January’s Defence Forces Deployment: Parliament Not Yet Officially Informed
Nearly two months have passed since mid-January, when the Defence Forces were deployed in support of the Zimbabwe Republic Police in the maintenance of public order. The heavy-handed deployment continued for some time.
Constitution requires Parliament to be promptly informed of deployment
Section 214 of the Constitution, which is headed “Political accountability for deployment of Defence Forces”, provides that when the Defence Forces are deployed in support of the police, the President “must cause Parliament to be informed, promptly and in appropriate detail, of the reasons for their deployment and . . . the place where they are deployed”.
Parliament not informed
Parliament was in recess when the deployment occurred. It was not specially recalled to consider the security situation. Two weeks after the deployment, Parliament resumed as scheduled on 29th January. On that day Hon Gonese of MDC-A raised a point of Parliamentary privilege, claiming Parliament should have been specially recalled to facilitate compliance with section 214 of the Constitution. An immediate ruling was not forthcoming.
Since the 29th January and to date – despite the fact that both Houses of Parliament have sat on twelve separate occasions – members of Parliament have still not been formally informed by their presiding officers that Parliament has received a communication from or on behalf of the President as to why and where the Defence Forces were deployed.
The conclusion must be that there has been a serious breach of section 214 of the Constitution. The word “promptly” has been ignored. The Executive has treated Parliament with disrespect if not contempt.
The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance
This important Charter dates from 2007 and has been in force since 2012 among AU member states that have ratified it. Zimbabwe did not sign it when it was adopted by the African Union. President Mugabe did not sign it at later AU meetings.
President Mnangagwa signed the Charter in March 2018. Veritas reminded the Speaker that the process needed to be completed by obtaining Parliament’s approval for this Charter to be formally ratified. [See Veritas’ discussion of the Charter in Election Watch 11/2018. It was put on the Order Paper for debate just before the last Parliament ended, but with so many MPs absent on campaigning the election it was not dealt with. Veritas was assured it would be dealt with in this new Parliament.
After Parliament has approved the Charter, an instrument of ratification has to be prepared by the Government, signed by the President and deposited with the AU Secretariat in Addis Ababa.
Senate Debate on the Annual Report for 2017 of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission
On 12th February the chairperson of the Thematic Committee on Human Rights, Senator Chidawu, presented a motion requesting the Senate to take note of the committee’s report on the Annual Report of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission [ZHRC] for the year ended 31st December 2017. In its favourable report, the committee noted and agreed with all the ZHRC’s reports on its investigations into complaints received about breaches of human rights and its consequential recommendations for action by relevant Ministries and departments. In addition, the committee made its own important recommendations for making the ZHRC’s work more effective, as follows:
- The ZHRC must timeously recommend to Parliament effective measures to promote human rights and freedoms.
- The ZHRC should regularly submit to Parliament special reports on cases where no action was taken relating to the authority or person affected.
- The State, when effecting evictions, must ensure the evictees possess a degree of security of tenure to guarantee legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.
- The ZHRC must include in its annual report any action pursued in any court of competent jurisdiction for the redress of any human rights violation.
- The ZHRC’s recommendations to relevant institutions and persons should have legal force to compel entities to act on them.
- The State must, as a matter of urgency, reconsider its reservations to the UN Refugee Convention so that the refugees and asylum seekers in the country can enjoy increased rights.
- The ZHRC should make systematic monitoring and observation of election processes to expose and weed out such malpractices.
The debate on the take-note motion continued on 13th February and will continue when the Senate resumes on 26th March. The Deputy President of the Senate overruled attempts by MDC-A Senators to broaden discussion to cover the current human rights situation from mid-January onwards.
Speaker Announces (1) Dissolution of Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development and (2) Appointment of Privileges Committee to Inquire into Allegations
On 7th February the National Assembly approved Hon Mataranyika’s motion for the appointment of a Privileges Committee to enquire into allegations, published in media reports, that some members of the Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development, including its chairperson Hon Mliswa, had solicited a bribe from a would-be contractor as a facilitation fee for securing a mining contract at Hwange Colliery. Hon Mliswa subsequently stepped down as chairperson of the portfolio committee.
On 18th February, during the recent recess, there was an extraordinary meeting of the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders [CSRO], which has responsibility for the appointment of all other Parliamentary Committees. The CSRO:
- dissolved the Portfolio Committee on Mines and Mining Development and decided to reconstitute it in due course;
- appointed the Privileges Committee, chaired by Senator Chief Charumbira, to investigate the bribery allegations.
These decisions were announced in the National Assembly on 5th and 7th March, respectively.
The reconstitution of the Committee is awaited
Are Arrested MDC-A MPs at Risk of Losing Their Seats?
A number of MDC-A MPs were arrested and remanded in custody on serious charges in the aftermath of the events of mid-January. At least one has already been acquitted. All the others have since been released on bail. This means that they are once again free to attend sittings of Parliament. And they are no longer in danger of losing their seats on the ground of failure to attend sittings of the National Assembly as a result of being in custody.
Section 129(1)(f) of the Constitution is relevant. Under this provision the seat of an MP “becomes vacant” if, without leave and if the House concerned votes by a majority vote of its total membership that the seat should become vacant, the MP is absent for “twenty-one consecutive days on which the House sits”.
Since the beginning of January, both the Senate and the National Assembly have actually sat on only 12 days. So the danger-point [21 “consecutive days on which the House sits”] has not been reached.
Although they are all now out on bail so they will not loose their seats for missing 21 consecutive sittings the question remains whether any of them will be convicted and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment – in which case they will lose their seats [Constitution, section 129(1)].
This is a situation which needs to be carefully monitored. The opposition is small as it is now – and it will not be healthy for democracy if it shrinks further.