BILL WATCH 34/2020 - National Assembly Sittings 2nd to 4th June

BILL WATCH 34/2020

[7th June 2020]

National Assembly Sittings 2nd to 4th June

Amended Marriages Bill Approved

The National Assembly sat on 2nd, 3rd and 4th June for the second continuous week.  It then adjourned until Tuesday 16th June.  This short recess will allow the Senate, which last sat on 21st May, to resume sitting from Tuesday 9th to Thursday 11th June in the chamber of the National Assembly, where it is easier for Senators to comply with physical distancing rules than in the smaller chamber Senate chamber.  This bulletin outlines proceedings in the National Assembly last week and what business awaits the Senate this coming week.

In the National Assembly 2nd to 4th June

Bills

Marriages Bill – Amended Bill passed and sent to Senate

On Wednesday 3rd June the Speaker announced receipt of a non-adverse Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] report on the amendments to clauses 9, 11 and 40 [the controversial civil partnerships clause] of the original Bill and the entirely new clause 10 added to the Bill [necessitating the renumbering of clauses 11 and 40 as 12 and 41 respectively.  [These amendments had been made during the Committee Stage the previous week, and Bill Watch 33/2020 of 1st June [link] provides more detail on them.]  The amended Bill was then given its Third Reading and transmitted to the Senate for consideration.  

Other Bills – Second Reading stages

There was no progress on the other Bills on the Order Paper, all of them either in the Second Reading stage or awaiting its commencement, as indicated in Bill Watch 33/2020 [link].  Priority was accorded instead to other business, most of it concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy, as outlined below.

Other business – Tuesday 2nd June

Parliamentary Delegation Report on 45th Plenary Assembly of the SADC Parliamentary Forum in Maputo, July 2019

Hon E. Ncube presented the Report of the Delegation to the 45th Plenary Assembly of the SADC Parliamentary Forum held at the Joaquim Chissano International Conference Centre, Maputo, Mozambique from 15th to 25th July 2019 [link].  The delegation was led by the Speaker of the National Assembly.

Public Accounts Committee Report: Analysis of the 2017 Auditor General’s Report on Local Authorities

In the absence of Hon Biti, Hon Raidza presented the report of the Public Accounts Committee [PAC] containing the PAC’s Report [link] on its Analysis of the above Auditor-General’s Report on Kariba, Karoi, Chegutu and Chinhoyi municipal councils. Debate on the report began and  Hon Nduna, MP for Chegutu West, called for the sacking of the Chegutu Town Clerk.

Other business – Wednesday 3rd June

Questions without Notice, which are limited to policy issues, took up the first hour of the sitting in accordance with Standing Orders.  Hon Mliswa asked the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to explain why so many arrests resulted in acquittals, and so few in convictions.  Who was at fault, the investigators or the prosecuting authorities and what was Government policy?.  The Minister revealed that Government policy being implemented now is that “the police, Anti-Corruption Commission and the Prosecution must sit down together and agree that this docket is ready for prosecution before they go on to arrest [emphasis by Veritas]. He continued, “We are trying to encourage them to remove this silo mentality and work together, the investigators and those lawyers who are responsible for prosecution, so that they satisfy each other that they have a case that they can prosecute and win.”

Another MP’s attempt to ask a supplementary question about unsuccessful prosecutions was turned down by the Deputy Speaker. When the MP protested vigorously about this ruling, Hon Mliswa came to the Deputy Speaker’s defence by reprimanding MPs for not respecting the Deputy Speaker because she is a woman.  Note: This incident is mentioned because it may be relevant to the point of privilege concerning Hon Mliswa that was raised in the House the next day [see below].

Questions with Notice were, on the motion of the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, deferred to allow the Minister of Health and Child Care to present a Ministerial Statement.

Ministerial Statement on on the current status of the Covid 19 pandemic in the country

This Ministerial Statement [link] was presented by the Minister of Health and Child Care.  The Minister’s statement and his replies to MPs’ many requests for clarification took nearly three hours, with the adjournment until 4th June coming at 6.14 pm.  

Other business – Thursday 4th June

In the absence of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Hon Tsitsi Gezi chaired the sitting.

Hon Mliswa twice escorted out of House by Serjeant-at-Arms

At the start of the sitting, when points of privilege were permitted, Hon Kashambe, MP for Seke, complained that MPs generally have been treated unequally by presiding officers when they wish to debate, with Hon Mliswa being favoured over other MPs to the extent that he is apparently “allowed to say whatever he wants, when he wants and at whatever time”, even getting away with insulting the Speaker and Deputy Speaker by accusing them of being corrupt.  Hon Mliswa tried to interrupt what Hon Kashambe was saying by repeatedly standing up.  According to Hansard, “commotion in the House” ensued and Hon Mliswa used “unparliamentary words” in response to a perceived insult by a fellow MP.  The Deputy Speaker then had him escorted out of the House by the Serjeant-at-Arms, only for him to re-enter through another door and accuse her of destroying Parliament.  He was escorted out a second time, and the Deputy Speaker assured Hon Kashambe that the presiding officers would consider his issue with the administration of Parliament and come up with a position.

Portfolio Committee Report on Schools Opening in light of the COVID-19 pandemic

Hon. Misihairabwi Mushonga, chairperson of the portfolio committee on Primary and Secondary Education, seconded by Hon. Madhuku, moved that the House takes note of the committee’s report [link].  The report recommends a phased approach to the re-opening of schools, guided by what is practically possible given the limited resources available.  The committee, having assessed what is possible, advised against opening schools generally until Government can meet relevant WHO guidelines, and recommended that the rest of 2020 be limited to completing examinations, with the June exams being put off until September and the November exams perhaps being held in December.  Debate may continue on 16th June.

Ministerial Statement on Measures to Ensure Availability of Cash and Stabilisation of Prices given the shocks emanating from the COVID–19 pandemic

The Minister of Finance and Economic Development predominantly optimistic statement.  The Minister’s replies to MPs’ many requests for clarification took up the rest of the sitting.  The statement and the Minister’s responses to requests for clarification are available on the Veritas website [link].

The adjournment to Tuesday 16th June came at 6.21 pm.  

Coming up in the Senate 9th to 11th June

The main items due for consideration by the Senate are the amended Marriages Bill.as passed by the National Assembly on 3rd June, and the repeat of the previous Senate’s vote on the Third Reading of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 1) Bill of 2017 as belatedly ordered by the Constitutional Court of 30th March; approval of the new Senate Standing Orders; and the continuation of the debate on the motion calling for the abolition of the death penalty.  

Marriages Bill as amended

It is to be hoped that Senators will be provided with an updated copy of the Bill incorporating the amendments made by the National Assembly – even if it has to be a soft copy sent to them on their tablets.  [See above for a link to details of the amendments].  This item of business is not yet on the Order Paper for Tuesday 9th June, so the Bill may not come up until later.

Repeat of Third Reading Vote on Constitution Amendment No. 1 Bill of 2017

This is now an item on the Order Paper for 9th June.  In a decision on 30th March this year the Constitutional Court held that the Senate had not properly passed the above Bill in 2017.  [See Bill Watch 27/2020 of 13th May [link] for the details.]

According to the Constitutional Court, at least 54 affirmative votes are required to pass a constitutional Bill in the Senate, whether or not there are temporary vacancies.  If a fresh vote fails to get the minimum 54 votes before the end of September, the court’s declaration of nullity will come into effect.  

Bills Already Passed by Parliament but Not Yet Acts

The Bills in this category, both passed by Parliament in March, have not yet been submitted to the President for his assent and gazetting as Acts:  

  • Freedom of Information Bill
  • International Treaties Bill

The latest information from Parliament is that the final page proofs of both Acts were sent back to the Government Printer on 3rd June, which may mean that they will be in the President’s in-basket reasonably soon.  He will then have the 21 days allowed by the Constitution to either grant his assent and sign the Acts and have them gazetted as law or, if he has any reservations, return them to Parliament for consideration of his reservations.  

Bills Awaiting Printing and Gazetting

There are three Bills in this category [the date in parenthesis is the date the Bill was sent to the Government Printer for printing and gazetting]:

  • Centre for Education Innovation, Research and Development Bill [3rd March]
  • Manpower Planning and Development Bill [3rd March]
  • Census and Statistics Amendment Bill [28th May, after Cabinet approval on 21st May].  

Note: According to the official announcement of its approval by Cabinet, the Census and Statistics Amendment Bill provides for a national census to be conducted at 10-year intervals in a manner that will allow the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to take into account the resultant census data in the delimitation of electoral constituency boundaries, as required by the Constitution.  This probably means that the Bill is bound to be treated as urgent.

 

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