BILL WATCH 39-2017

BILL WATCH 39/2017

[20th October 2017]

The National Assembly Sat from the 17th – 19th October: the Senate did not

Both Houses will Resume on Tuesday 31st October

National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill

The Bill is still being prepared for transmission to the President for assent and subsequent gazetting as an Act.

New Public Health Bill being Prepared for Gazetting

Parliament’s latest Status of Bills lists reflects that the Public Health Bill was sent to the Government Printer on 3rd October.  As this is bound to be a very long Bill that will require careful checking of proofs before it is gazetted, gazetting should not be regarded as imminent.  Gazetting could well take months; for instance, the proofs of the Civil Aviation Authority Amendment Bill were sent to the drafters in the Attorney-General’s Office on 28th March and are still there.  Note:  please do not ask us for copies until the Bill is gazetted.

The Electoral Amendment Bill

As this was gazetted on 18th September, it can be tabled in Parliament any time from when the Houses resume at the end of the month.  Today, 20th October, is the last day for submission of written comments to Parliament, but Parliament has yet to announce the other forms of public consultation it promised when inviting comments – countrywide public hearings would seem to be essential.

In the National Assembly 17th to 19th October

Tuesday 17th October

Land Commission Bill finally passed, but without Senate’s amendments  The Bill was originally introduced in the National Assembly last year and approved by that House with certain amendments before being sent to the Senate on 28th January this year.  Its progress through the Senate was slow and involved.  Senator Chiefs successfully pressed for amendments recognising the role of chiefs in relation to land matters, but the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] promptly gave an adverse report.  Senator Chiefs hotly disputed the correctness of the adverse report, and eventually the Senate overrode the adverse report, as it was entitled to do, and the amended Bill was approved on 19th July [see Bill Watch 25/2017 [link] of 26th July for the Senate’s rejection of the PLC’s report].  The amended Bill was sent back to the National Assembly, which would have the final say on the amendments.  In the National Assembly on 17th October, the Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement put forward policy reasons for not agreeing with the Senate’s amendments and MPs, without questioning him, voted to reject them.  The Bill will, therefore, go to the President for his assent and subsequent gazetting as law, in the form in which it was previously passed by the National Assembly [link].

Human Rights Commission Annual Report tabled  The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs tabled the Commission’s annual report for 2016.

Question Time [Wednesday 18th October]

Leader of the House/Leader of Government Business in Parliament?  MPs asked whether this important Parliamentary post has remained with Vice-President Mnangagwa or has been assumed by the new Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon Bonyongwe.  The upshot of exchanges between the Deputy Speaker and MPs was that a Government statement would notify any change in the position.  For the rest of the afternoon, Vice-President Mnangagwa was referred to as the Leader of the House.

Recent price increases  Questioned persistently by MPs, the Minister of Industry and Commerce promised a detailed Ministerial statement next week.  The statement would be the outcome of a Cabinet task force set up to review situation.

BVR Voter Registration exercise  The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs dealt with a host of questions ranging from allegations of ZEC voter education inadequacy, to incorrect behaviour by chiefs and headmen, the role of the police [answer, solely for maintaining law and order] and problems posed by the false start to the related exercise by the Registrar-General’s Office for issuing identity documents and birth certificates, i.e., before the waiver of fees.  On the vexed issue of citizens whose “Alien” identity cards are now incorrect, the Minister suggested putting a detailed question to the responsible Minister, the Minister of Home Affairs. 

Age of Registrar-General Mudede  MPs expressed discontent that the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare was not present to answer the simple but long-standing question, not previously answered by his predecessor: How old is Mr Mudede and, if he is over 65 as widely believed, why has he not retired?

Comment: The new Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs distinguished himself by ably handling a large number of questions, proving himself worthy of the warm welcome extended to him by Hon Chamisa at the beginning of his first Question Time and of the well-deserved congratulations from Hon Maridadi at the end.

Thursday 19th October

PLC Adverse Report on Command Agriculture Regulations [SI 79/2017]  We will post this on the Veritas website as soon as possible.

Discontent over scheduling of Pre-Budget Seminar for Friday 20th October  The Deputy Speaker’s reminder to MPs to attend this all-day seminar sparked indignant protests from MPs of all parties based on the non-payment of allowances, the failure to fund the Constituency Development Fund, other matters affecting the welfare of MPs and the lack funding for Parliamentary activities.  Eventually, Hon Matuke, ZANU-PF Chief Whip, suggested it was pointless attempting to continue the sitting, and the House then adjourned until Tuesday 31st October. 

In Parliament 10th to 12th October]

Both Houses sat on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the 10th, 11th and 12th October.  All sittings were short.  The 9th October Cabinet reshuffle [see Bill Watch 38/2017] seems to have resulted in a cessation of all Government business in Parliament for the rest of the  week, including proceedings on Bills.   

At their sittings on Tuesday 10th October, Senators and members of the National Assembly were urged by the presiding officers to attend the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s special Parliamentary launch of the Biometric Voters’ Registration exercise in the National Assembly chamber on Wednesday 11th in the morning.  After the launch and over the next few days MPs were able to take advantage of special facilities made available by ZEC to register as voters on the new roll.

By the end of its last sitting of the week, on Thursday 12th October, the Senate had received no Bills from the National Assembly.  It then adjourned until Tuesday 31st October, by which time the National Assembly may have been able to transmit some Bills for the attention of Senators. 

In the Senate

Bills

No Bills made it to the Senate Order Paper.

Motions

Senators contented themselves with continuing contributions to the debate on the President’s speech opening the current Parliamentary session.

In the National Assembly

Bills

Not one of the several Bills listed on the Order Paper was dealt with.

Motions

Like Senators, MPs were content to fill in the time by contributing to the debate on the President’s speech opening the session.

Import and Export Control: SI 64/2016 and SI 122/2017 of 22nd September

The reported aim SI 122/2017 of 22nd September was to consolidate all existing lists of controlled imports and exports [including the list in SI 64/2016] and at the same time repeal the old statutory instruments containing these lists [“controlled” meaning requiring an import or export licence from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce].  According to the Permanent Secretary of Industry and Commerce in a press interview, SI 122 – titled the Control of Goods (Open General Import Licence) (Amendment) Notice (No. 5) [link] and made by the Minister of Industry and Commerce – the purpose was ease of reference by manufacturers.  Importers wanting to find out which imports require licences would no longer have to piece together several statutory instruments dating back more than 20 years;  they would now find a single list in SI 122 [where the list has 53 items, of which on item 53, School uniforms, is new].  Likewise, exporters would be able to refer to a single list of controlled exports in SI 122 [where the list has only four items].   

Was this praiseworthy objective legally achieved by SI 122?  Unfortunately, it was not.  The problem is a legal one, stemming from the way the import and export control system works under the Control of Goods Act, with an upper tier of regulations made by the President empowering the making of a subordinate tier of orders and notices by Ministers.  The SI is a notice made by the Minister and its key section is section 2, the provision designed to give legal force to the new lists of imports and exports; if section 2 is ultra vires or otherwise invalid, the whole SI falls away.  Section 2, however, attempts to create the new consolidated lists by amending a set of regulations made by the President, which is clearly beyond the powers of the Minister [SI 766/1974]. 

The whole of SI 122, it follows, is tainted by the illegality of section 2 and must be regarded as a legal nullity – including section 3, which purports to repeal all the existing statutory instruments listing controlled imports and exports, including the notorious SI 64/2016; these repeals do not make sense if the new lists are invalid and therefore have to be disregarded. 

There are other problems with SI 122.  But further elaboration is unnecessary.  Section 2 is so defective that the whole SI needs to be replaced, urgently, by something valid and reasonably easy to follow – for example, a new Open General Import Licence and a separate new Open General Export Licence.  A longer-term aim should be to review the parent Control of Goods Act itself, because that Act almost certainly delegates Parliament’s primary law-making powers in contravention of the Constitution [see Constitution Watch 14/2016 and Bill Watch 48/2016].  

Government Gazette

Gazette Extraordinary of 6th October

Customs duty suspension for fertiliser for Summer Crop 2017-2018  SI 128/2017 amends the Customs and Excise (Suspension) Regulations by inserting a second schedule to section 9T of the regulations, which provides for customs duty suspensions for “approved fertiliser importers”, i.e., importers approved by the Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development.  The SI’s objective is to specify ring-fenced quantities of imported urea and ammonium nitrate as eligible for suspension of duty for the Summer Crop 2017-2018.  No expiry date is specified, which is surprising.  Note: The SI has been carelessly drafted, without making any changes to the body of section 9T of the principal regulations to accommodate the existence of two schedules where previously there was only one.    

Regular Gazette of 13th October

Imposition of Livestock Development Levy  By SI 129/2017 [link] the Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development has imposed a “livestock development levy”, effective immediately, in terms of section 37 of the Agriculture Marketing Authority Act.  The levy is payable by persons engaged in producing chicks [one cent per chick produced], buying raw milk [one cent per litre of raw milk purchased] or slaughtering beef cattle [“USD 10 of the value of a fifth quarter per animal slaughtered” – while “fifth quarter” is a technical term familiar in the livestock industry, “USD 10 of the value of a fifth quarter” needs clarifying].  The funds raised will go into three separate sub-funds of the Agricultural Marketing Fund and be used by the Agricultural Marketing Authority, in consultation with a committee representing livestock industry stakeholders, for purposes specified in the SI.. 

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