BILL WATCH 34-2019 Non-Legislative Business in National Assembly in June

BILL WATCH 34/2019

[15th July 2019]

Non-Legislative Business in the National Assembly in June

Our recent Bill Watch bulletins have concentrated on either Parliamentary progress on Bills [Bill Watches Nos 29, 30, 31] or SI 142’s unexpected reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar [ZWL] as the sole legal tender in the country on 24th June [Bill Watches Nos. 32 and 33].  This bulletin sketches non-legislative business in the National Assembly in the two weeks before it went into recess on 27th June.

Vacancies in the National Assembly

Three vacancies occurred in constituency seats, bringing the number of vacant seats to four:

Lupane East     

The sitting MP, Hon Sithembile Gumbo of ZANU PF, died on 15th April.  The nomination court sat on 14th June and accepted nomination papers for nine candidates [link].  Polling will be on Saturday 3rd August.  

Glen View South

The sitting MP, Hon Vimbayi Tsvangirai-Java of MDC-A, died on 10th June.  By SI 147/2019 of 12th July [link] the President has ordered the necessary by-election, specifying 26th July as nomination day and 7th September as polling day.

Mangwe

The sitting MP, Hon Obedingwa Mguni of ZANU PF, died on 18th June.  By SI 148/2019 of 12th July [link] the President has ordered the necessary by-election, specifying 26th July as nomination day and 7th September as polling day.

Zaka East

The sitting MP, Hon. Katson Ringirisai Gumbwanda, of ZANU PF, died on 25th June.  The by-election has not yet been called.

Matters of Privilege under Standing Order 68(d)

MPs have, with increasing frequency, been raising “matters of privilege” – matters of national importance they wish to draw to the attention of the House – either at the beginning of an afternoon’s business or in mid-debate.  This practice has proved to be a useful method of airing current issues, but the Speaker has already had cause to warn it should not be abused.

National Assembly Standing Order 68(d) allows motions “relating to … a matter of privilege” to be moved without notice, i.e., without the matter being featured on the agenda for the day.  Standing Order 69 gives such motions precedence over other motions as well as other “orders of the day” [agenda items].  

The sitting on 27th June featured several issues raised as matters of privilege.

SI 142/2019 – Only RTGS dollars to be “legal tender”

First, Hon Musabayana of ZANU PF praised the Government for re-asserting Zimbabwe’s monetary sovereignty by abolishing the multi-currency system  and scrapping the multi-currency system.  Speaking next, Hon Biti of MDC-A, on the other hand, condemned SI 142 out of hand, both as legally invalid and economically unsound.  

Chinese contractors’ alleged assault on Chief Chivero and general disrespect for the laws of Zimbabwe

Next. Hon Mliswa, MP for Norton, cited alleged misconduct by Chinese contractors in his constituency to refer to “the Chinese ways of doing things in the country, in that they absolutely have no respect for the laws of this country”.  He said they beaten up a traditional chief in the Norton constituency, Chief Chivero, when he had gone to the factory to solve alleged breaches of the labour law in relation to Zimbabwean workers.  He said the assault on Chief Chivero had been reported to the police, but the culprit had left the country to evade police looking for him and was now in China.  He also alleged other examples of misconduct – corruption, inflated contract prices, mistreatment of labour working on the new Parliament complex [failure to provide safety wear, hiring and firing labour willy-nilly – and called for a review of Zimbabwe’s relationship with China.

NSSA Forensic Audit Report – Speaker’s Ruling on Responsible Minister’s Delay in Bringing Report to Parliament

MPs have for some time been complaining about the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare’s failure to table the Forensic Audit Report on the National Social Security Authority [NSSA], received by the Minister from the Auditor-General, who had commissioned an outside specialist firm of auditors to carry out the audit.  MPs alleged failure by the Minister to comply with provisions of the Constitution and the Audit and Exchequer Act.  The Minister had responded that she had been advised that she was not legally obliged to table the report, but was prepared to do so once the report had been unpacked in the course of a “due diligence” exercise; and the Speaker had promised a ruling on the issue.  

On 27th June the Speaker’s ruling was delivered, commencing with the statement:  “This ruling seeks to resolve the matter of tabling of forensic reports made by the Auditor-General upon request by the responsible Minister.  It will also address the matter of tabling of the Auditor General’s reports in terms of section 12 of the Audit Office Act.”  The text of the lengthy and detailed ruling is available on the Veritas website [link].  It draws a distinction between:

  • Auditor-General’s reports in terms of section 10 of the Audit Office Act [the routine reports on the annual audit of the accounts of Government, State Enterprises, Parastatals and Local Authorities, which must reach the Minister of Finance and Economic Development no later than the 30th June] and “special reports” in terms of section 11 of the Act [which are prepared by the Auditor-General for the benefit of the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee [PAC] either on her own initiative or by special request of the PAC].  Section 12 of the Act requires both types of reports to be sent to the appropriate Minister, who must then table them before the National Assembly no later than the seventh day on which the Assembly next sits.  If the Minister fails to do so within that period, the Auditor-General must transmit a copy of the report to the Speaker for the Speaker to lay it before the Assembly.
  • Reports on “special audits of the accounts of any statutory body or government-controlled entity”, carried out by the Auditor-General at the request of the Government in terms of section 309(2)(b) of the Constitution and reports on “special or forensic audits” of public entities carried out at the request of the responsible Minister in terms of 40 of the Public Entities Corporate Governance Act.  These reports, the Speaker ruled, are not covered by section 10 of the Audit Office Act, which pre-dates both the Constitution and the Public Entities.  Despite this, he said, it is implicit in the Constitution’s several statements of Parliament’s position as  the body to which all Government institutions and agencies are accountable and the ultimate monitor of all expenditure of public funds, that such reports must come to Parliament.  Like all constitutional obligations, this obligation must be fulfilled “diligently and without delay” as laid down in section 324 of the Constitution.  

Having so determined the principle of the matter in a legally sound ruling, and having noted that the Minister had already undertaken to table the report but had been prevented from doing so by forces beyond her control concerning the special nature of a forensic audit, the Speaker directed as follows:

Consequently, the Minister is directed within the next 2 weeks to finalise her due diligence regarding the report and advise Parliament on the date she will table the report, which period must be within in a reasonable time in terms of the letter and spirit of sections 298, 299, 309(2) and 324 of the National Constitution.

It follows that when the National Assembly resumes on 16th July the Speaker should be able to advise MPs when to expect the Minister to table the report.  

Comment: When commenting on earlier discussion of the NSSA Forensic Report issue in the National Assembly, we referred in Bill Watch 29/2019 of 3rd June to section 12 of the Audit and Exchequer, assuming that it would be applicable.  After full investigation, the Speaker has, rightly, concluded that section 12 does not apply to special forensic audit reports requested under section 309 of the Constitution or under the Public Entities Corporate Governance Act – which is what this NSSA has now turned out to be.  

The Speaker’s ruling also says, however, that the absence of express statutory provision for the tabling of such reports constitutes a “lacuna in the law” – a gap that needs to be filled.  It is to be hoped that the Minister of Finance and Economic Development will ensure that suitable provision is made by Act of Parliament as soon as possible, to give effect to the constitutional principles so convincingly cited by the Speaker.  Any such provision would have to take account of the special nature of forensic audits, for examples, that they may identify criminal behaviour and lead to prosecution and other legal proceedings.  

Ministerial Statements

The African Elephant [19th June]

This statement was made by the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry in the lead-up to the AU-UN Wildlife Economy Summit from the 23rd to 25th June, 2019 in Victoria Falls.  This summit provided, as the Minister predicted, a platform for Zimbabwe, to showcase its wildlife conservation successes, share its principle of sustainable conservation and at the same time highlight and share Zimbabwe’s position on elephant management as we prepare for CITES CoP 18.  [At the Summit, President Mnangagwa stated Zimbabwe’s position in a forthright manner, stating Zimbabwe’s wish to be able to sell its ivory stockpile and some of its excess elephant population, and determination to resist Western countries’ efforts to classify elephants under CITES Appendix 1 [no trade at all] rather than their present classification under Appendix 2 [regulated trade permissible.]

Illegal Settlers in Resettlement Areas [19th June]

This statement was made by the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement.   Discussion continued until the automatic adjournment at 7 pm.  The Minister pointed out that action on illegal settlers was essential: “The objective of the Land Reform Programme to decongest communal areas may have been achieved, but will count for nothing as long as the resettlement areas become more congested than the communal areas.”

Electricity Situation in the Country [26th June]

On Wednesday 26th June  MPs, after the statutory hour for Questions Without Notice, MPs resolved to suspend Questions With Notice to allow the Minister of Energy and Power Development, Hon Fortune Chasi, to make a Ministerial Statement on the electricity situation.  The lengthy and very detailed statement – and MPs’ many requests for clarification and the Minister’s responses – took up the rest of the afternoon, lasting over two hours until the adjournment at 5.43 pm.

Take Note Motions on Reports

On 25th June reports on meetings and conferences attended by Parliamentary delegations outside the country were presented under motions requesting the House to take note of the reports:

Inter-Parliamentary Union [IPU] Meeting on the Adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration held in Rabat, Morocco, in early December 2018.  Hon Nduna presented the report and moved the take note motion.

52nd Session of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly and the 36th Session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, held in Benin in early December 2018 [ACP stands for African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States].   Hon Saruwaka presented the report and moved the take note motion.  The report notes that the Cotonou Agreement of 1975 between the EU and Caribbean States will expire 2020 and that negotiations began some time ago for post-Cotonou arrangements.

The 7th International Parliamentary Conference on the Implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development held in Ottawa, Canada on 22nd to 23rd October, 2018 and The international Conference on Family Planning held on 12th -15th November, 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda.  Hon Kwaramba, seconded by Hon Labode, presented these two reports and moved the take note motion.

These reports will be available on the Veritas website next week.

ICT Literacy Training for MPs

MPs who wished to do so were able to attend three-day Information Communication Technology [ICT] Literary training courses during June.  The relevance of such training was neatly demonstrated last week when the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs tabled the Report of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] on the 2018 Harmonised Elections before moving the take note motion on the report.  Normally, MPs receive tabled reports in printed form.  This report, however, will be distributed to each MP on a compact disc.  [The debate on the Minister’s motion will proceed when the House resumes.] 

Report of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] on the 2018 Harmonised Elections is available on Veritas website [link]

 

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