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Last session of Parliament crucial for credible election

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After some worrying delays, the Fifth and last session of the Seventh Parliament was officially opened by President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday.

Report by John Makamure

This followed the closure or prorogation of the Fourth Session by the President the previous day.

As has become the norm, the President’s speech outlined some draft pieces of legislation and policies expected to come before both houses for debate and passage before Parliament is dissolved for elections.

The speech was, however, silent on some of the bad laws that need amendment or repeal in order to open up more democratic space in Zimbabwe.

Bills expected to be tabled in Parliament include the following: Diamond Bill and its accompanying policy; Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill; Tripartite Negotiating Forum Bill; State Enterprises and Parastatals Management Bill; Attorney-General Amendment Bill; Constituency Development Fund Bill; Civil Aviation Authority Bill and Zimbabwe Investment Authority Bill.

The Diamond Bill and amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act are most welcome, provided they are aimed at plugging leakages in the collection of mining revenue and promoting beneficiation or value-addition in the sector.

For us to experience another situation whereby Finance minister Tendai Biti has to revise the Budget downwards because of failure to collect the promised revenue from the sector will be another great tragedy for the country’s economy.

The Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Bill is long overdue in order to stem corrupt practices and abuse by legislators of this important tool to promote development projects in communities.

In our part of the world, Members of Parliament are now expected by the populace to champion development projects.

While this is not the core business of a Member of Parliament, the reality on the ground is that one has to identify with bread and butter issues of his or her constituency.

My expectation from this important piece of legislation is that it should create an independent body to manage the CDF.

Kenya’s experiences can assist. The CDF was established through the CDF Act of 2003.

It is one of several devolved funds aimed at mitigating poverty at grassroots level. The same Act established an independent CDF board to manage the fund.

Compare this with our own situation whereby the CDF is managed by the Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs ministry, an arrangement that distorts the principle of separation of powers between the Executive branch and Legislature.

Other management structures in Kenya include a Constituency Development Fund Committee chaired by the constituency MP and a Project Management Committee selected by the community to manage the funds.

The CDF board has staff at constituency level in charge of preparing books of accounts and submitting other operational and financial reports to the board.

This staff member is an ex-officio member of the Constituency Development Fund Committee. Government district accountants are mandatory signatories to the constituency CDF accounts.

This goes a long way in providing the necessary checks and balances.

In terms of some glaring omissions in the Mugabe’s speech, I am not sure why he did not mention the Constitutional Bill to give legal effect to the new constitution.

I was expecting Mugabe to list this Bill as number one given that the main task of the inclusive government is to draw up a new democratic constitution as an important step towards the conduct of credible polls.

Related to this is the President’s silence on the Referendum Bill to govern the conduct of a referendum on the new constitution.

I just hope their omission is not because the President believes the constitution-making process is headed for collapse.

What a disaster if such a development was to occur especially after spending millions and millions of dollars over the last four years trying to write a new supreme law for the land.

I also expected the President to touch on the Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, among others.

All these are bad and punitive laws that have been on the agenda of Government of Political Agreement (GPA) negotiations with a view to amend or repeal them.

We were made to believe that the private member Bill to amend the Public Order and Security Act was rejected by the Senate because it was a matter being handled by the negotiators to the GPA.

It has now turned out that we were misled, which clearly shows that politicians always take citizens for a ride.

Now that the last session has finally been opened, my expectation — and that of many Zimbabweans I am sure — is to see these legislators getting down to serious business of law-making and overseeing the actions of the Executive especially when it comes to implementation of public policies.

Whether elections are in March or later on in the year, the truth of the matter is that we are now at the tail end of the life of this Parliament.

Legally, the life of this Parliament cannot go beyond June 2013.

My fear is that a repeat of the unnecessary political bickering and partisan and selfish approach to issues that characterised the constitution-making process and debate of some of the motions in Parliament will result in this remaining session going to waste.

Legislators must remember that some of these public policies expected to come before Parliament are crucial to the electoral and transitional processes and should be handled in a manner that serves the public interest and not narrow partisan political interests.

  • 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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