BY VENERANDA LANGA
ZIMBABWEAN legislators have claimed that they were facing a lot of bottlenecks when raising private members’ Bills before Parliament, hence the Executive ends up sponsoring laws that were not in tandem with the principles in the Constitution and the African Charter on Elections, Democracy and Governance (ACDEG).
They raised the issue yesterday in Kariba during an ActionAid Zimbabwe-sponsored training on the African Union Charter ACDEG. The charter stipulate implementation of anti-corruption measures, transparency and accountability, free and fair elections and social, economic, environmental and political rights.
ActionAid country director Joy Mabenge said MPs must be able to infuse ACDEG principles in Bills as well as ensuring that principles of social justice are incorporated into laws. His organisation has been popularising ACDEG for several years.
Constitutional expert James Tsabora said there were opportunities for legislators during parliamentary portfolio committee meetings and debates on Bills in the House to check their principles against the Constitution and ACDEG.
Tsabora encouraged MPs to bring private members’ Bills before Parliament rather than always wait for Executive-sponsored laws.
Since independence, only two MPs have brought private members’ Bills before Parliament. One was a private member’s Bill suggesting amendments to the repealed Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which was sponsored by Innocent Gonese (Mutare Central MP), and the other was sponsored by former Gweru Urban MP Sesil Zvidzai to amend local government laws.
Tsabora said some of the challenges faced by MPs were that the Executive found it disrespectful of them to bring private members’ Bills.
“The challenges of MPs failing to initiate private members’ Bills before Parliament do not only happen in Zimbabwe. It is a global challenge whereby if you want to initiate a new Bill in Parliament when your party has a minister, you should go to the minister so that he initiates the Bill,” Tsabora said.
“Private members’ Bills are seen as not respecting the Executive in Parliament, but in the United States of America there have been some successes with private members’ Bills seeing the light of the day, especially if it is a non-partisan Bill,” he said.
Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda said one of the biggest challenges faced by MPs when debating on Bills and motions in Parliament is the whipping system.
“MPs think that they have no power but the Constitution says that you have power and Parliament must carry its oversight role without fear or favour.
“Yes, there is section 129 (1) (k) which is the whipping system anchored for political parties and sometimes MPs are told in the party caucus that they need to tow the political party line or they no longer represent the interests of the party in the House, and the party writes letters to the Speaker recalling MPs.
“That is a catch-22 situation when MPs want to debate on Bills and speak from conviction but at the same time the Executive wants them to tow the party line,” Mudenda said.
Bulawayo Central MP Dorcas Sibanda said other challenges that MPs faced in bringing private members’ Bills were financial.