Coming Up in Both Houses this Week: Bill Watch 65/2021

Only the National Assembly Sat Last Week; Both Houses Will be Sitting this Week

This bulletin outlines the business that was conducted in the National Assembly last week and what lies ahead for both Houses during this week’s sittings on Tuesday 14th to Thursday 16th September.

Resumption of Physical Meetings with effect from 13th September

On 8th September the Deputy Speaker informed the National Assembly that the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders had resolved that physical committee meetings could resume with effect from Monday 13th September for fully vaccinated MPs and support staff. For the unvaccinated, production of valid COVID-19 PCR test certificates would be required each week. Numbers in attendance would still be restricted to 10 for meetings [inclusive of MPs, support staff and invitees]; numbers would also be limited for sittings of the two Houses [100 persons for the National Assembly, 80 for the Senate – including support staff]. Committees were, therefore, advised to hold hybrid physical/virtual meetings. Those not accommodated in committee rooms or the Chambers would follow proceedings virtually.

In the National Assembly Last Week [7th to 9th September]

Bills

Two Bills were considered during the week, as follows:

Copper Control Amendment Bill

The Second Reading stage continued with the presentation on Tuesday 7th September, of the joint report on the Bill by the Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services and the Thematic Committee on Peace and Security. For Veritas comment on the Bill see Bill Watch 48/2021. Changes to the Bill were recommended, including the increase of the proposed minimum sentence of imprisonment from 10 years to 20 years without the option of a fine and its extension to all offences under the Act. MPs then began their contributions to the debate. Several MPs suggested that the Bill, rather than restricting the issue of licences to deal in copper, should ban dealing in such copper outright. Hon Gabbuza stressed the dire effects of theft of copper on the railways and the distribution of electricity, and mentioned the holding of licences by persons in high places and the issue of corruption causing the abandonment of prosecutions. Debate is due to continue.

Comment: The committee’s recommended increase of the mandatory minimum sentence from to 20 years without the option of a fine would render the sentence even more vulnerable to accusations of unconstitutionality for “gross disproportionality”:

Police Amendment Bill

The Second Reading stage continued with the presentation on Tuesday 7th September, of the joint report on the Bill by the Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services and the Thematic Committee on Peace and Security. The lengthy report reveals that senior officers in the Police are unhappy with certain provisions of the Bill, for instance, the power given to the Police Service Commission to issue Standing Orders instead of, as at present, the Commissioner-General. Some changes to the Bill are recommended. For Veritas comment on the Bill see Bill Watch 55/2021. MPs still have to start their contributions to the debate.

Other Committee Reports presented

Public Accounts Committee [PAC]

Report on Audit of Ministry of Lands, Agriculture etc Accounts for years 2017 and 2018 On 7th September Hon Brian Dube, chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, presented this report. It analyses the use/misuse by the Ministry of the funds voted by Parliament for the financial years 2017 and 2018. The report’s numerous recommendations give some idea of the faults found to have existed in the Ministry’s handling of public funds and assets: investment needed in capacity building, particularly in specialised departments such as Accounting, Legal Services, Procurement and Agriculture Extension Services; Treasury Instructions and the Public Finance Management Act must be strictly complied with; investment needed in tried and tested accounting packages such as Pastel, Sage and SAP; a Procurement Department to be set up; recovery of moneys paid in advance for motor vehicles and farming equipment not delivered; and so on. Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission [ZACC] should investigate the disposal of inputs and assets to Ministry staff under Command Agriculture [only one of several recommendations of issues that should be referred to ZACC].

Still to be presented is the PAC’s report for the same financial years on the separate but related issue of the Command Agriculture/Special Maize Programme.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

On 9th September Hon E. Ncube presented the joint report of the Portfolio Committees on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and Women Affairs on the petition received from Emthonjeni Women’s Forum.

2020 Budget Performance Reports for Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

On 9th September Hon Shamu presented the report of the Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Ministerial Statements

Welfare of Veterans of the Liberation Struggle

On 8th September the Minister of Defence and War Veterans Affairs delivered a detailed statement on the various benefits to which veterans and their spouses and families are entitled under the recent Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Act, which she said is aligned with the relevant provisions of the Constitution and creates “a holistic framework for dealing with the welfare and economic empowerment of veterans of the liberation struggle”. Numerous requests for clarification from MPs revealed the stark differences between the impressive-sounding paper entitlements and what is actually received by veterans in reality. In her reply the Minister conceded that the present situation was not ideal, but said she and the Ministry were working hard to improve it.

State of online lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic

On 9th September the Deputy Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services presented a statement in response to the joint report by the Portfolio Committees on Primary and Secondary Education and ICT, Postal and Courier Services on the state of the programme to provide online lessons.

Coming up in the National Assembly This Week

Bills

This is the line-up of Bills for Tuesday 14th September. Second Reading debates will continue from the point previously reached [see above for progress made last week on the first two Bills]:

[the next two Bills will continue the Second Reading stage with further contributions from MPs, and a response by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to the joint committee’s report and MPs’ contributions.]

Bill awaiting PLC’s Initial Report

Public Finance Management Amendment Bill: This report is required before the Second Reading stage can begin.

Motion on the President’s speech at the opening of the Session

Ministers have been replying to points made by MPs during this long-running debate which started nearly a year ago. The debate must be wound up this month.

Coming up in the Senate This Week

Bills

There are two Bills to be considered:

Marriages Bill

The Senate had worked its way up to clause 16 of this 54-clause Bill during the Committee Stage some months ago. At that point disagreement between Senators [not only Senator Chiefs] and the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs over the legal status of lobola under the Bill halted progress. [The Bill does not prohibit lobola but makes it optional. Opponents of the Bill insist lobola must remain an essential element of a customary law marriage.] The Minister has recently said he intends to have the Bill passed before the now imminent end of the present Parliamentary session. It remains to be seen whether a compromise has been reached.

Pension and Provident Funds Bill

Senators are due to start the Second Reading stage of this Bill. It was passed with amendments by the National Assembly on 25th August.

Source: Veritas