Speaker's Ruling - 7th April 2016 - Parliamentary Oversight of President's Office & References to President in debate

National Assembly, 7th April 2016

 

 

SPEAKER’S RULING ON

HON. P. D. SIBANDA’S POINT OF ORDER ON WHETHER PARLIAMENT HAS OVERSIGHT ROLE OVER THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF STANDING ORDER NUMBER 93 (1) (b)

 

On the 10th February, 2016, Hon. P. D. Sibanda rose on a point of order in terms of Standing Order Number 69 of the Standing Rules and Orders of the National Assembly, seeking guidance on whether Parliament has oversight over the Office of the President and further, whether reference to the use of the name of the President in the House goes against protecting the integrity and the name of the Office of the President.

Oversight of the Office of the President

Parliament exercises oversight on the Executive in line with the provision of the Constitution and its Standing Rules and Orders. Section 119 (2) and (3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that –

“(2) Parliament has power to ensure that the provisions of this 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”.

(3)For the purposes of subsection (2), all institutions and agencies of State and Government at every level are accountable to Parliament”.

Section 299 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe further amplifies the oversight role of Parliament over all institutions and agencies of the State in respect of State revenues and expenditures.

Standing Order No. 20 (d) of the National Assembly states that a Portfolio Committee must:

Monitor, investigate, inquire into and make recommendations relating to any aspect of the legislative programme, budget policy or any other matter it may consider relevant to the Government department falling within the category of affairs assigned to it.”

Further, individual Members of Parliament can raise questions on any matter of public policy through the Question Time during sittings. They can also move motions that relate to areas of their interest that require responses from a Vice President or a relevant Government Minister or Deputy Minister.

The term “every level” in Section 119 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, therefore, encompasses the office of the President as he exercises his executive authority through Cabinet as provided for in Section 88 (2) of the Constitution. The Cabinet includes the Vice-Presidents and Ministers, who under Section 107 (2) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, are accountable to Parliament and must attend Parliament to answer questions. Furthermore, Section 141(3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that “the President may attend Parliament to answer questions on any issue as may be provided in the Standing Orders”. Therefore, the Constitution envisages that the President may come before Parliament to answer questions relating to his office.

Use of the Name of the President in Debate.

Standing Order No. 93(1) (b) of the Standing Rules and Orders of the National Assembly states that:

“No member shall, while speaking to a question use the name of the President irreverently in debates or for the purpose of influencing the House in its deliberations.”

There are two essential elements in that Standing Order that I will address, namely ‘use of the name of the President irreverently’ and ‘use of the name of the President for the purposes of influencing the House in its deliberations’. Irreverently means in a manner not showing respect to something or somebody that other people usually respect. The expectation in this regard is that Hon. Members in their debates should not use the name of the President in a discourteous or disrespectful  manner. Use of the name of the President in a courteous and respectful manner is, therefore, tolerated.

In respect to the use of the name of the President to influence the House, I will quote the celebrated writer Erskine May in “Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament” who indicated that in England, the use of the Queen’s name to influence debate is:

“unconstitutional in principle and inconsistent with the independence of Parliament and any attempt to use her name in debate to influence the judgment of Parliament is immediately checked and censured”

“It is unparliamentary and inconsistent with the independence of a legislative body to refer to the name of the Executive in order to influence the vote”.

The above positions are premised on the fact that there are authorised ways for bringing the Executive and, in our case, the President’s messages to Parliament through his appointees, the Cabinet Ministers. However, the above limitation does not apply to statements of facts by Ministers or Members of Parliament. What is sanctioned is the attempt to use the name of the President to influence unduly the decisions by Parliament.

Ruling by the Chair

Accordingly, the Chair hereby rules that –

(i)   The Office of the President is subject to oversight by Parliament in terms of the procedures aforementioned above.

(ii)   Reference to the name of the President in debate is allowed, provided that it is done fairly, respectful courteously to the High Office of the President.

(iii) A reference to the name of the President of Zimbabwe in order to influence deliberations in the House or decisions is inconsistent with Standing Orders 93 (1) and will not be tolerated in view of the fact that the President is the Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe.

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