BILL WATCH 13/2020 - Parliamentary Work 10th March – 18th March

BILL WATCH 13/2020

[8th April 2020]

Parliamentary Work 10th March – 18th March

Both Houses of Parliament Stand Adjourned until 5th May

Bill Watch 7/2020 of 11th March [link] outlined progress made on Bills up to and including Tuesday, 10th March.  Bill Watch 9/2020 of 19th March [link] notified the presiding officers’ 18th March announcements in both Houses of Parliament that the afternoon’s sittings would be the last until Tuesday 5th May. This decision was taken in light of the President’s 17th March address to the nation on measures to be taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.  Both Houses duly adjourned to the 5th May at the end of the afternoon’s sittings. 

This bulletin covers Bills in Parliament from the 11th March to the adjournment on 18th March.  It outlines the passing of two Bills, and progress made on others, and what remains to be done when Parliament resumes.

Two Bills Passed by the Senate

On 17th March the Senate completed Parliament’s passage of the two Bills passed by the National Assembly on 10th March.  These are the only Bills the National Assembly has sent to the Senate this year, and they are now the only two Bills passed by Parliament.  They are both awaiting gazetting as Acts:

International Treaties Bill [as amended by the National Assembly] [link]

The above link is to a copy of the Bill as amended by the National Assembly and sent to the Senate, i.e., incorporating the following new clause 2(2):

(2) If any question arises as to the meaning of a “foreign organisation or entity” in connection with the application of section 327 of the Constitution, or in any other legal context in which the scope of Zimbabwe’s foreign obligations is in issue, that phrase (“foreign organisation” or “foreign entity”) shall mean any corporate entity domiciled or incorporated outside Zimbabwe.

The Senate gave the Bill its Second Reading without demur on Thursday 12th March.  Senators, however, objected to having the Committee Stage the same afternoon, claiming they had not had a proper opportunity to study the amended version of the Bill, because they had only received the soft copy of the amended Bill on their tablets* late that morning.  On Tuesday 17th March the Bill went through its Committee and Third Reading stages without debate, meaning it has been passed by Parliament with the new clause 2(2.  It will in due course go to the President in that form for his assent and gazetting as law.

*Note on tablets:  MPs and Senators have recently been supplied with tablets, as part of Parliament’s Digitisation/Paperless Parliament programme.  They now receive their copies of Hansard, Order Papers, Votes and Proceedings etc. on their tablets and these will no longer be supplied daily in hard copy.

Freedom of Information Bill [as amended by the National Assembly] [link]

The above link is to a copy of the Bill as amended by the National Assembly and sent to the Senate, i.e., with amendments to clauses 2, 10, 13 and 17.  

The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs opened the Second Reading stage with a speech explaining the Bill.  He stressed that it provided for the repeal of the much-criticised Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act [AIPPA] [see note below].  Senator Timveos asked whether the concerns of stakeholders, particularly the Media Institute of Southern Africa [MISA], had been taken into account in formulating the Bill.  In his reply the Minister assured Senators that there had been unusually extensive prior consultations on the Bill before it had been sent to Parliament.  The Bill was then given its Second Reading, taken through its remaining stages and passed without further debate.

The Bill must still be assented to by the President and gazetted as an Act before it becomes law, but this process need not take long, even given the COVID-19 lockdown.  The Government Gazette is still being published.  The Act will come fully into force the day it is gazetted.  

Note on the clause to repeal AIPPA [link]

Section 41 of the Act, when gazetted, will immediately repeal the whole of AIPPA – including AIPPA’s Parts XI and XII [dealing with Mass Media and Journalists] and Parts VIIA [the never-established Media Council] and Part VIII [the Media and Information Fund, funded by an obligatory levy payable by mass media organisations].  The new Act does not repeat those provisions or anything like them.  So, possibly very soon, (1) mass media organisations will be freed from the obligations to register with the Media Commission and to pay levies to the Media and Information Fund, and (2) journalists will no longer have to register. 

Mass media houses and journalists may ask if they need to worry about clause 41(2), which at first glance may seem to preserve the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Registration, Accreditation and Levy) Regulations, 2002 [SI 169C/2002] and the new registration fees recently gazetted by SI 79/2020 [link].  The answer is NO.  These SIs will fall away with the repeal of the AIPPA provisions underpinning them.  Clause 41(2) cannot preserve regulations under the AIPPA when there is no corresponding enabling provision in the new Act.

In the National Assembly: Progress on 3 Bills

The National Assembly made some progress on the following three Bills during the period 11th to 18th March – but progress was then interrupted by the adjournment until 5th May.

Marriages Bill [link]proposed amendments [link]

The Order Paper for Thursday 12th March contained the Minister’s proposed amendments for consideration during the Committee Stage.  As foreshadowed in the Minister’s reply to the Second Reading debate on 10th March, these amendments include the retention of clause 40 on civil partnerships – but with modifications to ensure fair treatment of women partners on the breakup of civil partnerships.  In the event the Committee Stage did not begin before the adjournment to 5th May, so it is item 1 on the Order Paper for that date. 

The Minister’s three amendments [link] propose:

  • replacement of clause 9 to ensure that only chiefs designated by the Minister are marriage officers for the purpose of solemnising customary marriages;
  • insertion of an entirely new clause after clause 9 to make ambassadors and similar officials in charge of diplomatic or consular missions marriage officers for the purpose of solemnising marriages as long as one of the parties to the marriage is a Zimbabwean citizen or permanent resident;
  • retention of clause 40 recognising civil partnerships – even where one of the partners is legally married to someone else – but with subclause (5) being replaced by new subclauses (5) and (6) [see link above] in an attempt to specify the rights of the other partner to a share of the assets of the legally married partner in the event of a dispute.

Stakeholders now have time to consider whether the proposed amendments to clause 40 constitute a clear and satisfactory response to a very real problem of safeguarding the rights of those in marriages and the interests of a civil partner on the dissolution of the partnership – and to lobby the Minister and MPs if not satisfied, preferably with concrete suggestions for improvements. 

Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Bill [link]

On 17th March, the Minister of Defence and War Veterans delivered a brief Second Reading speech on this Bill, explaining to MPs that it forms part of the programme to align existing laws with the Constitution, particularly provisions regarding veterans of the liberation struggle.  Section  23 of the Constitution defines these veterans as those who fought in the War of Liberation, those who assisted the fighters and those who were imprisoned, detained or restricted for political reasons during the liberation struggle; it also obliges the State to take legislative measures for the welfare and economic empowerment of these veterans. 

The Bill aims to replace the two pre-2013 laws on the same subject – the War Veterans Act and the Ex-Political Prisoners, Detainees and Restrictees Act – with a single Act of Parliament.  The Bill provides for all categories of veterans.  But it leaves many aspects to be governed by regulations, for example, the details of the benefits to which the various categories of veterans will be entitled.  

The Minister was followed by Hon Mayihlome, chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services, who presented the committee’s report on the public hearings held on the Bill and the committee’s recommendations [link].  It is clear from the report that many of the intended beneficiaries of the Bill, and the associations representing them, are dissatisfied with the Bill and want it comprehensively amended and expanded to provide explicitly for matters such as benefits, as opposed to leaving them to be prescribed in regulations.  The report accepts that most of the views given by stakeholders are noble and require attention”.  It concludes with three pages of recommendations, at the end of which the Ministry is urged to consider the people’s views and incorporate those issues that are critical to the welfare of veterans of the Liberation Struggle.

Several MPs gave their views afterwards, with more waiting to contribute to the debate, so the debate will continue when the National Assembly resumes in May.

Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill [link]

The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs presented this Bill on 18th March.  It was given its First Reading and immediately referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] for the required report on the Bill’s consistency or otherwise with the Constitution.  The Bill was gazetted on 21st February.  The PLC’s report had not been presented by the time of the adjournment to 5th May.

Other Bills awaiting start of Second Reading Stage

The following Bills have already received non-adverse reports from the PLC.  The public hearings have been held by the appropriate portfolio committees.  The Bills are, therefore, ready for the responsible Ministers to start the Second Reading stages with the objective of securing the National Assembly’s approval of the principles of each of the Bills:

·        Forest Amendment Bill [link] – see note in Bill Watch 7/2020 [link]

·        National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Bill [link]

·        Constitutional Court Bill [link]

·        Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill [link]

Bills with Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC]

Two Bills that have had their First Reading are still with the Parliamentary Legal Committee and cannot proceed to Second Reading stage until the PLC has reported on them:

Financial Adjustments Bill [link] [referred to PLC on 12th February]

This Bill, gazetted on 12th November 2019 but only introduced in the National Assembly on 12th February, seeks condonation of expenditure totalling over US $9,6 billion in the financial years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.  Section 307 of the Constitution requires the Minister responsible for finance to introduce such a Bill not later than 60 days after the extent of the unauthorised expenditure has been established.  In our critical analysis of the Bill in Bill Watch 66/2019 of 5th December 2019 [link] Veritas pointed out that the 60-day introduction deadline had obviously and inexcusably been ignored.   

Note: The Ministers responsible for finance during the period 2015-2018 are – Patrick Chinamasa, September 2013 to October 2017; Ignatius Chombo, October-November 2017; Chinamasa again, December 2017 to September 2018; Mthuli Ncube, September 2018 to date.

Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill [link] [referred to PLC on 18th March]

Gazetted Bills Still Awaiting Introduction

Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill [link]

This Bill was gazetted by the Speaker on 17th January, so the 3-month waiting period between that gazetting and the introduction of the Bill in the National Assembly imposed by section 328 of the Constitution will have expired by the time Parliament is due to resume sitting in May.  But the public hearings promised by Parliament when it called for submission of written submissions on the Bill have not yet been heard, and in the present situation it is uncertain when public hearings will be possible.  So an indefinite delay in the passage of this Bill seems unavoidable.

Veritas’ Constitution Watch bulletins 1 to 6/2020 critically examining the Bill in depth can be accessed on the Constitution Watch page [link] of the Veritas website. 

Pensions and Provident Funds Bill [link]

This major Bill was gazetted on 21st February.  Its purpose is to replace the existing Pension and Provident Funds Act with a new Act providing for the registration, regulation and dissolution of pension and provident funds, and in so doing to provide for additional functions for the Insurance and Pensions Commission [IPEC].   Clause 3 states the objects of the Bill as being to ensure protection of the interests of members and beneficiaries of pension funds and provident funds; to ensure the security of pension funds and provident funds; and to ensure the sustainability of the pension sector as a whole.

Bills being Prepared for Gazetting

The responsible Ministries have sent three Bills to Parliament for printing and eventual gazetting:

Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill  [the corrected page proofs have been back with the Government Printer since 16th March*]

Centre for Education, Innovation, Research and Development Bill  [draft submitted to Government Printer on 3rd March*]

Manpower Planning and Development Bill  [draft submitted to Government Printer on 3rd March*]

[* latest information from Parliament].

These Bills will not be available from Veritas until they have been gazetted.

 

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