BILL WATCH 33-2020 - National Assembly Last Week and Coming Up This Week

BILL WATCH 33/2020

[1st June 2020]

In the National Assembly Last Week & Coming up This Week

The National Assembly was the only House sitting last week and will sit again this week, starting on 2nd June.  This bulletin outlines first the business done last week and then the business on the Order Paper for this week. 

The Senate last sat on 21st May and is not due to sit again until Tuesday 9th June.

In the National Assembly Last Week [26th to 28th May]

COVID-19 seating arrangements

New seating arrangements were in place to comply with measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.  A limited number of MPs were allowed to sit in the Chamber of the National Assembly.  The rest followed proceedings from the Government Caucus Room, the Senate Chamber, the courtyard and the Dining Room – using their tablets through a link sent to their email addresses by the ICT department.  MPs wishing to contribute to debates were asked to submit their names to their respective Whips so that they could take turns to come into the National Assembly Chamber. 

New 2020 edition of National Assembly Orders

The new Standing Orders were approved on 26th May.  Veritas will make the new edition available as soon as it is available to us

Speaker’s announcements

Dress Code for MPs

On 27th May the Speaker made an announcement on suitable attire for MPs in the House and at committee meetings, as laid down in Standing Order 76.  Formal dress is required for both women [for instance, suits, African wear, full dresses and skirts with blouses] and men [for instance, suits, jacket and tie, safari suits].  Not allowed are jeans, t-shirts, sleeveless outfits or any other outfit or attire deemed unfit by the presiding officer of the sitting or committee meeting.  Presiding officers have the power to order an offending MP to leave the precincts of Parliament until properly attired. 


Three Bills came up for consideration during the week:

Marriages Bill – Committee Stage

The Committee Stage started on 26th and was completed on 28th May.  Amendments were made to the Bill, which was then referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC]  for a report on the constitutionality of the amendments.  Note that at the insistence of MPs the substituted clause 9 on chiefs as marriage officers ended up with wording allowing the Minister to designate chiefs as marriage officers for  both customary law marriages and civil marriages, whereas the Minister’s proposed wording would have confined designated chiefs to solemnising only customary law marriages.   A note giving more detail on the amendments will appear in a later Bill Watch bulletin.   

Constitutional Court Bill [link]

On 28th May the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs started the Second Reading stage with a brief speech explaining the need for the Bill. He assured MPs that there had been extensive consultation with stakeholders and with the judiciary itself, who had expressed themselves to be satisfied with the Bill.   He explained that the Bill is urgent, having regard to the fact that under  the Constitutional Court became completely separate from the Supreme Court with effect from 22nd May, thus ending the transitional arrangements under which Supreme Court judges had doubled as Constitutional Court judges.  Proceedings on the Bill could not continue because the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs’ report on it was not ready.

Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill

On 28th May the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs delivered his Second Reading speech briefly explaining the reasons for and objectives of the Bill.  The chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs then explained that, as the committee had not been able to conduct public hearings on the Bill, its report was not ready.  Debate was then adjourned until 2nd June, but without an indication that the report would be ready for presentation then.   As the normal procedure is for MPs to have had the benefit of such a report before participating in the Second Reading debate on a Bill, further proceedings on the Bill may be delayed until a report is ready for presentation to the House.

Question Time was the only business conducted on Wednesday 27th May. 

Matters raised as Points of Privilege on 28th May

Menstrual Hygiene Day 28th May [Theme “Periods in Pandemics”]  Reminding MPs that this was Menstrual Hygiene Day, Hon Mliswa urged MPs to use some of their allocations from the Constituency Development Fund to procure sewing machines to be used in their constituencies to enable community efforts to provide reusable sanitary wear for girls and women.  He informed fellow MPs that had already set an example in his Norton constituency.  The Speaker endorsed the suggestion.

MPs’ difficulties in obtaining fuel for their vehicles  Hon Munetsi mentioned that acquiring fuel for travel to and from Parliament was proving a “nightmare” for MPs and asked for relief arrangements to be made.  The Speaker assured him that Parliament was already attending to the problem.

The Mace  Hon Muriri questioned the appropriateness of the mace carried by the Serjeant-at-Arms at the head of the daily Speaker’s procession from the Speaker’s Office to the Chamber.  He pointed out that the mace itself dated from colonial days, and that its head was a representation of the British Queen’s crown.  He called for the mace to be modified by replacing the crown with something reflecting the Zimbabwean flag and coat of arms.  The Speaker assured him that the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Heritage, under direction of the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders, was already, in preparation for the move to the new Parliament in March 2021, working on redesigning not only the mace and other Parliamentary artefacts, but also on the attire of presiding officers and clerks-at-the-table – and, in consultation with other stakeholders, on a national dress for both men and women.

Need for Ministerial statement from Minister of Health  Hon Mliswa, pointing out that MPs had not seen the Minister of Health or his deputy in Parliament all that week, called for a Ministerial Statement on funds received for the anti-COVID-19 fight and how those funds had been allocated and used, and related issues such as inflated prices for masks and kits, problems in quarantine centres and rumoured abuse of funds.

Coming up in the National Assembly This Week

Marriages Bill  with the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC]

The House is waiting for PLC’s report on the amendments to the Marriages Bill made by the House in the Committee Stage on 26th and 28th May [see above].  The PLC normally meets on Wednesdays, so its report is unlikely to be available before Wednesday 3rd June..

Bills for Continuation of Second Reading stage

The Order Paper for 2nd June lists the following Bills as items 1 to 4, respectively:

Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill [link]

For continuation of Second Reading debate with contributions from individual MPs.  As this Bill was not dealt with at all last week, the note on it in Bill Watch 31/2020 of 26th May remains relevant for background content.

Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Bill [link]

For continuation of Second Reading debate with further contributions from individual MPs.  As this Bill was not dealt with at all last week, the note on it in Bill Watch 31/2020 of 26th May remains relevant for background and content. 

Constitutional Court Bill [link]

See note above for presentation of the Minister’s Second Reading speech on 28th May.  Further progress on the Second Reading stage will depend on when the Portfolio Committee’s report becomes available.

Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill [link]

See note above for presentation of the Minister’s Second Reading speech on 28th May.  Further progress on the Second Reading stage will depend on when the Portfolio Committee’s report becomes available.

Bills for start of Second Reading stage

The following Bills are listed as items 5 to 8, respectively, on the Order Paper for 2nd June:

Forest Amendment Bill [link]

As this Bill was not dealt with at all last week, the note on it in Bill Watch 31/2020 of 26th May remains relevant for background and content.

National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Bill [link]

One purpose of this Bill is to allow for the appointment of deputies to the Prosecutor-General.  In this respect it mirrors one of the provisions of the Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill above.  It also provides for changes to the governance structure, taking account of the National Prosecuting Authority [NPA]’s status as a separate accounting unit.

If the Minister delivers his Second Reading speech this week, further progress will depend on whether or not the Portfolio Committee’s report is available.

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.  MPs are sure to want to know how such huge unauthorised expenditure could have been incurred without knowledge of Parliament.

Other business waiting for attention

There are 40 other items on the Order Paper.  The first 30 items relate to new business – including presentation of Portfolio Committee reports, reports of Parliamentary delegations to international meetings and other legislatures in other countries.  The next 8 items consist of adjourned debates on reports already presented to the House.

Finally, item 45 is the adjourned debate on the report of the Privileges Committee chaired by Senator Chief Charumbira on allegations of soliciting a bribe levelled against Honourable MPs Mliswa, Mliswa, Chikomba, Ndebele and P. D. Sibanda.  The report was presented to the House on 4th December 2019.  It said that the allegations of soliciting a bribe had not  been proved but nevertheless recommended that the four MPs be penalised for “conduct creating an impression of impropriety”.  Debate on the report started in February.  So far, the accused MPs have already spoken against the adoption of the report and have been strongly supported by other MPs of both main parties.  If no other contributions are proposed, it remains for Senator Chief Charumbira to respond to the hostile reaction to his committee’s report.

Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill [link]

This Bill was gazetted on 15th May, which means that Portfolio Committee on ICT should already be studying it.  It is not listed among the Bills above, because it has not yet been formally presented to Parliament for its First Reading and referral to the Parliamentary Legal Committee. 

MISA Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Chapter of the SADC-wide Media Institute of Southern Africa, has sought and received a written assurance from the Clerk of Parliament that  Parliament will adhere to the public consultation measures required by section 141 of the Constitution when processing this Bill:  “Rest assured that Parliament will make use of every available platform to consult the public, including, but not limited to, the Parliament website, the institutional e-mail, Parliament’s social media, live radio public hearings and physical consultations with interested parties where practicable.”


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