BILL WATCH 82/2020 - Progress on Budget Debate

BILL WATCH 82/2020

[14th December 2020]

Both Houses Will Continue Sitting This Week

Bill Watch 81/2020 of 9th December [link] covered proceedings in both the Senate and the National Assembly up to and including Tuesday 8th December, when the Budget debate began in the National Assembly.    

This bulletin outlines business done on Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th December and what the Houses can be expected to do this coming week.  But first we list those Bills of general interest on which further progress is unlikely, in our view, before Parliament goes into its Christmas-New Year recess after close of business on Thursday this week.

Bills Unlikely to be Dealt with This Year

Given the amount of work both Houses still have to do on the 2021 Budget, Veritas considers it highly unlikely that Parliament will make further progress on any of the following Bills before it goes into recess, as planned, on Thursday 17th December until Tuesday 26th January.  :

Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill – an additional delaying factor is that there is a large question mark hanging over the validity of the first amendment of the Constitution in 2017, pending the Constitutional Court’s decision on whether to allow Parliament further time to validate the Third Reading vote of 2017 by a new and valid Third Reading vote compliant with the minimum 54 affirmative votes required in accordance with the decision of the Constitutional Court at the end of March this year.  If the Constitutional Court denies Parliament’s application for further time, this will invalidate the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 1) Act, with inevitable consequences for the content of the current (No. 2) Bill.

Cyber Security & Data Protection Bill [link] – even if the National Assembly finds the time to tackle the Committee Stage of this Bill, with all the amendments that have been proposed by the Portfolio Committee, there is little chance of the Senate’s having time to deal with it.

Marriages Bill – there has been no sign that the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs has negotiated a solution to the impasse constituted by Senators’ dissatisfaction with the Bill’s failure to recognise the importance of lobola.

Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission – this important Bill was gazetted on 24th November, missing by a significant margin the 45-day deadline set by the Constitutional Court for the gazetting of the Bill.  It is too late for any progress, other than presenting it for its First Reading, and referring it to the PLC; and it is important for this Bill to be properly considered by Parliament, civil society and the public, including victims of misconduct by the security services.  Rushing the Bill, now that it has at last been produced, would be wrong.

Note:  The only Bill dealt with since the Budget started was the Manpower, Planning and Development Amendment Bill which the Government is fast-tracking [see below]

In the Senate Wednesday 8th and Thursday 9th December

Business was limited to debating private members’ motions.  Senators were not called on to deal with the Marriages Bill or the two international agreements on their Order Paper – the Minamata Convention on Mercury [link] and the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer [link].

In the National Assembly Wednesday 8th and Thursday 9th December

The two sittings saw progress on one Bill and the Budget debate, before the adjournment to the Tuesday 15th December.

Manpower Planning and Development Amendment Bill [link]  

On Wednesday afternoon the House, having waived Question Time, insisted on immediate continuation of the Budget debate, notwithstanding an attempt by the Minister Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation and Science and Technology Development to get MPs to agree to take the Committee Stage of this Manpower Bill first.  [The probable reason for the urgency is that the Bill provides for the staff of teachers training and technical colleges to be transferred from the Public Service to the new Tertiary Education Service, implementation of which has been planned for the beginning of 2021.]  On Thursday afternoon, however, the Minister had better luck and the Bill was taken quickly through its Committee Stage.  Amendments proposed by the Minister were made to clauses 6, 7, 12 and 21.  The Minister also agreed to an amendment to clause 13 proposed by Hon Chikwinya with the support of Hon Mliswa; the amendment will ensure persons with disabilities are represented on the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Board, which will replace the Minister as trustee of the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund [ZIMDEF].  The Bill was then referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee for its report on the constitutionality of the amendments.  As the fast-tracking resolution of 1st December applies to the Bill, the PLC will report quickly.  If, as expected, the report is non-adverse, the National Assembly may well pass the Bill and send it to the Senate early next week, making its passing by the Senate before the Christmas-New Year recess a possibility. 

Budget debate

On Wednesday twelve portfolio committee reports on the Budget proposals were presented before the House adjourned at 6.25 pm.  On Thursday the remaining three committee reports were presented, and individual MPs began making their contributions, starting with Hon Mashakada, who in a comprehensive analysis said that overall the Budget was a “good effort”, but suggested mining royalties should be increased to realistic levels and stressed the importance of regular and timely disbursement to Ministries of allocated funds, a recurring theme in most of the portfolio committee reports.  At about 9 pm the Minister of Finance abruptly moved the adjournment of the debate without giving his response, and stated his intention to move on to the Estimates of Expenditure.  Hon Chikwinya and Hon Mliswa vehemently disputed this unusual procedure – the Estimates are traditionally considered after the completion of the Budget debate.  The House then adjourned to Tuesday 15th December without this procedural issue having been resolved.  

Appropriation (2021) Bill [link]  This Bill – which will give legal effect to proposed allocation of funds to Ministries and other entities – was gazetted in a Government Gazette Extraordinary late on Thursday.  The Finance Bill, however, has not yet been gazetted, which suggests that the Bill has not been finalised.  The Finance Bill needs to be ready for presentation when the Budget debate ends with a vote is taken on the Minister’s motion  that leave be granted by the National Assembly “to bring in a Bill to make further provision for the revenues and public funds of Zimbabwe and to make provision for ancillary and incidental matters”, which included the Finance Bill.  This may explain the Minister’s eagerness to make a start on the Estimates before winding up the Budget debate.

Coming up In Parliament This Week

Both Houses will be sitting this week, starting on Tuesday 15th December.  The sitting calendar shows that the sitting on Thursday 17th December will be the last sitting of the year and that both Houses will be in recess until Tuesday 26th January.  It follows that late-night sittings may have to be resorted to if the Government is determined get the Budget and any other really urgent business completed this week.  It is not legally essential for the two Budget Bills to become law as Acts before the end of the year – but it would certainly be in the interests of smoother administration of taxation changes by ZIMRA and taxpayers and business and Government financial administration that both Acts  should be in place on or before 1st January 2021.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

Budget Business

Still to be dealt with are:

  • Completion of the Budget debate and presentation of the Finance Bill
  • Committee of Supply [approval of the Estimates of Expenditure]
  • Passing of the Appropriation (2021) Bill
  • Passing of the Finance Bill.

Manpower Planning and Development Amendment Bill [as amended]

If, as expected, the PLC returns a non-adverse report on this urgent Bill, the National Assembly should be able to pass it on Tuesday and send it to the Senate, which will then have the rest of the week to deal with it.  As the Bill won acceptance from all sides in the National Assembly, the Senate may well be able to pass it quickly.

SENATE

Budget business  If the National Assembly manages to complete all its Budget business, including the passing of the Appropriation (2021) Bill and the Finance Bill, the Senate may be asked to fast-track both Bills.  Its role is more limited in respect of these “Money Bills”, as the Constitution does not allow the Senate to amend Money Bills, but restricts it to recommending changes to the National Assembly, which that House is not obliged to accept.  Last  December, for instance, the Senate passed both Budget Bills in the course of a single afternoon – and if that pattern is followed this year both Bills could be gazetted as Acts before the end of the year.

Manpower Planning and Development Amendment Bill  This Bill is not yet on the Senate Order Paper but, as explained above, is likely to reach the Senate early in the week.  As the Bill, with the amendments made by the National Assembly, won acceptance from MPs of all parties, the Senate may well be able to pass it quickly.

 

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