BILL WATCH 35/2022
[28th July 2022]
Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill
Committee Stage Amendments Fast-tracked
Tuesday’s Proceedings on the PVO Amendment Bill
After three one-minute statements on matters of national importance and after several contributions to the carried forward condolence motion for the late Hon Leonard Chikomba had been made, the Leader of Government Business, Hon Ziyambi, unexpectedly proposed that the Second Reading of the PVO Amendment Bill be taken next, and the House agreed. [Hon Ziyambi had presumably had time by then to confirm that most, if not all, Opposition members were not physically present in the House.]
The Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare wound up the Second Reading debate on the PVO Amendment Bill with a very brief closing speech. Its brevity was remarkable against the background of Opposition MPs’ previous contributions to the debate in May, which had included well-reasoned speeches from MPs of both MDC-A and CCC persuasions opposing the very contentious Bill. There was no rebuttal, for instance, of the points carefully made against the Bill. Instead, there was a breezy and misleading assurance “we responded as extensively as the Members had contributed and most of their concerns were taken into consideration with the amendments that were submitted”. There was no explanation, either, of the extensive amendments that the Minister has had waiting on the Order Paper since 8th June in anticipation of the Committee Stage – some of which are clearly unconstitutional, as Veritas illustrated in Bill Watch 26/2022 [link].
With the leave of the depleted House, the Minister then turned to the Committee Stage and went through the Bill clause by clause, pausing at appropriate intervals to put the amendments in his name that were listed on the Order Paper. Every amendment and all clauses, including the new amended clauses, were approved entirely without explanation, debate, discussion or questions.
The only interruption came about half-way through when Hon Mushoriwa [CCC] made an unsuccessful attempt to participate in the proceedings virtually in an attempt to find out what was going on in the chamber.
The attempted participation by Hon Mushoriwa is recorded as follows in Hansard [note that the “(v)” – for “virtual” – symbol before his name indicates that he was not physically present]:
“(v) HON. MUSHORIWA: Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, we have a technical problem. Which Bill are we debating? I am experiencing some technical glitches.
THE HON. CHAIRPERSON: It is the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill… - [HON. ZIYAMBI: Muudzei awuye kuHouse.] - Can you come the House please Hon. Member? – [(v)HON. MUSHORIWA: Mr. Chairman on a point of order, I am still having an outstanding …].”
Those were the last words heard from Hon Mushoriwa, until he raised the apparent technical glitch [lack of connectivity on the virtual platform] in the House as a point of order on the following day.
Note: It seems that other MPs connected virtually were cut off or had “technical glitches” before they even started their interventions.
Wednesday’s Point of Order
The Speaker was in the chair from the start of proceedings. Hon Mushoriwa, physically present this time, raised a point of order regarding what happened in the Committee Stage of the Bill the previous day:
“During debate on the PVOs Bill, during the Committee Stage, Hon. Members who were on virtual wanted to contribute to the debate and the Chairperson of the Committee under the instruction of the Leader of the House made it impossible for anybody who was on virtual to debate. We tried to raise our hands on several occasions; it is on record in the Hansard Mr. Speaker Sir, what I am saying is evidenced in the Hansard and also the video recording of Parliamentary business. It is actually there where the Leader of the House including the Chairperson of the Committee was denying me and other Members a chance to speak. The PVOs Amendment Bill had a number of amendments and there was a heated debate during the Second Reading. For the Hon. Chair of the Committee to deny me the right to contribute and then quickly sail through that Bill without any debate, I think it is a clear violation of my right as a Member of Parliament and also the democratic process of this country.”
The Speaker said he would check with the Hansard and also the Presiding Officer, and give a ruling thereafter.
Hon Gonese was then recognised by the Speaker and made the additional point: over and above the Standing Orders there was a generally accepted convention and rule of practice – both in this Parliament and other Parliaments – that two stages of so obviously a contentious Bill should not be dealt with on the same day, lest MPs be taken by surprise. MPs had certainly been taken by surprise in this case. The Committee Stage should not, therefore, have been allowed to proceed
The Speaker’s ruling is awaited with interest.
On Tuesday after the “Committee Stage” the Bill with its many amendments was referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee to consider. It would be proper for them to withhold a report on the amendments until after the Speaker’s ruling.
Comment: Parliament should take note that its virtual platform may not always be reliable. Perhaps they have already realised that something went seriously wrong with it on Tuesday when a Bill of considerable public interest was being passed through the House, as they subsequently requested that all MPs be present physically for Minister Mthuli Ncube’s Fiscal Policy Statement and Supplementary Budget Statement on Thursday.