Bill Watch 44 - Budget Debate in Slow Start Last Week

BILL WATCH 44/2018

[13th December 2018]

Both Houses Will Resume Next Week, on Tuesday 18th December

The Week Ending Friday 7th December in the National Assembly

The National Assembly sat for its normal three afternoons, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 4th, 5th and 6th December – and made a start on its debate on the 2019 Budget.  In the absence of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, the Government did not attempt to introduce motions for fast-tracking of Budget business, and Question Time took up the whole of Wednesday’s sitting.  At close of business on Thursday the House adjourned until Tuesday 18th December.  [The Senate had adjourned until the 18th December on Budget Day.]

New MP for Mutoko North constituency sworn in

On 6th December Nyabote Rambidzai of ZANU PF, the winner of the by-election held on 24th November, was sworn in as the Member of the National Assembly for Mutoko North Constituency.  

Budget business [Tuesday and Thursday]

Despite the absence of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were devoted to the debate on the Budget Speech.  MDC-A’s Hon Chikwinya and Hon Tendai Biti protested at the Minister’s absence, but were assured by the presiding officer that the Minister was out of the country on official duty but that his officials would attend and note points made during the debate to enable the Minister to reply at the appropriate time. 

Chairpersons of eleven committees, or their proxies, presented their committees’ reports on the post-Budget consultations held with Ministries and other stakeholders during the previous week.  Recurring themes present in most reports were: criticism of Budget allocations as inadequate to meet targets and in some cases a paltry fraction of the bid by the Ministry concerned; the need for timeous disbursement of funds allocated, with references to previous experience of late, partial or even total failure by Treasury to disburse; the need for implementation of proposed expenditure rationalisation measures “which, in essence, are not new and have been proposed over the years without implementation”.

By close of business on Thursday the House had heard the reports of eleven committees:

1. Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee  The Committee expressed its concern with the insistence in the Budget that the RTGS/Bond and US$ exchange rate is 1:1 in an economy where a three tier pricing system is evidently widespread and is affecting the already burdened members of the society; it pointed out the potential for illegalities and rent seeking behaviour.  It also complained about budget information inconsistencies between the different Budget documents supplied by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.  On allocations to Parliament, the 90% of bid budget allocation made to Committee operations was acknowledged as reasonable.  A caveat was that allocations must be matched by timely release of funds to ensure continued service delivery.

2. Portfolio Committee on Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation   Budget allocations were characterised as “gross underfunding” and ignoring the importance of the massive youth component of Zimbabwe’s population.

3. Public Accounts Committee   The Committee noted that the allocation to the Audit Office was insufficient for the Auditor-General to provide remuneration packages adequate to retain experience staff.  It also pin-pointed the failure to operationalise the Audit Office Board for the best part of a decade.

4. Portfolio Committee on Local Government, Public Works and National Housing   The Committee commented that the bulk of the Ministry’s vote is allocated to devolution to the detriment of other Ministry targets.  It also pointed to the lack of separate estimates of revenue and expenditure for the Council Of Chiefs as required by section 305(3)(d) of the Constitution, and to the Ministry’s previous experience of variances between allocations and actual disbursement.

5. Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development   The Committee expressed its satisfaction that the Ministry had been allocated nearly $100 million than it had requested, and justified this by pointing out that the Ministry generates significant Government revenue.

6. Portfolio Committee on Energy and Power Development

7. Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services

8. Portfolio Committee on Information, Publicity and Media Services

9. Portfolio Committee on Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises and Cooperative Development

10. Portfolio Committee on Industry and Commerce   It was noted that the vital Industrialization Programme had been allocated US$27.5 million against a bid for US$306.1 million.

11. Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs  The committee deplored the low level of allocations to Chapter 12 Independent Commissions Supporting Democracy as insufficient for meeting targets.  The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, for instance, would be unable to decentralise its operations to provinces and districts, which would expose it to the risk of losing its international ‘A’ class certification and the privileges that go with that certification.   On the Ministry’s responsibility for alignment of legislation to the Constitution, the committee highlighted the challenge posed by lack of co-operation from other Ministries whose Acts require alignment to the Constitution.

Nine committees still have to present their reports when the debate resumes, on Tuesday 18th December.  Only when that has been done and individual MPs, if any, have had their say, and the Minister has replied to the debate, will the House vote on the Minister’s motion and, assuming approval, proceed to the remaining Budget business, as outlined in Bill Watch .     

Bills

Finance (No. 2) Bill [link] This Bill was presented on 4th December by the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, on behalf of the absent Minister of Finance and Economic Development.

Companies and Other Business Entities Bill [link]  The PLC’s non-adverse report was received on 6th December – meaning that the PLC was satisfied that none of its provisions was inconsistent with the Constitution.  The House is, therefore, free to make a start on the Bill’s Second Reading stage at any time, depending on pressure of Budget business.  As the Bill is an important part of the Government’s “ease of doing business” programme, it is bound to be treated as urgent. The companion Insolvency Bill was passed in the dying days of the last Parliament before the election and has been in force since 20th July as the Insolvency Act [link]

Tripartite Negotiating Forum Bill   This Bill is now due to be presented by the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare on 18th December.  After the formality of its First Reading the Bill will be automatically referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC], as required by Standing Orders and the Constitution, for the committee’s report on its consistency with the Constitution.

Motions

The House’s concentration on Budget business ruled out resumption of adjourned debates or introduction of new motions.

National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Regulations

[Statutory Instrument 90/2018] [not yet in force]

On 6th December the Minister of State in Vice-President Mohadi’s Office tabled these regulations [link] in the National Assembly.   explaining that this special tabling was required by the enabling section 21 of the National Peace and Reconciliation Act [link]. Section 21(4) provides that such regulations will come into effect on the 30th day after the date which they are tabled “in Parliament”, unless Parliament earlier resolves to annul such regulations.  The regulations were then referred to (1) the Parliamentary Legal Committee and (2) the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. 

Comment:

1. The tabling of the SI was extremely late; section 21(4) of the Act requires tabling on the next sitting day of Parliament after the making of the regulation.  The SI was gazetted on 8th June, the day after the last Parliament’s last sitting, so the next sitting day of Parliament was the first ordinary working day of the present Parliament on 25th September.  And there have been over 20 sitting days since then.  Section 21(4) must have been overlooked by all concerned.   

2. The regulations will also have to be tabled in the Senate, because “Parliament” means both the Senate and the National Assembly.  It follows that the 30-day deadline for a possible Senate annulment resolution cannot be calculated until tabling in the Senate has occurred. 

3. Statutory instruments in Zimbabwe normally come into force on the date of gazetting, unless some other date is specified in the  statutory instrument.  Very occasionally, as in this case, the enabling Act itself provides otherwise.  It would have been helpful if SI 90 had included a prominent explanatory note warning readers of its unusual provisional nature.  

Regular Government Gazette of 7th December

Statutory Instruments

Local authority by-laws

SI 261/2018 – Chikomba Rural District Council (Food Hygiene) By-laws

SI 262/2018 – Marondera Rural District Council (Anti-litter) By-laws

Collective bargaining agreement

SI 263/2018 – Cotton Industry [salaries, wage and allowances with effect from 1st October 2018].

Budget measures with effect from 1st December 2018

Sanitary wear  SI 264/2018 – customs duty suspension on sanitary wear until 30 November 2019; SI 265/2018 – related exemption from VAT for sanitary wear [on both sales and imports].

Customs cargo tracking routes  SI 266/2018 amends the lists of cargo tracking routes in the Twelfth Schedule to the principal Customs and Excise (Ports of Entry and Routes) Order.  Two routes are added to the Routes Across Zimbabwe and four routes to the Routes Across Cities/Towns.

Customs ports of entry

SI 267/2018 adds Chirundu to the list of warehousing ports.

Environmental management – hazardous substances

SI 268/2018 is the Environmental Management (Control of Hazardous Substances) (General) Regulations, 2018.  The new regulations repeal and replace SIs 12/2007, 77/2009 and 129/2011, the previous regulations on hazardous substances. 

General Notice

Prosecutors Association of Zimbabwe – Application for Registration as Trade Union

GN 1026/2018 notifies the receipt of an application under the Labour Act to represent the interests of prosecutors in the National Prosecuting Authority.  Interested parties have until 6th January 2019 to lodge written representations to the Registrar of Labour.

Government Gazette Extraordinary of 7th December

Publication of the Appropriation (2019) Bill [link] was the sole purpose of this Gazette.  The Bill is to give effect to the Estimates of Expenditure for 2019.

Government Gazette Extraordinary of 11th December

Customs tariff: new tariff lines   SI 269/2018 amends the customs tariff by adding two new tariff lines under the heading 87:04 – Motor vehicles for the transport of goods [the new lines are for “extended cabs” and the rates of duty are 40%].

 

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