Portfolio committees must be more proactive in the law-making process

Guest Column: John Makamure

Several draft pieces of legislation are expected to come before Parliament before the First Session of the 9th Parliament comes to an end around August/September as government tries to step up alignment of laws with the Constitution to remove provisions that stifle fundamental freedoms and create an enabling legal environment for the attraction of both domestic and foreign direct investment.

The National Assembly is currently seized with the Companies and other Entities Bill, and the Tripartite Negotiating Forum Bill.

The responsible portfolio committees have undertaken public hearings on the Bills and are now finalising their reports for tabling in the House.

For those who were unable to attend hearings, there is still a window of opportunity for interested parties to make their written submissions on the Bills before the portfolio committee reports are finalised.

The Companies Bill seeks to help protect shareholders and investors, in particular minority shareholders; as well as improve ease of doing business through simplified, decentralised and quick company formation and registration.

The Companies Bill is important because it will further streamline business set-up procedures under the current ease of doing business reforms. The reforms, supported by development partners such as the World Bank, have seen a number of measures being implemented to try and make it easier for businesses to operate.

Business by nature is there to maximise profit. Profit maximisation in most cases is realised at the expense of the consumer who has to bear the brunt of rising consumer prices.

The Consumer Protection Bill is, therefore, intended to protect the consumer from the vagaries of a market system, and profiteering by unscrupulous businesspeople.

Effective consumer protection is an essential element of a properly functioning market that Zimbabwe is trying to create.

The long-awaited reform of the Public Order and Security is set to happen. The Act will be repealed and replaced by the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill. Principles of the Bill were approved by Cabinet on February 5, 2019. We now await its gazetting and introduction in Parliament. This should happen before the end of the quarter.

The period from approval of the principles by Cabinet and gazetting of the Bill gives the responsible portfolio committee and other interested stakeholders ample time to interrogate the principles and influence the content of the draft that will be introduced in Parliament.

The responsible portfolio committee in this case is that of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. The Standing Orders of Parliament empower the portfolio committees to demand submission of any documentation from the Executive.

Nothing should, therefore, stop the Justice Portfolio Committee from requesting to be furnished with the principles approved by Cabinet and discuss them with interested stakeholders.

This allows Parliament to become more proactive in the law-making process.

From Press reports, the proposed legislation will repeal POSA provisions that banned demonstrations in specific areas before an application, and detaining a person who fails to produce an identity document upon request.

The proposed law will also give the regulating authority a three-day timeframe to respond to a request by a convener of a public meeting.

The President will now be obliged to inform Parliament within seven days of its sitting of the deployment of soldiers to assist the police in quelling public violence incidences.

I am sure there are many other principles of interest that should be thrown into the public arena for debate in order to inform the nature of the Bill that will be drafted by the Attorney-General’s Office.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (AIPPA) Bill is also set for repeal after its principles were approved by Cabinet last month.

The repeal of AIPPA will give rise to the introduction of three separate Bills namely: Freedom of Information Bill, Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and Protection of Personal Information/Data Bill.

It is pleasing to note that some stakeholder consultation exercise has been undertaken on the principles of the Bills to replace AIPPA. More such consultation is in the offing before the Bill is gazetted.

The Portfolio Committee on Information and Publicity must come to the fore and engage interested stakeholders on the principles before the bills are introduced in Parliament.

Other important Bills of interest expected to be gazetted during this session include the harmonised Marriages Bill, Labour Amendment, Children’s Bill, Provincials Councils and Administration Bill (a stakeholder workshop was recently held on this Devolution Bill), Urban Councils Amendment and Citizenship of Zimbabwe Amendment.

Again it is important that responsible parliamentary portfolio committees engage their stakeholders on the principles of all these pieces of legislation before the Bills are introduced in Parliament.

Doing so will go a long way in fulfilling Sections 117 and 130 of the Constitution which confer legislative authority on the Legislature; and the power to initiate, prepare, consider or reject any legislation, respectively.

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