Speaker's Ruling on the RBZ (Debt Assumption) Bill petition (18 March 2015)

SPEAKER’S RULING ON POINT OF ORDER REGARDING
PRESENTATION OF PETITION ON RESERVE BANK OF ZIMBABWE (DEBT ASSUMPTION) BILL

(Extract from National Assembly Votes and Proceedings for 18th March 2015)


(A) Background
This ruling seeks to address the Point of Order raised by Hon Maridadi, on Tuesday 10th March 2015 when the order for the resumption of Committee on the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (Debt Assumption) Bill was called in which he opined that there was a Petition lodged by some of his constituents urging members, among others, to reject the Bill and the attempt by Hon Gonese to present a Petition in the National Assembly.

For the record the Petition was submitted by some civil society organisations working in Zimbabwe, namely, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD), the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA), the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), the National Youth Development Trust (NYDT), and Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA). In their Petition, the petitioners are imploring the National Assembly to:

(i) Reject the Reserve Bank (Debt Assumption) Bill;

(ii) Set-up a Public Debt Commission;

(iii) Recommend that the RBZ liquidate its non-core assets to pay off the portion of the debt that was incurred for the public good;

(iv) Recommend that individuals who benefited privately from the debt pay off the relevant portion of the debt; and

(v) Enact a law that sets limits on borrowings by the state, the public debt and debts and obligations whose payment or repayment is guaranteed by the state as prescribed by Section 300 of the Constitution.

The Petition was submitted in terms of Section 149 of the Constitution which provides for the right of every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe to petition Parliament. Organisations are also permitted to petition Parliament but must indicate the persons that are petitioning Parliament by appending to the Petition a list of names and signatures as per Standing Order 176. Hon Gonese has since submitted a Draft Notice of Motion to present the Petition in terms of Standing Order 177 of the National Assembly on behalf of the petitioners.

(B) The Facts

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (Debt Assumption) Bill was published in the Government Gazette on 6 July 2014 to give effect to Government’s intention to assume the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe debt of US$ 1, 35 Billion as a way of settling liabilities incurred by the Central Bank on behalf of Government. The debt takeover is meant to relieve the Central Bank of the debt burden and enable it to concentrate on its core business.

Section 141(a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe requires Parliament “to facilitate public involvement in its Legislative and other processes and the processes of its Committees.” Section 141(c) goes on to state that Parliament must “conduct its business in a transparent manner and hold its sittings, and those of its Committees, in public…” Accordingly, the Portfolio Committee on Finance and Economic Development, chaired by Hon. D. Chapfika, managed to conduct Public Hearings on the Bill on 15, 16, 17 and 18 September 2014 in Mutare, Bulawayo, Gweru and Harare respectively in line with requirements of Section 141(a) of the Constitution. In addition the Bill was posted on the Parliament of Zimbabwe Website requesting Members of the Public to make submissions to Parliament on the Bill. The Public Hearings on the Bill were advertised in the print media prior to the conduct of the hearings. It is vital to note that ZIMCODD was actively involved in these Public Hearings and made its submissions to the Committee. The Committee invited the Minister of Finance and Economic Development and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to appear before the Committee, after considering the views received from the public, prior to finalising and tabling its report in the National Assembly. The committee supported the Bill because of the effect it would have on the functions the Central Bank in carrying out its core business. In his response to the Committee Report, the Minister acknowledged the input of the Public and indicated that he was going to bring before Parliament some amendments to address the Committee’s concerns. The Minister duly submitted the amendments after the Bill was read a Second Time. In his response, the Minister also addressed a number of issues that are being raised in the Petition, including the fact that a Bill pertaining to matters of Public Debt Management was to be brought to Parliament for Parliament’s consideration.

When Hon Gonese approached the Office of the Acting Clerk of Parliament on Tuesday 10th March indicating that he had been approached by the petitioners to present the petition in terms of provisions of Standing Order 177 which states that “A Petition shall be presented only by a member …” Hon Gonese was advised that the Petition could only be presented through the Office of the Clerk one clear day before the intended day of presentation and has to be approved by the Speaker in terms of Provisions of Standing Order no 178. The approval is granted upon the Speaker satisfying himself/herself that the Petition met the requirements of

Standing Orders 178 and 179. Hon Gonese has since submitted a Draft Notice of Motion to present the Petition on behalf of the petitioners.

In the case of the current Petition, it was only signed by one petitioner each from the petitioning organisations. It is not clear to the Chair that the other members of the respective civil society organisations are party to the Petition as their signatures are not appended to the Petition. It is a requirement that where juristic persons (organisations) submit petitions they must indicate the persons that are petitioning Parliament by appending to the Petition a list of names and signatures as per Standing Order 176 and such names and signatures shall belong to citizens and permanent residents of Zimbabwe to whom the right to Petition Parliament is given in Section 149 of the Constitution. This was not complied with in respect to the Petition under review. Further there had been no indication from the petitioners that they had authorized Hon Gonese, or any other member for that matter, to present the Petition on their behalf.

Furthermore, it must be noted that the Reserve Bank (Debt Assumption) Bill is a Money Bill as defined by Paragraph 1(b) of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. The Constitution states that a Petition on a Money Bill may not be brought to Parliament except on the recommendation of a Vice-President, Minister or Deputy Minister and that the President of the Senate and the Speaker, as the case may be, shall not receive a Petition that has anything to do with appropriating money from, or imposing or increasing any charge on, the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other fund vested in or controlled by the Government in terms of Paragraph 4(1)(b)(ii) and 4(1)(c) of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.

(C) Ruling

It is patently clear that Parliament, through its Portfolio Committee on Finance and Economic Development, duly involved the public in its processes in line with Provisions of Section 141 (a) of the Constitution by conducting Public Hearings on the Bill and inviting the Public to make submissions online on the Bill.

Furthermore, it is apparent that the Petition at hand does not meet the legal requirements for its consideration. It does not have attached to it a list of names and signatures of the individuals that are being represented by the civil society organisations. Further, the petitioners had an opportunity, and indeed utilized the opportunity, to raise the issues they are currently raising during the Public Hearings held last year. The issues raised in the Petition were raised and addressed during the Second Reading Debate which has since been concluded. You cannot close the stable after the horses have bolted out.

The Point of Order raised by Hon Maridadi, therefore, does not hold as due process was followed in consulting the public. One of the prayers of the petitioners is that Members of Parliament reject the Bill and indeed Members have that opportunity to reject or approve the Bill at its final reading. The attempt by Hon Gonese to submit the Petition in terms of Standing Order 177 of the National Assembly is ill advised as the Honourable Member is clearly aware that debate on the principles of the Bill was done and concluded during the Second Reading stage. Hon Gonese and his Seconder, Hon Maridadi, are acutely aware of the Stages of Bills in Parliament and where present when the Second Reading Debate was done. In any case if the two Hon Members, and indeed others, have reservations with any of the Sections of the Bill they are free to submit amendments for consideration by Parliament during the Committee Stage of the Bill.

The attempt by Hon Gonese to present the Petition is also fatally defective in that the Petition lacks a recommendation from a Minister as required by Provisions of Standing Order 178. This is a requirement in respect of a Petition on a Money Bill. The Petition lacks the necessary recommendation.

On the basis of the foregoing, I therefore, dismiss Hon Maridadi’s Point of Order and the attempt by Hon Gonese to present the Petition in this House as I am satisfied that due process was followed from the time the Bill was gazetted, the consultation process having taken place and the First and Second Reading stages having been concluded.

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