation based on its merit than partisan interests, some of which cannot be justified in a democracy.

John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: john.makamure@gmail.com

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