Speaker's Ruling 18 May 2016 - Limits of Freedom of Speech in Parliament




THE HON. SPEAKER: Yesterday, the 17th of May 2016, during the debate on Human Trafficking, Honourable Maridadi alleged that he had evidence of some Members of Parliament that were complicit in the abuse of women. He however, could not produce the evidence at the material time and promised to submit it today. Previously, the Chair has ruled in this august House directing Honourable Members to desist from making unsubstantiated “allegations against other Members and Officers of Parliament or members of the public except by way of a substantive and clearly formulated motion”.  

In his contribution to the debate, Honourable Maridadi alleged that he was in possession of evidence imputing that some Honourable Members are accomplices to the recruitment of Zimbabwean women to Kuwait to work as slaves and promoting the abuse of women. He further alleged that an unnamed Member of Parliament owns a Night Club called the Private Lounge which is along Harare Street which promotes stripping of women to provide pleasure to patrons most of whom are men. When confronted to submit the names, Hon. Maridadi promised to avail the names to the Hon. Speaker today.

As a result, the Chair has noted with grave concern the persistence by some Honourable Members of Parliament to willfully disregard and defy lawful rulings made by the Chair in respect of adherence to peremptory constitutional provisions. By way of a reminder, and this being the last warning to the Members concerned and others, the Chair is again ruling as follows:

The Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act [Chapter 2:08] which guarantees the privileges of Members of Parliament, including freedom of speech is subject to the provisions of the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. More specifically, Section 61(5) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that freedom of expression and freedom of the media exclude:

(a) incitement to violence;

(b) advocacy of hatred or hate speech;

(c) malicious injury to a person’s reputation or dignity; or

(d) malicious or unwarranted breach of a person’s right to privacy.

Accordingly and as aptly specified in section 119 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe,

Parliament must protect this Constitution and promote democratic governance in Zimbabwe”.

Where Members make any allegations against any other Member or Members, that is relevant to the debate on the floor, they must immediately table the evidence to substantiate their claims. Any Member of Parliament who fails to observe this and other previous rulings may be liable for censure in this House or be charged with contempt. The previous rulings of the Chair clearly stated that “no Member shall be allowed to make unsubstantiated allegations against other Members or members of the public except by way of a substantive and clearly formulated motion”.

The ruling of the Chair does not amount to limiting the freedom of speech of Members of Parliament or gagging them. Any Member of Parliament wishing to engage in objective and constructive debate on an improper conduct of any other Member of Parliament should do so by way of a clearly substantiated separate motion accompanied with verifiable evidence in support of such a motion before the Chair can clear it. The Chair’s ruling provided for a procedure to be followed in conducting debate in this House should one raise factual allegations on any other Member of Parliament or a member of the public. This is an honourable august House where spurious allegations calculated to unjustly injure the dignity of others shall not be admitted under the guise of freedom of expression.

Therefore, pursuant to provisions of Standing Order 110(1) of the National Assembly:

“Any member who disregards the authority of the Chair or persistently and willfully disrupts the business of the House commits an offence for which he or she may be suspended from the service of the House”

The Chair wishes to emphatically state that all decisions and orders made by the Chair are binding on all Members of the National Assembly and have full force of law until such a time when they are amended, annulled or rescinded either by the Chair or a competent authority in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

In line with well documented parliamentary procedures meant to ensure the orderly flow of business, it is the duty of the Speaker to interpret rules impartially, to maintain order, and to defend the rights and privileges of Members, including the right to freedom of speech, subject to the law as well as the right of every person’s protection under the Constitution as stated in section 61(5) of the Constitution.

Consequently, all Members of Parliament must comply with the ruling which the Chair made in this House previously, failure of which serious consequences will follow.

[Exchanges between Hon Chamisa and the Speaker ensued, followed by consultations between the Leaders of Government Business and of the Opposition and the Speaker.]

THE HON. SPEAKER: Order, Order, after some consultation with the Leader of Government business in the House, Vice President Mnangagwa and Leader of the Opposition, we have come to some conclusion which we have asked Hon. Chamisa to state, then I will indicate what must follow.

HON. CHAMISA: Thank you Hon. Speaker Sir. I just want to start by saying that once there is intervention of the Office of Vice President of the country and also the Leader of the Opposition, my leader, I stand guided because we know that anarchy is the rule of every man but democracy is rule of rules. It is in that context that I wish to abide by the wisdom and guidance of the elders because that is what builds the nation.

I must say to you that the altercation was unnecessary, unfortunate and regrettable Hon. Speaker Sir. I hope that this is something that is not going to repeat itself and I commit that I am dedicated and committed as your citizen and a citizen of Zimbabwe to make sure that our rules are respected, orders of Parliament are respected but also democracy is respected. I thank you Mr. Speaker Sir. – [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, Hear.] –

THE HON. SPEAKER: Order, order!

THE HON. SPEAKER: After Honourable Chamisa had explained himself, I from the Chair direct that any Member who is not in agreement with the ruling of the Speaker in terms of a certain section of my ruling which says “the rulings that have taken place will stand until annulled or rescinded either by the Chair or a competent authority in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe”. In other words, any Member who disagrees with the ruling can appeal to the Constitutional Court [MDC-T HON MEMBERS: Hmmmm] – Yes, Order, we have had in other jurisdictions where the ruling of the Speaker was ruled against by the Constitutional Court. It is not something new and the Speaker or Chair will abide by the ruling of the Constitutional Court.

So, it is not the end of the chapter at all. The Speaker can be wrong at times and the Constitutional Court can rule accordingly and that ruling will be accepted.

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