THE Parliament of Zimbabwe has come under fire for taking long in aligning various pieces of legislations to the new Constitution since it is the lawmaking body.
SPECIAL REPORT BY BYRON MTINGWENDE
But many analysts have laid blame for the delay on the Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda as he is its head.
Section 119 of the current Constitution defines the roles of Parliament as to protect the Constitution; ensures that the provisions of the Constitution are upheld and that the State and all its institutions and agencies of government at every level act constitutionally and in the national interest as well as ensuring that all institutions and agencies of State at every level are accountable to Parliament.
In the same vein, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) came out guns blazing accusing Parliament of passing the Electoral Amendment Bill without proper debate or input from the public.
“The Constitution also provides in Section 141 (a & b) that Parliament must ensure that the public is involved in the lawmaking process and that interested parties are consulted about Bills being considered in Parliament.
“Regrettably, Section 141 (a & b) of the Constitution has not been observed in the current process. Consequently this lack of consultation will not only promote cosmetic law reform that will perpetuate the occurrence of elections that will continue to be contested in Zimbabwe,” a ZLHR analysis report noted.
The ZLHR attack was premised on Section 117 (1) of the Constitution which says that the legislative authority of Zimbabwe is derived from the people and is vested in and exercised in accordance with this Constitution by the Legislature. In passing the Bill without consulting the people, Parliament had violated the Constitution.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network director Rindai Chipfunde said the present system retained by the Electoral Amendment Bill where the President sets dates and ministers have some roles in the electoral processes was unfair because they were interested parties by virtue of being contestants in elections.
“It means they are both players and referees in the same game which puts the other contestants at a disadvantage.
The Zimbabwe electoral commission must take charge as it is mandated to under Section 239 of the new Constitution,” Chipfunde said.
But, constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said that the Constitution does not need alignment since it must be self-executing.
Madhuku’s argument effectively pre-empted Mudenda’s repeated excuses that a long time was needed to realign the laws to the new Constitution.
Section 135 stated that the Speaker was the head of Parliament and must exercise his or her functions subject to Standing Orders which also noted that the President of the Senate was the deputy head of Parliament and acted as head whenever the Speaker was for any reason unable to do so.
The alignment of laws to the constitution was the mandate of Parliament. The Executive existed to enforce the law whereas the Judiciary should be there to interpret it. The question that comes to mind in the current scenario was that why would Parliament wait for the Executive to bring legislation to it instead of vice versa.
“The concern that we have is that Parliament seems to exist only to rubber-stamp Executive proposals and policies,” Harare-based lawyer Chris Mhike lamented.
Mhike added that it was sad to note that it was almost a year since the Eight Parliament started business but only a few laws have been passed hence there were no results to show on the part of the Speaker.
Recently, there was a resolution passed in Parliament to set up a committee to investigate corruption. However, it seemed the Speaker was developing cold feet in adopting the resolution. Since there was only talk about setting up the committee and no establishment of it, it meant Parliamentary resolutions will gather dust since they were not being acted upon.
Corruption was a cancer eating into the fabric of the Zimbabwean society. But Mudenda recently ruled that with immediate effect, no Member of the House of Assembly would be allowed to make unsubstantiated allegations against other Members and Officers of Parliament or members of the public except by way of a substantive and clearly formulated motion.
“The Chair shall demand objective and verifiable evidence in support of such a motion. Any violation of this order will be met with appropriate remedial action, including initiating charges of contempt of Parliament against the Member of Parliament suspected of abusing parliamentary privileges, particularly through uttering statements that are false, malicious and likely to unjustly injure other Members of Parliament as well as members of the public,” Mudenda said.
“The Chair also hereby rules that no member shall be allowed to use this House of Parliament to attack the integrity of the Administration of Parliament except by using appropriate channels as provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe, particularly section 135, 151 and 154 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Once again, the Chair is urging Members to read the Constitution and appropriate laws so that they can stand guided accordingly.”
The ruling followed Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya’s remarks on October 16, 2013 in Parliament alleging that Joseph Chinotimba, Buhera South MP, had allegedly murdered a person. Chinokwinya had also claimed that the Premier Service Medical Aid Society chief executive, among others, earned up to $500 000 monthly when the economy was bleeding.
Chikwinya did not elaborate further.
And Mudenda made a ruling that such allegations were mere gossip as they did not have tangible facts and accordingly ruled Chikwinya out of order.
On February 27, during debate on a motion on the deteriorating state of corporate governance in Zimbabwe, Chikwinya made other “serious unsubstantiated allegations” against certain MPs, the Administration of Parliament and public officers, in particular ICT minister Webster Shamu, Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority of Zimbabwe Gershem Pasi as well as the Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma.
Coalition Against Corruption director Terry Mutsvanga said: “The demand for evidence first on bringing forward cases of corruption in Parliament means that Parliament cannot make further probes on cases of corruption.”
Independent economist Garikai Tarusarira said that there was not much effort on the Speaker to ensure that Parliament was adequately funded as provided for in the Constitution. Tarusarira queried why Parliament was in the habit of passing national budgets it was not adequately funded in the first place.
Recently, President Robert Mugabe returned the Income Tax Bill back to Parliament, but the Speaker has not yet caused Parliament to act to amend it.
However, Section 131 (7) of the constitution says: “Where a Bill has been referred back to Parliament, in terms of subsection (6) (b), the speaker must without delay convene a sitting of the National Assembly, which must – (a) reconsider the Bill and fully accommodate the President’s reservations; or (b) pass the Bill, with or without amendments, by a two-thirds majority of the total membership of the National Assembly and in either case the speaker must cause the Bill to be presented to the President without delay for assent and signature and must give public notice of the date on which the Bill was sent to the President.”
“The Speaker cannot just sit on these and violate the Constitution. The Speaker has not done anything to rein in MPs who are not taking Parliament business seriously. As an example is the recent poor attendance by members of the justice committee during the conduct of hearings on the Electoral Amendment Bill.
“To make matters worse, the Speaker also failed to take action against the few members that attended the Harare public hearing before it ended,” lamented an MDC-T MP who requested anonymity.”
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said there was need for Parliament to come up with a calendar for members to sit and drift away from arranging ad-hoc sittings.
“A clear sitting calendar is important for MPs to plan in advance. In South Africa, the calendar is public since it is available on Parliament’s website,” Masunungure said.
He urged the Speaker to take a serious stance against ministers who absented themselves from Wednesdays question and answer sessions.