BILL WATCH 35/2021 - Next Sittings: National Assembly on 1st June, Senate on 8th June

BILL WATCH 35/2021

[29th May 2021]

Parliament is Not Sitting This Week

Next Sittings: National Assembly on 1st June, Senate on 8th June

After their sittings last week both Houses are taking short breaks, the National Assembly until Tuesday 1st June and the Senate until one week later, on Tuesday 8th June.  So neither House will be sitting this week – although some Parliamentary committees will still be meeting – see Committee Meetings for week ending 28th May [link].

In the Senate Last Week – 18th, 19th and 20th May

Bills

Centre for Education, Innovation, Research and Development Bill [link]

This Bill was passed by the National Assembly, with one minor amendment, and transmitted to the Senate during its recent recess.  The Senate took the Bill through all its stages on Wednesday 19th May and passed it without further amendment.  Parliament will now send the Bill, as amended, to the President for his assent and publication in the Government Gazette as an Act.

Marriages Bill

Although the continuation of the Committee Stage was on the Order Paper, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs did not bring it up.  

This Bill was last considered by Senators in April, when the Senate dealt with clauses 1-16 and made two amendments, as covered in Bill Watch 25/2021 of 26th April [link].  Clauses 17 onwards still have to be dealt with.  The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs has two proposed amendments which are set out in his Notice of Amendments on the Order Paper.  These two amendments are available on the Veritas website [link] and relate to:

Clause 17 (Unregistered customary law unions) [replacement of the  clause]

Clause 41 (Civil partnerships) [replacement of subclause (6)].

Both amendments were summarised in Bill Watch 22/2021 [link].

Question Time [Thursday]

Very little fuel available for Zimbabwe dollars  Senator Mohadi asked why so few filling stations had fuel available for sale in ZWL dollars, whereas most were selling in US dollars.  The Deputy Minister of Energy and Power Development replied that those fuel suppliers with free funds in foreign currency may import it and sell it in US dollars; those suppliers who get their foreign currency to buy and import fuel from the Reserve Bank [RBZ] are obliged to sell it in ZWL dollars.  The Ministry was presently investigating whether those getting foreign currency from RBZ were breaking this rule.  But most suppliers getting foreign currency from RBZ were only supplying fuel to Government.

In the National Assembly Last Week – 18th, 19th and 20th May

Bills

Pension and Provident Funds Bill [link] – Progress on Second Reading Stage

On 18th May members began making their contributions to the Second Reading debate, having the previous week had the benefit of hearing the Minister’s Second Reading speech [link] and the report of the Portfolio Committee on Budget, Finance and Economic Development [link].  There were two brief speeches, one from Hon Nduna and the other from Hon S. Banda before the debate was adjourned, to be continued when the House resumes on 1st June.

No progress on other Bills

The Committee Stages of the two other Bills on the Order Paper did not begin and were accordingly carried forward to the week commencing 1st June:

Cyber Security & Data Protection Bill [link] and

Forest Amendment Bill [link]

Bill with Parliamentary Legal Committee

Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission Bill [link], By close of business on the 20th May, when the House adjourned until 1st June, the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] had not reported on this Bill;  it was referred to the PLC for a report on the Bill’s consistency with the Constitution after its presentation and First Reading on 11th May.

New motion

Call for the informal sector to contribute more to State revenue  On Tuesday 18th May Hon Chingosho moved a motion calling on the Government to (1) encourage the huge informal sector – estimated to constitute well over half of the country’s GDP – to contribute to the fiscus by lowering taxes in an effort to persuade informal businesses to come forward and register instead of operating under cover of the parallel market; and (2) to promote small-scale businesses in the informal sector.  His speech was long, detailed and carefully prepared.  Many MPs enthusiastically joined in the ensuing debate which lasted for most of the rest of the afternoon’s sitting.  Debate is due to continue.

Four Treasury Minutes tabled by Minister of Finance

On Wednesday 19th May Hon Mthuli Ncube tabled four Treasury Minutes responding to issues raised in four reports by the Public Accounts Committee in both this Parliament and the previous Parliament.  The Minister explained that, although he had previously sent the Minutes to both the Speaker and the Clerk of Parliament, it was necessary in terms of the law and Standing Orders for him physically to “lay them upon the Table” of the House.  The reports concerned are the following:

Report for this Parliament

Report on Compliance Issues for the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development [link]  [This 2019 report revealed numerous instances of the Ministry’s non-compliance with constitutional and other statutory requirements – including massive unauthorised spending by the Government which, in breach of the Constitution, had not been brought to Parliament by the Minister for condonation by Financial Adjustments Bills.  This report prompted the Ministry to produce a Financial Adjustments Bill later in 2019 seeking Parliament’s condonation of the unauthorised expenditure.  The Bill was not satisfactory – as Veritas demonstrated at the time in Bill Watch 66/2019 [link] – and was not proceeded with;  it lapsed at the end of the 2019-2020 Parliamentary session in October 2020 and has not been revived.  To date the replacement Bill promised by the Minister has not been published.  It is long overdue and must be examined as closely as the first Bill was.

Reports for the Eighth Parliament

Report on accounts of Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development for 2016;

Report on Auditor-General’s Findings on Bulawayo City Council’s accounts for 2010 and 2011;

Report on accounts of Ministry of Health and Child Care: 2015 Appropriation Accounts and 2011 to 2014 Fund Accounts.

Points of national importance raised by MPs

On Tuesday afternoons MPs are allowed by Standing Orders to raise matters of national importance as long as they speak for only one minute.  On 18th May two matters were raised:

National Development Strategy [NDS1]  Hon Dr Khupe, citing the recent monitoring tour of inspection undertaken by the Minister of State in charge of Implementation and Monitoring, Hon Dr Joram Gumbo, requested that Dr Gumbo come to the House with a Ministerial statement setting out progress, if any, on all the NDS1 projects.  The Deputy Speaker said she would pass the request on to the Minister.

Road accidents and Accident Victims Stabilisation Centre  Hon Nduna raised the recent surge in loss of lives in road accidents, citing a particularly horrific accident in his constituency in which five people had died.  He requested that the Minister of Transport be asked to make a Ministerial statement on progress with the Accident Victims Stabilisation Centres recommended by the Portfolio Committee on Transport in the last Parliament and the feasibility of diverting some of the Traffic Safety Council’s share of Third Party Insurance premiums for such centres.

Question Time [Wednesday]

Minister Ziyambi’s statement reacting to the High Court decision on Chief Justice’s retirement  Hon Mliswa raised the now notorious statement made by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and asked whether the Minister intended to step down in an effort to repair the damage done by his statement to public trust and confidence in the justice delivery system.  The Minister declined to answer, saying his statement had been referred to the High Court and was, therefore, sub judice and could not be discussed in Parliament.  [Comment: The Minister was probably wrong in this, because proceedings in a court have not been instituted against him]

Social protection for the informal sector  In reply to Hon Mushoriwa’s question, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development mapped out the nature of the social protection for the sector.  He began with the Pfumvudza Presidential Inputs Scheme as an example of social protection for the informal agricultural sector – and a hugely successful one.  On the Unconditional Cash Transfer Programme [which pays ZWL $1 500 per month to vulnerable persons] he urged everyone who is vulnerable, whether in the informal sector or not doing anything and they are vulnerable and they feel they ought to be protected by Government, to come forward and register with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare so that they can be supported. We intend to continue with that programme”.  When pressed by Hon Ndebele about discrimination in the distribution of food aid, the Minister said it was certainly not Government policy and expressed doubt as to whether it really existed, saying it would not make sense for a party to deny food aid to people the party hoped would vote for them at future elections.  Nevertheless he undertook to investigate whether weaponisation of food aid actually exists in the area cited by Hon Ndebele, contrary to official policy. 

Bills Coming up in the National Assembly Next Week – 1st to 3rd June

National Assembly

Cyber Security & Data Protection Bill [link] – for the start of the Committee Stage

There are many pages of proposed amendments to be considered, emanating from both the Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services and the Portfolio Committee.  All the amendments are captured in a document prepared by Veritas and available on our website.  The Minister‘s amendments are extensive and were summarised in Bill Watch 18/2021 [link]; if adopted, they will change the original Bill considerably.

Forest Amendment Bill [link] – for the start of the Committee Stage

The previous Notice of Amendments [link], setting out amendments proposed by the Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, the Minister responsible for this Bill, no longer appears on the Order Paper.  It has been withdrawn for corrections to be made and the corrected Notice of Amendments is still not on the Order Paper.

The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance:

A Reminder and a Suggestion

The Reminder

The Government attracted a great deal of favourable publicity from President Mnangagwa’s signature of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance at his first African Union Summit of Heads and Government on 21st March 2018.  Likewise, it made much of securing the approval of the approval of both Houses of Parliament during March 2019 – although this development came about only after several reminders from Veritas.

At that point, however, the Government’s enthusiasm for the Charter seems to have evaporated.  Parliamentary approval of the Charter should have been followed by the signature of Zimbabwe’s Instrument of Ratification of the Charter by the President and the deposit of the Instrument of Ratification at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa by our Ambassador to the African Union.  Ratification is the necessary final action by the Government to make Zimbabwe a full State party to the Charter in international law.

But the Instrument of Ratification, if it was ever signed, has still not been deposited.  That is evident from the latest Status List on the African Union website downloaded from the website today [link].

Whatever the reason for this unexplained inaction, the Government risks the accusation that it no longer subscribes to the ideals of democracy, free and fair elections and good governance embodied in the Charter. 

The suggestion

Veritas submits that this situation is a matter of national importance fit to be raised in the National Assembly when it resumes on Tuesday 1st June.  Will any member take up the challenge?

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