Both National Assembly and Senate Sat Last Week and Both Houses Will Sit This Week.
Six More MDC-Alliance MPs Lose Their Seats When Recalled by PDP
On Wednesday 17th March, according to Hansard [the public verbatim record of Parliamentary proceedings] the Speaker told the House that he had received a letter from the Secretary-General of the People’s Democratic Party and then read out the entire letter. The letter was headed “Notice of Recall of certain members of Parliament” and began with the sentence: “We hereby advise that acting in terms of section 129(1)(k) of the Constitution, we hereby declare that the following Members of Parliament have ceased to belong to the People’s Democratic Party, which was a member of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, an alliance formed in terms of the constitutive agreement signed on 5th August, 2017.”
The letter then explained that the MPs concerned had belonged to the PDP when elected, and, as the seven political parties forming the Alliance had retained their identities and independence, the PDP had retained authority over them. Finally it said the six MPs concerned “by operation of Clause 6(4)(a) of our party constitution have ceased to belong to the party and are hereby being recalled” and listed the MPs as follows:
- Hon Tendai Laxton Biti [Harare East Constituency]
- Hon Willas Madzimure [Kambuzuma Constituency]
- Hon Settlement Chikwinya [Mbizo Constituency]
- Hon Kucaca Phulu [Nkulumane Constituency]
- Hon Sichelesile Mahlangu [Pumula Constituency]
- Hon Regai Tsunga [Mutasa South Constituency].
The Speaker then read out the list of other addressees to whom the letter had been copied. According to Hansard, the Speaker then stopped at that point: he did not say what he has invariably said in the past to the effect that the seats concerned had become vacant by operation of law and that the President and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission would be informed accordingly. This may be neither here nor there – the loss of a Member’s seat is not triggered by the Speaker’s declaration in the House that there is a vacancy. Before a Member can lose his or her seat under section 149(1)(k) of the Constitution:
- the Member must have ceased to belong to the political party of which he or she was a member when elected, and
- a representative of that political party must have sent a written notice to the Speaker declaring that the Member has ceased to belong to the party.
In the case of these six Members it is not clear that they have in fact ceased to belong to the PDP or the MDC-A, whichever was the party they represented in the last election – the facts are confused and hotly disputed. Nor is it clear that the person who wrote the letter to the Speaker had the party’s authority to write it – a judgment of the High Court which may have given the person authority is under appeal so the matter is sub judice. Hence it is too early to say that the Members have lost their seats.
Next day Hon Mliswa in the National Assembly commended the six [now possibly ex-] MPs for the work they had done in Parliament; he mentioned Hon Phulu as having been “a voice of reason” and praised Hons Biti, Tsunga and Chikwinya for their “vibrancy”.
Other Matters relating to Membership of Parliament
Senator Shava appointed and sworn in
Dr Frederick Shava was sworn in as a ZANU PF Senator on 17th March. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] had appointed him as a Senator for Midlands Province with effect from the day before – see ZEC’s GN 371/2021 published in a Government Gazette Extraordinary dated 16th March and notifying his appointment as a party-list Senator in terms of section 39 of the Electoral Act. Note that Dr Shava only became a Senator on 16th March, which makes his swearing-in as a Minister on 2nd March legally premature – despite the feeble excuse aired at the time that the swearing-in was in order because ZEC had gazetted him as ZANU PF’s official nominee for the Senate vacancy, as shown by GN 225/2021. Parliament waited until ZEC had actually appointed Dr Shava as a senator. The President – who has already used up his constitutional quota of five Ministers from outside Parliament – should have been advised to do the same.
Other party-list vacancies in Parliament
Senate ZEC has appointed Dorothy Mabika as a party-list Senator for Manicaland Province on the nomination of ZANU PF with effect from 19th March 2021 – see GN 415/2021. This fills the vacancy left by the death of the late Ellen Gwaradzimba.
National Assembly ZEC has notified ZANU PF’s nomination of Metrine Mudau to fill the vacancy in its party-list MPs for Masvingo Province left by the death the late Lisa Singo – see GN 400/2021 of 16th March. Members of the public have until 30th March to notify ZEC of their objections, if any, to her appointment as an women’s quota party-list MP in terms of section 39 of the Electoral Act. If no valid objections are lodged, ZEC will be free to appoint her as a party-list member of the National Assembly.
Status of Bills as at 19th March 2021
Bills going through Parliament
No Bills were dealt with by either House last week. No Bills have been passed so far this year. It remains to be seen whether the coming week will see Ministers bringing up the Bills already on the Order Papers of both Houses.
Bills passed by Parliament last year still not gazetted as Acts
There was recent progress in relation to the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill, which was finally passed by Parliament on 8th December last year: the Bill is at last on its way to gazetting as an Act – Parliament sent it to the President’s Office for the President’s assent last Thursday, 18th March. If assented to, it will be gazetted as an Act of 2020 by the President’s Office.
There are two other Acts-in-waiting of 2020 still to be sent to the President for assent – the Constitutional Court Bill [passed on 15th September] and the Manpower Planning and Development Amendment Bill [passed on 16th December]
In the National Assembly 16th to 18th March
The lack of progress has already been mentioned under Status of Bills above.
The week was remarkable for the moving of, thorough debate on and adoption of two major motions, each in a single afternoon’s sitting:
Investment in replacing dilapidated water, sanitation and hygiene [WASH] systems in older suburbs countrywide [16th March] Hon Mushoriwa, in moving his motion for at least 2% of the national budget to be allocated towards replacing WASH systems, painted a dismal picture of the deplorable living conditions in the older townships, now housing at least four times the population they were designed for when established many decades ago, before Independence. The motion was enthusiastically supported by the many MPs who contributed to a debate that took up most of the sitting. It was adopted just before the House adjourned at 6.36 pm.
School feeding programme [SFP] challenges [18th March] Hon Misihairabwi-Mushonga presented for adoption a report by the Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education on its fact-finding visits to primary schools, which had revealed major defects in the school-feeding programme. The committee concluded that the SFP in its present form is ineffective and unsustainable and should be reviewed by Government. The motion was strongly supported by all MPs who spoke and made suggestions as to how the SFP could be improved; the report was noted and adopted by the House.
Other motions On 17th March the House approved motions for the restoration to the Order Paper of two lapsed motions from the Second Session – (1) the motion on the recall of MPs, which is described in more detail in Bill Watch 17/2021 and (2) the motion on inclusion of youths in the socio-economic spheres of the economy. It also approved the motion to take note of the Zimbabwean delegation’s report on the 2019 AGM of the African Parliamentarians’ Network on Development Evaluation, which had been thoroughly and approvingly debated in earlier sittings.
On all three days MPs continued with contributions to the debate on the President’s speech at the opening of the current Session. The Speaker has asked MPs to finish their contributions early this week.
In the Senate 16th to 18th March
After a very brief 50-minute sitting on 16th March, Senators sat for over two hours on both 17th and 18th March. Once again they were left to their own devices, as there was no Government business for their attention.
The lack of progress has already been mentioned under Status of Bills above. The lack of legislative progress is not to be blamed on Senators.
Motion on the President’s Speech at the Opening of the Current Session Standing Orders 43 and 105 relating to the removal of long-running motions from the Order Paper after 21 days was temporarily suspended to allow Senators to continue debating this motion. Senators then made further contributions to the debate for the rest of the week and it was adopted after debate was wound up by Senator Chirongoma on 18th March.
New motion on the country’s roads Also on 16th March, Senators Chimbudzi and Mathuthu presented their motion calling on the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to embark on a massive road rehabilitation programme countrywide by 20th September 2021, to include prioritising strategic roads that promote tourism, the conveyance of goods and essential services and the continuous clearing of shrubs and tall grasses along highways to reduce the prevalence of accidents caused by poor visibility. The debate was still in progress at the end of the week.
Take-note motion on Report on Vocational Training Centres, Empower Bank and Sporting Facilities On 18th March Senator Mbohwa presented this motion on the joint report by the Thematic Committee on Indigenisation and Empowerment and the Portfolio Committee of Youth, Sport etc .
Coming up in the National Assembly 23rd to 25th March
Forest Amendment Bill – for the start of the Committee Stage. No proposed amendments appear on the Order Paper, but it is understood that some amendments are expected.
Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill – also for the start of the Committee Stage, as it has been for some time. But the number of pages of proposed amendments has grown considerably because the Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services has made substantial additions to the already large number of amendments emanating from the Portfolio Committee [all the amendments are captured in a document prepared by Veritas]. The Minister proposes amendments to the following clauses of the Bill:
- Clause 1 – to change to “Data Protection Act” the name of the Act that the Bill is intended to become, by dropping the words “Cyber Security and”;
- Clause 13 – to replace clause 13 [“Sensitive information”] of the Bill with an entirely new section on the same subject;
- Clause 28 – to amend the clause, which is headed “Transfer of Personal Information Outside Zimbabwe”, including adding an enhanced criminal penalty where the Cyber Security and Monitoring of Interception of Communications Centre [see below] certifies that there was a breach of State security;
and the insertion of the following new clauses at the end of the Bill:
- Clause 36 – to insert a new Part XXA in the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act headed “Provisions Relating to Cyber Crime” and containing six separate sections headed Search and seizure, Expedited reservation, Obligations and immunity of service providers, Jurisdiction [covering extensive extra-territorial jurisdiction], Admissibility of electronic evidence, and Forfeiture;
- Clause 37 – to make extensive amendments to the Interception of Communications Act to include provision for the establishment and functions of a unit in the President’s Office to be called by Cyber Security and Monitoring of Interception of Communications Centre and an advisory Cyber Security Committee to advise the Minister responsible for the administration of the Interception Act.
See Bill Watch 8/2021 for more details on the original Bill and references to comments on it. The additional extensive amendments now proposed by the Minister change the original Bill considerably. Parliament should, therefore, be considering conducting further public consultations to get public reaction to these amendments.
Pension and Provident Funds Bill – for the start of the Second Reading stage. See our comment in Bill Watch 17/2021 on the prospects for early progress on this important Bill, given that Parliament has merely called for written submissions from stakeholders and members of the public, but not conducted public hearings, whether virtual or physical.
Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill – for continuation/conclusion of the Second Reading debate. MPs have already, on 9th July last year, heard the Minister’s Second Reading speech and the report on the public hearings on the Bill conducted by the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. Some individual MPs have made their contributions. Several Constitution Watches containing detailed critical commentary on this Bill, and Veritas’ submissions to the Portfolio Committee, are available on the Veritas website. The main criticism of the Bill from a wide cross-section of Zimbabweans has been that most of the amendments serve to increase executive power at the expense of the legislature and judiciary.
Centre for Education, Innovation, Research and Development Bill – for continuation of the Second Reading stage. The Minister has already delivered his Second Reading speech. The next step is presentation of the Portfolio Committee’s report on the Bill and the virtual public hearings on it held earlier this month.
Take-note Motions on ZHRC and NPA Reports
The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs has the following items heading the Order Paper for 16th March, all of them carried over from last year:
- ZHRC Annual Reports for 2018 and 2019
- ZHRC Report on National Inquiry on Access to Documentation in Zimbabwe This is an important report on access to birth certificates and other identity documents.
- NPA Annual Report for 2019.
Coming up in the Senate 23rd to 25th March
The long-delayed Marriages Bill is the only Bill on the Order Paper for the coming week.
International Agreements for Approval
The Minister of Finance and Economic Development has two loan agreements down for approval, both already approved by the National Assembly. They are (1) the loan from the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa [BADEA] for the fight against COVID-19, to be implemented by the Ministry of Health and Child Care [28 August 2020] and (2) the loan from the Export-Import Bank of India for the Hwange Units Thermal Power Station Life Extension Project to be implemented by Zimbabwe Power Company [24 February 2020].
In addition to continuation of adjourned debates on motions already presented – including the newest motion on the road network – there are new motions listed for presentation Tuesday 23rd and Wednesday 24th March, respectively:
- by Senator Muzenda to take note of the Report on Parliamentary Leadership for the 2030 Agenda Webinar Series: COVID-19 Response: Leaving No-one Behind, held on 15th February 2021;
- by Hon Samukange, for the Senate to consider and adopt the Report of the Privileges Committee Report of the Privileges Committee Investigating Cases of Alleged Misconduct by MDC Alliance Members of Parliament. Hon Samukange, MP, is the chairperson of the Privileges Committee, which was set up in late 2019 to go into alleged acts of disrespect shown to President Mnangagwa on at least five occasions since the opening the present Parliament following the 2018 elections.