BILL WATCH 22-2023 - Progress on Prisons and Electoral Bills 16th to 18th May

BILL WATCH 22/2023

[29th May 2023]

Both Houses of Parliament Are in Recess until Tuesday 30th May

This bulletin is the one promised at the end of Bill Watch 20/2023 headed “Election Proclamation Now Impossible in May” [link].  That brief special bulletin dealt solely with the legal effect of the National Assembly’s failure, before the recess, to complete the Committee Stage of the Electoral Amendment Bill – but did not contain our usual summaries of work which both Houses of Parliament did during their three sittings in the week, including the marathon ten-hour sitting of the National Assembly on Thursday 18th May.  This bulletin will cover what happened in Parliament before it went into recess. 

Fast-tracking of Government Business From 18th May Onwards

On Wednesday 17th May the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs gave notice that he would the next day move a motion suspending Standing Orders so that Government business would be fast-tracked with effect from 18th May and for the next series of sittings starting on Tuesday 30th May.  The motion was duly approved at the beginning of the sitting on Thursday 18th May. The suspension of those Standing Orders allowed longer sitting hours and the taking of two or more stages of a Bill on one day and fast tracked PLC reports.  It is expected that a similar motion will be moved in the Senate when the National Assembly transmits Bills it has passed to the Senate.

Bills in the National Assembly: 16th to 18th May

Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill a.k.a. the “Patriot Bill” [link]

On Tuesday 16th May the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs delivered his Second Reading speech briefly explaining the Bill.  The next step should have been the presentation of the report of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs on the Bill and the public hearings on it.  As the report was not ready, proceedings were postponed, and the Bill was not brought up again during the week.   

Prisons and Correctional Service Bill [link]

Completion of Committee Stage

On Wednesday 17th May the House resumed work on the Committee Stage of the Bill, starting with clause 50, where it had left off on Thursday 11th May – see Bill Watch 19/2023 [link].  MPs proceeded with the clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill as follows and had completed clause 138 by the end of the sitting at 6.43 pm.  Two clauses  were deleted and a number amended.  

On Thursday 18th May, before turning to the Electoral Amendment Bill, the House continued with and completed the Committee Stage.  Most of the remaining clauses and the three Schedules were agreed but further clauses were amended.

Amendments referred to Parliamentary Legal Committee

The amended Bill was then referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] for its report on the constitutionality of the amendments.  The PLC’s normal periods for reporting are suspended by the fast-tracking motion, so the report is expected on 30th May or very soon afterwards.  If the report is non-adverse, as expected, the National Assembly could well take the Bill through its final stage the same day and transmit it to the Senate for immediate consideration. 

Electoral Amendment Bill [link]:  Completion of Second Reading

On Thursday 18th May the Bill was brought up by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs immediately after the House had completed work on the Prisons and Correctional Service Bill.  MPs had already been warned that the intention was to take advantage of the fast-tracking motion and sit until midnight if necessary. 

Further contributions to the debate were made.  In his very brief reply to the debate, the Minister claimed that, of all eleven clauses in the Bill, the only provision that had been criticised was that barring the use of driver’s licences as proof of identity when presenting oneself at the polling station to vote.  Apart from that one provision, he said, Opposition Members had suggested amendments to the Electoral Act that were outside the framework of the Bill.  He made the same point during the Committee Stage, in an unsuccessful attempt to restrict the scope of the Opposition amendments that had been on the Order Paper for weeks.

[Comment:  The Minister was wrong in this.  It is perfectly proper for Members of Parliament to propose additional amendments to an Act that is being amended by a Bill while it is going through Parliament.  In this case the Opposition Members were pointing out that the Bill was seriously deficient, in that it would not make important amendments that must be made to the Electoral Act if the forthcoming elections are to be free and fair.]

Electoral Amendment Bill: Committee Stage.  It is remarkably difficult to ascertain from either Hansard or Votes and Proceedings what exactly happened, so what follows must be treated with caution.  According to Hansard, Minister Ziyambi, late in the evening, said:

“The challenge that we now have Mr. Chairman, because we have deferred a lot of clauses, We need to agree that when we come back, we adopt everything because now we will confuse each other.”  

A statement which, it may be said, must have confused Hon Members even further.

For the amendments so far to the Electoral Amendment Bill, as far as they can be understood, see [link].

Coming up in the National Assembly on Tuesday 30th May

Take-note motions on Annual reports for 2022

of the Judicial Service Commission and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

Electoral Amendment Bill 

As well as those deferred from the last sitting there are still extensive amendments to the Bill  proposed  on the Order Paper [link]

Other Bills

Mines and Minerals Bill [link] – for consideration of the Adverse Report on the Bill by the Parliamentary Legal Committee.

Prisons and Correctional Services Bill [as amended]  There is a possibility [see above] that this amended Bill may be brought up for approval of its final stages and transmission to the Senate in its amended form.

The list of the other Bills awaiting the attention of the National Assembly is the same as the list in Bill Watch 19/2023 [link] from the Medical Services Amendment Bill onwards.

On the Senate’s Order Paper This Week

International agreements for approval   

New items for the Order Papers of both Houses this week are seven international agreements for approval of Parliament in terms of section 327 of the Constitution.  In both Houses they are items 1 to 7 on the Order Paper, all submitted by the Minister of Energy and Power Development.  They are all agreements Zimbabwe should be a party to as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], including the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the IAEA and the Convention on Nuclear Safety.  As the National Assembly is expected to be busy on the Electoral Bill, the Senate is likely to deal with them first.

Senators’ motions waiting to be moved  One motion that we have not mentioned in previous bulletins is by Senator Chief Chundu calling for competitive remuneration and housing to be provided for Government doctors which is in addition to Senator Tongogara’s motion calling for a sustainable health system.  Senator Komichi’s unmoved motion calling for a truly African system of government to replace our present Western-based electoral system is also on the list.

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