President Mugabe opened the Fifth Session of Parliament on Tuesday 12th September. After the pomp and ceremony of his arrival – mounted escort to Parliament, inspection of guard of honour, fly-past and 21-gun salute – he entered Parliament, addressed a joint sitting of the Senate and the National Assembly and declared the new session open.
Both Houses then held brief sittings to adjourn and set the dates for resumption of business. [Note: the Constitution now provides that Parliament sets its own adjournment and sitting dates.]
- The National Assembly is adjourned until Tuesday 19th September;
- The Senate is adjourned until Tuesday 26th September.
The adjournments are designed to give parliamentarians time to digest and prepare for the debates on the President’s address [link]. The address outlined the Bills that Parliament is expected to pass during the session. It is summarised below.
Main Themes of the President’s Address
Alignment of laws with the Constitution The President called on MPs to place emphasis on passing Bills to align 30 existing Acts which, according to his address [but this figure is subject to debate], were the only Acts still remaining to be aligned to the Constitution. Not mentioned, were a Bill to complete the alignment of the Electoral Act or Bills to align local government Acts and to allow metropolitan and provincial councils to operate – to give just a few examples of what was omitted and still needs to be done to align laws with, and implement, the Constitution. For the importance of aligning existing laws with the Constitution, see Constitution Watch 5/2017 of 29th May [link].
Improving Zimbabwe’s business environment President Mugabe also demanded “priority attention” for “very important” Bills to enhance Zimbabwe’s appeal as an investment destination and improve the domestic business environment. Not mentioned, however, was the long-promised Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Amendment Bill – despite its inclusion in the legislative agenda for the previous session.
Need for hard work by MPs – and a ticking-off for absentee Ministers The President conceded that the ambitious agenda he had presented demands “absolute commitment and diligence from all MPs. We, therefore, expect robust and well-informed debate from all members, who should always be present, punctual, disciplined, professional and of impeccable parliamentary conduct.” Hansard’s record of the proceedings shows that when at this point MPs interjected “maMinisters haauye kuParliament!” [“Ministers don’t come to Parliament!”], the President responded that Ministers who do not attend Parliament are guilty and lack impeccable parliamentary conduct. “Much more” he said “is expected from Cabinet Ministers, who should lead by example”.
The Government’s Legislative Agenda
During his address the President named twenty-six Bills to be considered during the session.
In fact one of them, the Judicial Laws Amendment (Ease of Settling Commercial and Other Disputes) Bill, has already been passed during the last session and was gazetted as an Act [link] in June. This leaves twenty-five Bills on the agenda for this session.
And another six of these Bills have already reached Parliament, in some cases a long time ago:
- Insolvency Bill [link] – to update Zimbabwe’s outdated insolvency law in line with best practice internationally
- Estate Administrators Amendment Bill [link]
- Shop Licences Amendment Bill [link] – part of the ease-of-doing-business reforms
- Public Entities Corporate Governance Bill [link] – to bolster the fight against corruption and other corporate governance ills afflicting Zimbabwe’s public entities/parastatals/statutory bodies
- Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill [link] – an extremely long and complex Bill which has been several years in the making and has featured in Presidential wish-lists even in the previous Parliament [2008-2013]
- Mineral Exploration and Marketing Corporation Bill [link] – a Bill dating back to the Third Session that was not restored to the Order Paper during the Fourth Session after doubts about it had been expressed by the Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy
Note: Four of these six Bills were at various stages on their path through the National Assembly when the previous session ended, at which point they lapsed or were superseded. With the approval of a National Assembly resolution, however, they can all be restored to the Order Paper and proceedings on them resumed at the stage they had previously reached. The remaining two Bills in this category – the Insolvency Bill and the Public Entities Corporate Governance Bill – have been gazetted but not yet introduced in the National Assembly. All six Bills are available on the Veritas website at the links given above.
Another six of these Bills have featured in previous legislative agendas [in opening addresses of previous sessions] without ever reaching Parliament:
- Marriages Bill – to outlaw child marriage
- Coroner’s Office Bill – to establish the Coroner’s Office, which will be responsible for medico-legal investigations into unexplained, suspicious, sudden and unexpected causes of death
- Companies Amendment Bill
- Labour Law Amendment Bill – part of the ease-of-doing-business reforms
- Cyber Crime and Cyber Security Bill
- Electronic Transactions and Electronic Commerce Bill
Note: As these Bills have not reached Parliament or been gazetted, soft copies are not available.
So thirteen Bills are new to the legislative agenda:
- Child Justice Bill – to provide a dedicated child justice system
- Constitutional Court Bill – a law called for by the Constitution
- Prisons and Correctional Service Bill, which also seeks to align the existing Act to the Constitution
- Disaster Risk Management Bill – to strengthen Zimbabwe’s disaster responses and resilience mechanisms in the context of alternating floods and droughts caused by climate change
- Cooperative Societies Amendment Bill – to strengthen the regulation of cooperatives in the country
- Land Developers Bill – “to bring sanity to the operations of land developers”
- Gold Trade Amendment Bill
- Precious Stones Trade Amendment Bill
- Data Protection Bill
- Teaching Professions Council Bill – to regulate and promote ethical conduct within the teaching profession
- Institute of Education Research, Innovation and Development Bill
- Mandatory Sentencing for Rape and Sexual Abuse Bill – to provide for more deterrent penalties for perpetrators of rape and other offences involving sexual abuse
- Defence Amendment Bill – to render the Defence Act consistent with the Constitution.
Other Bills that Will or May Come up During the Session
Six other Bills, although not mentioned in the President’s legislative agenda, either will or may come up during the session:
Two more unfinished Bills from the Fourth Session should be completed in the new session:
- Land Commission Bill [link] – very nearly completed, merely awaiting final approval by the National Assembly of amendments made by the Senate [see Bill Watch 25/2017 [link] of 26th July for the Senate’s amendments]
- National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill [link] – awaiting Parliamentary Legal Committee report on amendments made in the National Assembly [see Bill Watch 30/2017 of 4th September link].
Budget Bills In addition there is the Budget for 2018, which will take up a great deal of MPs’ time during the next three or four months and will inevitably involve at least two Bills which are never mentioned in the President’s speeches because they are routine annual Parliamentary duties:
- Appropriation (2018) Bill – to vote funds for the carrying on of Government during 2018, including funding for the coming elections
- Finance Bill – to implement changes to taxation laws that the Government considers necessary to raise the necessary revenue.
Other likely/possible Bills
- Civil Aviation Authority Bill – this is on the list of Bills received by Parliament and awaiting gazetting. [The printer’s proofs were sent to the drafters in May but have not yet been returned to the Government Printer, which may indicate a re-think on this Bill.]
- Motor Vehicle Accident Fund Bill – without promising a Bill during this session, the President lamented the continued loss of lives through traffic accidents on Zimbabwe’s roads and said Government is in the process of establishing a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund to, among other issues, accord a measure of relief to survivors and families of the victims of traffic accidents. [Note: This is bound to necessitate a Bill at some stage.]
International Agreements for Parliamentary Approval
The President also said that three international agreements will be presented for approval in terms of the constitutional provision that requires Parliamentary approval before Zimbabwe becomes party to and bound by major international agreements [Constitution, section 327]:
- Smuggling of Migrants Protocol – which seeks to promote safe migration management within the country and to uphold the dignity of rights of migrants [The protocol’s full title is Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.]
- Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of, and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition – which will enhance cooperation with regional and international agencies in ensuring the safety of citizens [The protocol also supplements the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.]
Note: The above protocols are two of the three “Palermo Protocols” supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. The third is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, to which Zimbabwe is already party and has implemented by enacting the Trafficking in Persons Act of 2014.] l
- Protocol Amending the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation [WTO] – this seeks to promote the expeditious movement of goods through the application of technological innovations.
The President was right. The legislative programme he unveiled is a heavy one, even without adding all the Parliamentary activities that lead up to the Budget.
It is all very well for MPs to be exhorted to work hard. It is up to the President and his Cabinet and Ministers to keep Bills flowing steadily to Parliament – and up to Ministers to shepherd them through Parliament in good time. If Ministers fail to play their part – for example, if a Bill on its way through Parliament is left languishing, perhaps for weeks, because the responsible Minister is out of the country or otherwise engaged – MPs and Parliament should not be blamed for delays. Ministers with heavy schedules should consider allowing their Deputy Ministers – always provided they have been fully briefed – to shoulder some of the legislative burden.