BY VENERANDA LANGA
LEGISLATORS in the National Assembly on Tuesday expressed concern over the public’s poor attendance during hearings on important Bills.
Some of the participants in the public hearings also seemed not to understand the issues or Bills being discussed, the MPs noted.
For instance, during public hearings on the Maintenance of Order and Peace Bill (MOPA), which will replace the unconstitutional Public Order and Security Act,
some contributors in Harare raised issues around the economy and people with disabilities.
In Chitungwiza, less than 10 people attended the public hearing on MOPA.
Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya (MDC Alliance) raised a point of order with the Speaker, Jacob Mudenda, saying that Parliament must change its advertising
strategies of public hearings and also support MPs with constituency information centres.
He said this would enable MPs to distribute copies of Bills and explain their provisions to the public before hearings to enhance their understanding and
Section 141 of the Constitution entails that before any law is crafted in Parliament, citizens should be consulted first for their input.
“I attended public consultations on the Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency Bill and MOPA Bill in Kwekwe and the attendance was very poor,” Chikwinya said.
“There is generally very poor attendance on most Bills and we (Parliament) now need to have administrative introspection of how we call for these public
hearings because the majority of people expect MPs to distribute these Bills and discuss them in advance.
“Parliament must be able to capacitate parliamentary constituency information centres so that MPs market these public hearings for many people to attend, or
even to provide MPs with posters to inform people to attend.”
However, attendance is usually high on Bills which have a political interest such as the Electoral Law Act amendments, with political parties bussing their supporters to go and contribute.
But in the case of the Education Amendment Bill, chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, boasted of
very high attendance during public hearings on the Bill.
She told the National Assembly that more than 600 people attended per sitting.
The Education Amendment Bill was highly supported by child rights non-governmental organisations, which assisted to explain the Bill and mobilise people to public hearings.
Parliament’s development partners that include the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust, have been pivotal in supporting Parliament public hearings on