Electoral Amendment Bill Delayed Until 8th May
The Government arranged special sittings of Parliament last week to have “urgent Government business” completed, particularly the Electoral Amendment Bill [MPs were originally due to be in recess for the whole of April]. But the National Assembly made no progress at all on the Electoral Amendment Bill.
Electoral Amendment Bill Committee Stage Stalled
The National Assembly’s Order Paper for the special sitting of Tuesday 10th included proposed amendments to the Bill notified by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and Hon Gonese, MDC-T Chief Whip. This was in preparation for the Committee Stage of the Bill when amendments can be proposed and debated. The Committee Stage did not, however, take off – the purported reason was because notices of further proposed amendments had been lodged too late to be included on the printed Order Paper.
The Minister withdrew his initial request for the House to suspend Standing Orders to permit the fast-tracking of the Bill. The House then turned to other business – see below.
The House was expected to return to the Electoral Amendment Bill on Wednesday afternoon after the normal two hours of Question Time. Once again, expectations were not realised, although this time the Order Paper for the afternoon contained all the amendments, including the new ones–
1. The Minister’s amendments are now greatly expanded and what has been added overlaps to a larger extent with Hon Gonese’s amendments/the Veritas Draft Electoral Amendment Bill. But they still only align some of the Electoral Act to the Constitution and fall short of the complete alignment that is needed to avoid post-election litigation.
- Hon Gonese’s amendments These remain as they were previously and represent a serious and more complete attempt to properly align the Electoral Act to the Constitution.
- Hon Misihairabwi-Mushonga’s amendments The theme of these amendments is gender equality. Unfortunately some of these amendments would in themselves be unconstitutional and even if voted for would not pass the inspection of the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC].
The Bill, however, was not dealt with on Wednesday. The two hours of Question Time was followed by the First Reading of two other Bills and their referral to the PLC [see below] and a call by Hon Mliswa for a Ministerial statement on recent developments at Zimbabwe Cricket. With the number of ZANU-PF MPs rapidly dwindling [it was said they were leaving to campaign in the party’s primaries] – although there seemed to still be a quorum – the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs then moved the adjournment of the House. This caused protests from the Opposition. The MDC-T Chief Whip, Hon Gonese, reminded the House of the Minister’s attempt to fast-track the Bill only the previous day and said that the Opposition was ready to proceed with the Bill immediately. But the House adjourned over the Opposition’s noisy protests.
The Bill was not discussed. The House sat for only forty minutes before adjourning until 8th May.
The new amendments now on the Order Paper for the Committee Stage are available on the Veritas website in a single document entitled Revised Proposed Amendments
The Two Other So-Called Urgent Bills
The two other Bills which the Minster of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs labelled “urgent Government business” when seeking the House’s approval of fast-tracking on Tuesday were the Insolvency Bill and the Shop Licences Amendment Bill. Only limited progress was made on these:
Three MPs made contributions to the Second Reading debate, drawing particular attention to the need for the Bill to protect the interests of workers in the event of employers going into liquidation or judicial management. Debate will continue in May.
Shop Licences Amendment Bill
The Bill was given its Second Reading and went straight into Committee Stage on Tuesday, with the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs standing in for the Minister of Local Government. Most of its clauses were approved, except for clauses that the Minister of Local Government has agreed to amend to meet the objections of the Parliamentary Legal Committee; these were carried over to Thursday. Although the Minister’s amendments appeared on Thursday’s Order Paper, the Bill was not dealt with. They will, therefore, be considered in May. The amendments are:
- the removal of clause 7, which the PLC said would have contravened the constitutional autonomy of local authorities to fix licence fees without Ministerial approval];
- the replacement of clause 8, which was unacceptable to the PLC because it would have repealed section 14 of the Shop Licences Act requiring applications for new licences to be advertised. The new clause 8 will now leave section 14’s advertising procedure intact, but instead will repeal the closely related section 15 [which provides for objections to advertised applications to be lodged with the licensing authority and requires the authority to notify the objection to the applicant].
Comment: While this change may have satisfied the PLC as to constitutionality, one wonders whether it has been properly thought through from the practical point of view, given that section 18 of the Act will still allow objectors to participate in the hearing that precedes the granting of a new licence.
Other Bills Dealt With Last Week in the National Assembly
Civil Aviation Amendment Bill
The last contribution to the Second Reading debate was made by Hon Nduna, who asked the Minister to delay the Bill and re-examine its basic objective of splitting the Civil Aviation Authority in two. The Minister then replied to the Second Reading debate as a whole, rejecting Hon Nduna’s plea. The Bill was given its Second Reading before the House adjourned until 8th May. The Committee Stage will follow on that date or later.
Public Health Bill
The Minister of Health and Child Care delivered what must be the shortest speech ever given by a Minister asking for the Second Reading of a major Bill. Further proceedings on the Bill were then postponed to 8th May to allow the Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care to finish and present its report on the recent series of public hearings on the Bill.
ZISCO Debt Redemption Bill
The PLC gave this Bill a non-adverse report, so the Second Reading stage can start when the House resumes in May.
Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Amendment Bill
Given its First Reading and referred to the PLC.
Companies and Other Business Entities Bill
Given its First Reading and referred to the PLC.
National Assembly Vacancy – Seat Formerly Held by Hon Khupe
At the start of business on Thursday 12th April the Acting Speaker announced that Hon Khupe had ceased to be a party-list MP in terms of section 129(1)(k) of the Constitution. The Acting Speaker explained that this was because a letter had been received from the MDC-T on 10th April notifying the Speaker that Hon Khupe had ceased to be a member of the party.
Last Week in the Senate
No Bills were transmitted to the Senate, obliging Senators to fill in the time with debating motions already on their Order Paper and Question Time on Thursday 12th August.
Vacancy in Senate – Tragic Death of Senator Chief Chisunga
On 10th April Senators observed a minute’s silence in memory of the late Senator Chief Chisunga of Mashonaland Central province, who died on 5th April in a motor vehicle accident.
At the end of last week’s sittings, both Houses adjourned until Tuesday 8th May for the remainder of their interrupted recess.