BILL WATCH 31/2020
[26th May 2020]
Parliament Resumes Business
Both the National Assembly and the Senate met last week. The National Assembly sat for 15 minutes on Tuesday 19th May [for prayers and announcements] – not at Parliament but at the Harare International Conference Centre to allow social distancing although seventy members only attended. It then adjourned for one week until Tuesday 26th May. Sittings this week will be at Parliament [see below for special arrangements].
The Senate sat in the National Assembly Chamber to allow for social distancing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and then adjourned until Tuesday 9th June.
This bulletin will first summarise the agenda for the National Assembly today and then review the proceedings that took place last week in both Houses.
Coming up This Week in the National Assembly
Approval of new National Assembly Standing Orders
Item 1 on the Order Paper for 26th May is a motion by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for the adoption by the House of the 2020 Edition of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly.
Last week the presiding officers in both Houses informed members that the new Standing Orders had been circulated to them electronically and urged them to study the new rules in preparation for forthcoming motions for their approval by each House.
Bills for consideration appear next on the Order Paper in the following order:
Bill for Committee Stage
Marriages Bill [link]
The Committee Stage is due to start, as it has been since the House approved the Second Reading on 10th March. The Order Paper has three amendments proposed by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. As foreshadowed in the Minister’s reply to the Second Reading debate, 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. The Minister’s three amendments [link] propose:
- replacement of clause 9 to ensure that only chiefs specially designated by the Minister will be 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.
Bills awaiting continuation of Second Reading debate
Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill [link]
The Media Commission is one of the five Independent Commissions Supporting Democracy established by Chapter 12 of the Constitution; under the former Constitution. This Bill is intended to flesh out the bare bones of the very brief constitutional provisions [Constitution, sections 248, 249 and 250]. It will take the place of the unsatisfactory provisions of AIPPA, which have performed this function since this Commission first attained constitutional status in January 2008. [Note: Parliament has already passed the Freedom of Information Bill which, when it becomes an Act, will repeal AIPPA.] The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs presented the Minister’s Second Reading speech on 10th March, followed by Hon Chikwinya’s presentation of the Portfolio Committee’s critical report [link] on the Bill, public hearings having been held in October 2019. The report notes the committee’s intention to propose amendments at the Committee Stage of the Bill. After the presentation of the Committee’s report, Hon Kindness Paradza, himself a journalist and a member of the Committee, spoke passionately and knowledgeably about the need for the Bill to change the media landscape in Zimbabwe, for the media to be free and for the Government to relinquish control of the media.
Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Bill [link]
When the Bill was last in the House, debate progressed well, with several contributions from MPs after the Minister’s opening speech and the presentation of the report of the Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services. The impression conveyed, both by the Portfolio Committee and MPs who spoke, was that struggle veterans and their organisations were not particularly happy with the Bill.
Bills for start of Second Reading stage
The following Bills have all received non-adverse reports from the PLC and are ready for the responsible Ministers to start the Second Reading stages by delivering speeches explaining the principles of each Bill – why a Bill is necessary, how it is intended to do whatever is necessary, etc. Parliament has already invited public comment on all the Bills apart from the Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill, but no public hearings have been held.
Constitutional Court Bill [link]
Forest Amendment Bill [link]
This Bill, amongst other amendments to the Forest Act, has a clause [clause 12] amending section 78 of the Act, which provides for what the Act calls “major offences”. For setting of fires without authority in both State and private forests, clause 12 removes the option of a minimum fine from the existing mandatory minimum sentencing provisions of section 78(2) – this makes a minimum prison sentence of 5 years or, in less serious cases, 1 year, mandatory. For fires left unattended on other land the levels of the existing mandatory fines in section 78(3) are reduced without changing the existing prison sentences.
Clause 12 also proposes adding a new section 78(4), which will oblige “the Court” [presumably a court sentencing someone for contravening section 78(1), (2) or (3)?] to ”take into account such aggravating factors as loss of human life, livestock, wildlife and other property”. It then adds an incomprehensible proviso that “penalties for such offences” [which offences?] “shall apply as is provided for under the Parks and Wildlife Act … or the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act … whichever is greater”. MPs will certainly need to demand a full explanation of this puzzling proviso.
There are other measures too, for instance, to decentralise to forestry and environmental officers decisions on such matters as the adequacy of fireguards. The Bill also includes provisions designed to ensure the Forestry Commission Board includes persons with special qualifications in forestry, environmental planning and management and ecology, and that its membership and the staffing of the Commission is gender-balanced.
National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Bill [link]
Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill [link]
Financial Adjustments Bill [link]
This Bill was critically discussed at length in Bill Watch 66/2019 [link]. The fact that the PLC had the Bill under consideration for several months before returning a non-adverse report suggests that the PLC and the Minister of Finance and Economic Development may have reached agreement on amendments to the Bill to at least render it more informative on the nature of the many acts of unauthorised spending by Ministries. But MPs are sure to want to know how such huge unauthorised debts were run up without any knowledge of Parliament.
In the Senate 19th to 21st May
Appointment of Leader of Government Business in the Senate
On 19th May Senate President Chinomona announced that President Mnangagwa had appointed Retired Air Chief Marshal Shiri, Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement as Leader of Government Business in the Senate.
Three international loan agreements approved
On 19th May the Senate duly adopted three motions proposed by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development for the approval of three international loan agreements in terms of section 327(2) of the Constitution, under which loan agreements with foreign organisations or entities do not bind Zimbabwe until approved by Parliament.
1. With Export-Import Bank of China for NetOne Mobile Broadband Expansion Project Phase III
Date signed: 26th June 2019. Amount: US$ 71 million on soft loan terms, to be repaid by NetOne with funds generated from sales of airtime and internet data. Approved without debate.
2. With Export-Import Bank of India for Deka Pumping Station and Intake System Project
Date signed: 3rd June 2019. Amount: US$ 19.5 million on soft loan terms, to be repaid direct to the bank by Zimbabwe Power Company [ZPC]. This project aims to improve the supply of Zambezi River water to the expanded Hwange Power Station. Senator Komichi, speaking with the experience of having worked for more than two decades at the pumping station, was able to elaborate on the need for the project. Both Senators Komichi and Mudzuri stressed the need for Government to follow a cost-benefit approach to ensure that investments in the power sector result in significantly increased power production justifying the money spent. Approved.
3. With Export-Import Bank of India for Renovation of Bulawayo Thermal Power Station
Date signed: 3rd June 2019. Amount US$ 23 million on soft loan terms, to be repaid direct to the bank by ZPC. Again Senators stressed the need to ensure value for money when deciding to renovate aged power stations, rather than invest in new plants; they pointed out that previous renovation projects had not produced satisfactory improvements in power supply. Approved.
Comment: These agreements were approved by the National Assembly in October last year but have only just come before the Senate for approval. This means that none of these agreements should have come into force. MPs need to check whether they did and if so whether interest has already been paid on these loans – any such payment of interest before Parliament’s approval is probably illegal.
Further debate on motion for abolition of death penalty
On Wednesday 20th May Senators devoted most of the afternoon to further debate on Senator Makone’s motion calling for the repeal of death sentence provisions in the Criminal Law Code and other Acts of Parliament. In an interesting discussion most contributors favoured abolition. Senator Chiefs reminded those present that the death sentence was unknown to traditional culture and had been a colonial introduction. Senator Chief Nhema said the death penalty should be abolished in favour of life imprisonment, and also that chiefs’ courts should be allowed to apply traditional culture in cases of murder. Senator Chief Makumbe also called for chiefs to be empowered to deal with murder cases in accordance with traditional practices and customs. Senator Khupe cautioned against abolition of the death penalty without first holding extensive consultations with murder victims’ families to ascertain their attitude towards abolition..
In the National Assembly on 19th May
Before the adjournment to 26th May, the Speaker made several announcements to the just over 70 MPs present, as follows:
Committee work and public hearings
Eight committees with direct responsibility and oversight on the Corona Virus outbreak had been selected by Parliament to resume meeting and the Clerk of Parliament was making necessary arrangements for other committees to be functional the following week. Details and arrangements for public hearings by committees would be announced in due course.
Sittings from 26th May to be both physical and virtual
Members would have to familiarise themselves with their tablets in preparation for participation in proceedings “through virtual technology” within the premises of Parliament, because some members would not be accommodated in the National Assembly chamber. Arrangements would be notified in due course.
Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] reports received
Non-adverse reports had been received from the PLC on:
- the Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill
- the Financial Adjustments Bill
- Statutory Instruments gazetted during March, except for the Petroleum (Direct Fuel Imports and Marketing of Fuel) Regulations , 2020, SI 65/2020 [link]
- Statutory Instruments gazetted during April, except for the Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) (Amendment) Order (No. 2), SI 86/2020 [link] which added eight activities to the definition of “essential service” in the principal National Lockdown Order, SI 83/2020 [link].
[Note: This clears SIs 58 to 64, 65A to 85 and 87 to 97 as being, in the opinion of the PLC, not inconsistent with the Constitution. It is uncertain whether there will be adverse reports on SI 65/2020 and SI 86/2020 or whether the PLC is discussing them with the relevant Ministry, with a view to adjusting them.]