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Legal Committee issues adverse report on Electoral Bill
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
May 12, 2012
The House of
Assembly and the Senate resume sitting on 15 May 2012 after a six-week
break. A perusal of the Order Paper or sitting agenda shows that
there is going to be some very important legislative business to
transact, especially by the House of Assembly.
On the agenda
for the House
of Assembly is the Zimbabwe
Human Rights Commission Bill, which is now at Committee Stage.
At this stage, the Bill will be examined clause by clause and amendments
moved if there are any. The Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs,
Hon. Patrick Chinamasa has already given notice of amendments which
are on the Order Paper and open to public scrutiny. The proposed
amendments followed representations made by the Justice, Constitutional
and Parliamentary Affairs Portfolio Committee and the Parliamentary
Legal Committee (PLC). The amendments, though not sufficient, will
go a long way in improving the legislation and provide a legal framework
for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to operate. Although created
by the Constitution,
the Commission has been stifled in its operations by the absence
of enabling legislation. A fully operational Human Rights Commission
is an essential institution for the conduct of a credible election
process. With these amendments, I expect the Bill to sail through
both houses and assented into law by the President.
item on the sitting agenda of the House of Assembly is the Parliamentary
Legal Committee’s adverse report on the Electoral
Amendment Bill. An adverse report means that the PLC has come
up with an opinion that some sections of the Bill violate the Constitution.
Since the report has not yet been tabled in the House and become
a public document, I am not aware of the provisions that have been
condemned by the committee. I am however aware of the objections
that came from citizens during nation-wide public hearings by the
Justice Committee and public comments made by various civil society
groups. Of concern include question marks on the independence of
the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission from the Minister of Justice,
restrictions on funding for voter education by civil society groups,
executive dominance on the Observer Accreditation Committee, failure
to give the Commission sole and exclusive responsibility for the
registration of voters and the maintenance of the voters roll, absence
of provisions to ensure the courts expedite dispute resolution,
lack of specific punitive sanctions against media firms that do
not provide fair media coverage to all political parties and barring
of Diaspora voting. Reports that the principals have agreed to do
away with the proposed polling station-based voting is a good development.
What is left is for Minister Chinamasa to bring this amendment to
The other Bill
that preferably should be concluded before the closure of the 4th
Session is the Urban
Councils Amendment Bill. The filing of an urgent application
to the Supreme Court by the Minister of Local Government barring
Parliament from debating the Bill is highly regrettable. Approaching
the courts to stop Parliament from exercising its law-making functions
is unwarranted interference in the lawful functions of the legislative
branch. Private member bills are permitted by the country’
statutes. I therefore cannot understand how the Constitution has
been breached to necessitate this application to the Supreme Court.
In fact, we need more private member bills in order for Parliament
to fulfil its constitutional mandate of making “laws for the
peace, order and good government of Zimbabwe”. Sadly, this
application will delay debate on the Bill until the Supreme Court
makes a determination on the matter.
The House of
Assembly will also have to deal with a motion by Hon. Gonese seeking
leave of the House to amend Section 121 of the Criminal
Procedure and Evidence Act. This motion has to be approved by
the House to allow a Bill to be gazetted and introduced in Parliament.
Committee set up by the House of Assembly to investigate contempt
of Parliament allegations against Shabani Mashava Mines Administrator,
Afaras Gwaradzimba, has started hearings on the matter and will
most likely conclude its business before the session comes to an
end. Gwaradzimba is alleged to have demeaned the integrity of the
committee when he gave an interview to the Daily News during the
time that the committee was investigating the operations and collapse
of Shabani Mashava Mines.
In the Senate,
the most important legislative business is a motion again by Hon.
Gonese to reinstate the Public
Order and Security Amendment Bill at the stage it had reached
when Parliament was prorogued. This motion has been resisted by
Zanu PF senators who have been arguing that the negotiators to the
Global Political Agreement are seized with the matter. Allowing
this motion to lapse again due to a prorogation of Parliament for
the 5th and last Session, could mean the end of this private member
Bill. It is up to Hon. Gonese to move a motion to wind up debate
in order for the senators to vote on it. A rejection of the motion
will mean that the two houses would have reached a disagreement
on the matter, paving the way for invoking constitutional provisions
that allow the House of Assembly to override the Senate and submit
the Bill directly to the President for assent.
It is most likely
that the legislative branch will have only six weeks to conclude
all this business before adjourning for the 5th Session of the 7th
Parliament, which will be the last in the life of this Parliament.
The last session is expected to be officially opened by the President
in July and will run for another 12 months unless the President
sooner dissolves Parliament for the elections.
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