BILL WATCH 53/2012
[4th December 2012]
Both Houses of Parliament have Adjourned until Tuesday 5th February
2013 Budget Goes through Parliament in Three Days
500-plus WOZA [Women of Zimbabwe Arise] supporters staged a peaceful demonstration outside Parliament at midday on Tuesday 27th November. The demonstration marked the beginning of WOZA’s “Peace Now” programme to commemorate this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women. Riot police prevented any demonstrators from entering the building, but the demonstrators were able to present Parliamentary officials with the Woza Moya Newsletter containing a list of demands on constitutional and women’s rights issues. The attitude of police and security officials was hostile, but restrained. The demonstrators were able to complete their protest with several short speeches, singing and prayers.
House of Assembly
Fast-tracking approved At the start of business on Tuesday 27th November the House approved Government motions to fast-track Budget business. This involved the suspension of Standing Orders to allow the Estimates of Expenditure and all stages of the two Budget Bills [see below] to be taken in one day, to authorise same-day reports from the Parliamentary Legal Committee and to allow late-night sittings, instead of automatic adjournment at 7 pm.
Portfolio committee reports The Budget debate then continued with contributions from the chairpersons of all portfolio committees, starting with the report of the Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance and Investment Promotion presented by Hon Zhanda. All reports highlighted the fact that allocations made in the Estimates fell far short of what had been asked for. The report on the allocation for the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, for instance, showed that there was no allocation at all for hosting next year’s United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference at Victoria Falls, despite a special bid for $11 million for the purpose of this “grand occasion”, with its potential for boosting the tourism industry.
[For details of main Budget allocations to Ministries, see Bill Watch 52/2012 of 24th November]
Estimates and Bills approved Several backbenchers made thoughtful speeches after the committee reports. Hon Chinyadza mentioned the stifling effect of inadequate resources on Parliament itself, citing the failure to set up Constituency Information Centres and the inability of the Public Accounts Committee to meet as often as it should because of insufficient funding. The Minister of Finance replied to points raised and wound up the debate. The House then:
- approved the Estimates of Expenditure for 2013
- passed the Finance (No. 2) Bill through all its stages
- passed the Appropriation (2013) Bill through all its stages.
All this took until 9.15 pm, at which point the House adjourned.
A procedural error over quorum Unfortunately, a procedural error occurred during the Budget debate when an MP objected that there was no quorum – i.e., there were fewer than 25 MPs present. The bells were then rung to summon MPs back to the House [these bells are clearly audible in every part of Parliament building] and should have been rung for a full 7 minutes. But after 4 minutes, although there was still no quorum, the Deputy Speaker directed that the bells be stopped, permitted the withdrawal of the no-quorum objection, and allowed proceedings to continue. This was contrary to Standing Order 27, which does not allow for the withdrawal of such an objection, and says that if a quorum is not assembled after the ringing of the bells, the presiding officer must adjourn proceedings to the following day.
Error corrected The sequel to this surprising lapse came on Wednesday when the Deputy Speaker acknowledged her mistake, declared the previous afternoon’s post-objection proceedings null and void, and ruled that neither the Estimates nor the two Bills had been validly passed. [Ruling available from firstname.lastname@example.org] This invalidity was rectified in a 65-minute sitting during which the House, now with a quorum but without any debate, re-approved the Budget presentation, the Estimates and all stages of both Bills. The Bills were then transmitted to the Senate.
Comment: it is extraordinary that, when a matter as important as the Budget was being debated, and MPs had voted to work late so that Parliament could adjourn for the Christmas break by the end of the week, MPs were not dedicated enough to ensure that at least 25 MPs were in the chamber throughout the debate. 135 MPs were recorded as present in the Chamber at the start of the afternoon. Did most of them leave the building by late afternoon? The brief corrective proceedings on Wednesday may have put the procedural defect right legally – but the nation will hardly be reassured to know that fewer than 25 MPs out of 135 could be bothered to see Tuesday’s important debate through to its conclusion.
MPs Christmas present? This year, unlike last year, MPs did not threaten to throw out the Budget. The general feeling that the Minister had done a good job in exceptionally difficult circumstances may account for this. Only cynics will say MPs co-operated because the Minister had reminded them their car loans [$30 000 to each MP, totalling $9 million ] had been written off by the Treasury.
The Minister of Finance explained the Finance Bill to Senators on Wednesday and it was given its Second Reading. On Thursday, Budget business initially gave way to the scheduled routine Question Time. One Senator obligingly asked the Minister of Finance about Cabinet’s role in the Budget approval process – was it really Biti’s Budget or was it a collective Budget presented by him as Minister of Finance on behalf of the Cabinet, including the President? The Minister took Senators through the process, explaining the vital role of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, the only Cabinet Committee chaired by the President, in Budget preparation. He said that only the taxation aspect is not discussed by the Committee – that is discussed only by the President, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. After approval by the Cabinet Committee, the Budget must go to Cabinet for approval. Only after that does the Minister take it to Parliament. Therefore, said the Minister, “ the budget is not mine, I am just a spokesperson.”
After Question Time, the Finance Bill went through its remaining stages and the Appropriation Bill was taken through all stages. Both Bills were passed without debate and without amendment. [Bills available from email@example.com]
The two Bills must now be sent to the President for his assent. They should be in force on the 1st January which would necessitate their gazetting before the end of December.
Non-Budget Business in Parliament Last Week
Adjournment until 5th February
On Thursday both Houses adjourned until Tuesday 5th February. This means there will be no sittings until that date, unless members are recalled by the presiding officers for special sittings. Standing Orders authorise the presiding officers to take this step at the request of the President if they are satisfied that the public interest so requires. [House of Assembly Standing Order 187, Senate Standing Order 194.] If the next two or three weeks produce an inter-party consensus on the draft constitution, a recall would be appropriate to allow it to be debated in Parliament, as required by the GPA, before it goes to the Referendum.
In the House of Assembly
Microfinance Bill The Bill was introduced on 29th November and referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee for a report on its constitutionality.
Motions On 29th November ZANU-PF chief whip Joram Gumbo moved the traditional motion of thanks to the President for the speech delivered at the opening of the present session. He was followed by several other speakers thanking the President before the adjournment until 5th February.
Hon Gonese’s motion to restore his lapsed Private Member’s Bill to amend s. 123 of Criminal Procedure Act to the Order Paper was not dealt with. The motion will be carried forward for consideration in February. The Bill lapsed at the end of the last session.
In the Senate
Motion on the President’s speech On Tuesday 27th, before adjourning after only 40 minutes, the Senate filled in a little time with contributions to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President for his speech opening the session; this debate continued on Wednesday afternoon while Senators waited for the delayed arrival of the Finance and Appropriation Bills from the House of Assembly.
Motion against the death penalty On Wednesday Senator Marava, seconded by Senator Hlalo, both of MDC-T, moved a motion condemning the death penalty as inhuman and a violation of human rights; deploring Zimbabwe's recent vote against a UN General Assembly resolution for a moratorium on the application of the death penalty; and urging the Government not only to reverse this vote but also to accede to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and “establish a de jure moratorium on the application of the death penalty aimed at its definitive abolition”. In the ensuing debate at least one Senator said the death penalty should be retained in Zimbabwe irrespective of international trends towards abolition. Debate will continue when the Senate resumes in February.
MDC-T Deputy Minister Sworn In
On 28th November President Mugabe swore in MDC-T deputy National Chairman Senator Morgan Komichi as Deputy Minister of Transport, Communication and Infrastructural Development. The post had been vacant since Dr Mudzingwa’s death in April. Senator Komichi was nominated by MDC-T in June.
ZANU-PF Conference This Week
Now that Parliament has adjourned until February, ZANU-PF MPs can attend their party conference from 4th to 9th December without, as in past years, delaying Parliamentary business. The Politburo will meet on Wednesday and the Central Committee on Thursday, with the main gathering starting on Friday.
Government Gazette of 30th November
Income Tax Bill gazetted
This Bill was gazetted on 30th November. It is a large Bill aimed at replacing the current Income Tax Act, which dates from 1967. It has 224 clauses and 15 detailed Schedules and covers over 200 pages. There is a helpful 9-page explanatory memorandum. [Please note that a soft copy of the Bill is NOT yet available.]
Customs and excise duty
SI 184/2012 increases the duty on cigarettes and other tobacco products with effect from 1st December [the “sin tax” mentioned by the Minister of Finance in his Budget statement].
SIs 182 and 183/2012 provides for suspension of duty for certain mining operations.
Local authority by-laws SI 181/2012 enacts new fixed penalties for breaches of Gweru municipal traffic by-laws.
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