Parliament resumed sitting on Tuesday after a six-week break. There are many legislative and oversight issues that the law-making branch of government has to contend with before the second session of the Eighth Parliament comes to an end in the next couple of months.
It looks likely that the alignment of laws with the Constitution will gather a bit of momentum judging by recent pronouncements from the Executive branch of government.
We have some important pieces of legislation that were recently gazetted. They include the Public Debt Management Bill gazetted on April 3 2015; the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill again gazetted on April 3 2015 and the Joint Ventures Bill gazetted April 24 2015.
One of the key outstanding pieces of legislation still to be passed is the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (Debt Assumption) Bill which is at committee stage and has attracted widespread condemnation from a cross-section of the Zimbabwean society which is concerned about lack of transparency in some of the Bill’s provisions. The other one is the Gender Commission Bill which has been criticised for not according the commission the necessary independence as provided for in the Constitution. The Portfolio Committee on Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development last week held public hearings on the Bill. We await the committee findings and recommendations to the National Assembly. Failure by Parliament to amend the Bill would be a serious set-back to gender equality in Zimbabwe.
The recently gazetted Public Debt Management Bill seeks to provide for the management of public debt in Zimbabwe, and the functions and administration of the public debt management office, a department currently existing within the Finance and Economic Development ministry.
My initial reaction on the Bill is that it does not go far enough regarding the contraction of Zimbabwe’s already unsustainable debt. I will refer to Section 300 of the Constitution. The section says an Act of Parliament must set limits on borrowings by the State, the public debt; and debts and obligations whose payment or repayment is guaranteed by the State. Basically, what this provision says is that Parliament, whose mandate is to make law, must clearly set these limits. Regrettably, clause 13 retains the minister’s unfettered discretion to borrow based “upon such conditions as he or she may fix”. The Bill, therefore, does not address the underlying problem to our public debt crisis.
Furthermore, clause 13 (c) which essentially require(s) the minister to ensure that the debt created is financially sustainable ought to have required the minister to ensure that the debt is socially and environmentally sustainable and has regards to poverty reduction goals and economic, social and cultural rights.
The Bill codifies the public debt management office as a department in the Finance ministry and provides for its functions and administration. Alternatively, the Bill should have set up a wholly or partially autonomous entity, like an independent Loans and Guarantees Commission to work closely with the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and Budget Committee in order to ensure broad-based participation before a loan is contracted.
The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill is intended to realign the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act with the Constitution. The Bill makes notable amendments to the Act, including provisions to ensure that suspects who have been arrested are accorded the rights which the Constitution guarantees them such as the right to remain silent, the right to contact their friends and relatives and their legal and medical advisors, and the right to be brought to a court within 48 hours.
While many of the proposed amendments are positive, clause 6 is of concern. This clause provides in no uncertain terms that the prosecutor-general is under no obligation to grant a certificate that he will not institute a prosecution at the public instance. It prohibits any juristic person from either applying or receiving the certificate. This clause captures the soul of the fight currently ongoing in the courts between the prosecutor- general and some stakeholders. The prosecutor-general holds the view that his authority on whether to prosecute or issue a certificate is not subject to review by any person or authority, including the courts. This is not proper in that basic administrative law principles state that where a decision affects other persons it must certainly be subject to review.
On oversight, MPs must engage in serious and constructive debate on how to arrest the continued slide in the economy. The economic situation is dire and requires less politicking, but more innovative solutions. The Budget, Finance and Economic Development Portfolio Committee must engage non-State actors such as civil society organisations, business membership organisations, economic think-tanks, labour representative bodies etc in order to obtain constructive proposals on how to revive the economy. This is in fulfilment of Section 141 of the Constitution which requires Parliament to open up its proceedings to the public.
Clearly, the government on its own has proved that it is not capable of rescuing the sinking ship. All stakeholders must now come together and implement non-partisan measures to revive the economy. Parliament, as a representative organ of the people, can take a more leadership role in this initiative.
The MPs must demonstrate maturity and stop the childish and non-productive heckling and name-calling. There are many issues of public interest seeking redress. The legislators must remember that the people have given them 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. They have a mandate to protect the Constitution as per Section 119.
l John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust. Feedback: