Bill Watch 4/2014 of 29th January

BILL WATCH 4/2014

[29th January 2014]

Both Houses of Parliament Sat Last Week and are Sitting This Week

Coming up in Parliament Today and Tomorrow

National Assembly

Budget business to continue

Following the completion of the Budget debate and yesterday’s passing of the Finance Bill [see below], the next stages of the Budget process can go ahead:

·        consideration of the Estimates of Expenditure in the Committee of Supply, which is a committee of the whole National Assembly [the main Estimates of Expenditure for 2014 will be dealt with first, and the Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure for 2013 next]

·        thereafter, assuming approval of the Estimates, introduction and passing of the Bills giving effect to them:

o   Appropriation (2014) Bill [revised version – see below, Withdrawal of adverse report from Parliamentary Legal Committee]

o   Appropriation (Supplementary) (2013) Bill

[Bills available – see addresses at the end of this bulletin]

These Bills, once passed by the National Assembly, will also be transmitted to the Senate [see under Senate below].

No constitutional deadline for passing Budget

It has been suggested, citing section 305(2) of the Constitution, that the Budget proceedings must be completed by 30th January.  This is not so.  The provision’s 30th January deadline applies only to the Minister’s presentation of the 2014 Estimates of Expenditure, and Mr Chinamasa met this deadline when he laid the Estimates of Expenditure before the National Assembly at the end of his Budget Statement on 19th December. Completion of the proceedings is nevertheless urgently needed.  Although the Public Finance Management Act, as permitted by section 306 of the Constitution, has emergency provisions for funding of Government operations pending the gazetting of an Appropriation Act for 2014, but these operate only until the end of April.

Other business

Income Tax Bill  This re-committed Bill is listed for consideration, but it is near the end of a long Order Paper and unlikely to come up this week.  The Bill was passed by the previous Parliament in June 2013, but in December the refused to assent to it and referred back to Parliament for reconsideration in the light of his stated reservations [see Bill Watch 62/2013 of 20th December 2013].  To facilitate reconsideration, the Bill should be reprinted, to reflect the amendments that were made during its fast-tracked progress through Parliament last year – the President’s reservations were, after all, based on the amended version of the Bill.

Other Bills  There are three other Bills that have been gazetted and could at least be introduced, receive their First Readings and be referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] for consideration: the Electoral Amendment Bill [H.B. 7, 2013]; the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Zimbabwe Bill [H.B. 6/2013]; and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Control Bill [H.B. 5.2013].  [Soft copies available; see addresses at the end of this bulletin.]

Motion for 30-year sentence for rape  A new motion, to be proposed by Hon Majome, is high on the Order Paper.  It deplores the high rate of gender-based violence and calls for mandatory minimum sentences of 30 years for rape and the provision of suitable forensic personnel and equipment for police investigation rape cases.

Other motions  There are 14 other motions on the Order Paper, all of which have been listed previously, most of them already partly debated.

Question Time (Wednesday)  There are 16 questions on the Order Paper, all deferred from last Wednesday, when there was poor Ministerial attendance [see below].

Senate

Budget business

The Finance Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly yesterday, 28th January, is item 1 on the Senate’s Order Paper for today, Wednesday.  The two Appropriation Bills will also be going to the Senate.  But, because all three of these Bills are Money Bills, the Senate, like its predecessor under the former Constitution, has no power to amend them.  It does, however, have the right to recommend that the National Assembly make amendments, and any such recommendation must be considered by the National Assembly.  The Senate can also refuse to pass a Money Bill, but if that happens, the Bill can be sent to the President for his assent and be gazetted as law in the form in which it was passed by the National Assembly [Constitution, Fifth Schedule, paragraph 7 and the definition of “Money Bill” in paragraph 1].

Other business

New motion on Special Needs Education  A new motion, referring to the challenges faced by learners with disabilities at all educational levels, calls for the crafting by Government of a National Policy on Special Needs Education and the enactment of legislation on the same subject.  The motion will be proposed by Senator Mashavakure and seconded by Senator Shiri, who represent persons with disabilities.  Debate is also scheduled to continue on the other motions under discussion in the Senate [see below].

Question Time [Thursday]  The Order Paper lists five questions with notice.  One asks the Minister of Mines and Mining Development whether mining agreements with big companies can be amended to compel miners to fund community development projects such as road surfacing.  A similar question asks the Minister of Environment, Water and Climate what measures have been put in place to ensure that agreements with investors compel companies to undertake rehabilitation of the environment and infrastructure.

In Parliament Last Week and Yesterday, 28th January

National Assembly

Budget business

MPs put in longer than usual hours last week, after approving a motion suspending Standing Orders to permit fast-tracking of Budget business.  They sat until 6.48 pm on Tuesday, 6.06 pm on Wednesday and an extraordinary 10.43 pm on Thursday, but rose at 4.42 yesterday, 28th January.  The first part of the Budget debate was taken up with reports from portfolio committees presented by their chairpersons; this took until the end of proceedings on Wednesday.  A recurring theme in portfolio committee reports was that, given the inadequacy of amounts allocated to Ministries, it was essential for Treasury to raise the required funds and release them to Ministries timeously.  On Thursday private members began their contributions, starting with former Finance Minister Tendai Biti.  Yesterday, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development replied at length to the debate, and the Assembly went on to pass the Finance Bill.  The Bill was then transmitted to the Senate.

Withdrawal of adverse report from Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC]   The PLC initially returned an adverse report on the Appropriation (2014) Bill, pointing out that it did not comply with the constitutional provision requiring separate votes for certain constitutional entities [Constitution, section 305(3), which lists the Constitutional Commissions, the Office of the Auditor-General, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Council of Chiefs].  The Minister undertook to submit a revised Bill, and the Assembly approved the PLC’s withdrawal of the adverse report. 

Other business

Approval of loan agreement with Export-Import Bank of China  On 23rd January, before returning to the Budget debate, the Assembly approved this $319.5 million preferential loan agreement, which was concluded in November 2013.  The loan will finance 90% of the cost of the Kariba South Hydro-Power Extension Project, the contractor for which is the Sinohydro Corporation Limited of China.  There was much discussion of the pros and cons of borrowing from China.

Motions  Budget business crowded out discussion of the private member’s motions on the Order Paper.

Question time [Wednesday]  The Minister of Finance and Economic Development rejected allegations that the banking sector is “sick”.  Poor attendance by other ministers drew protests from MPs, and the Minister undertook to convey to his colleagues “the imperative of attending Parliament, especially at Question Time”.  The Deputy Minister of Power and Energy Development explained Government policy on mandatory ethanol blending.  The Minister of Agriculture spoke on tick-borne cattle diseases and the cotton price and problems of cotton producers.  When the House moved to questions with notice, the Minister of Agriculture, and the Deputy Ministers of Transport and Infrastructural Development and Energy and Power Development fielded questions until Budget business resumed at 4.15 pm.

[Note:  Under Standing Orders, Wednesday afternoon is reserved for private members’ business – questions without notice from 2.15 pm to 3.15 pm, questions with notice from 3.15 pm to 4.15 pm, motions thereafter until 6 pm.  Questions without notice are confined to matters of Government policy which Ministers can be expected to deal with without special preparation. Questions with notice seek information on matters within a Minister’s responsibility that require  preparation and briefing from his officials.]

Senate

The Senate had short sittings while waiting for the National Assembly to complete Budget business.  It rose before 4 pm on Tuesday and Thursday, at 4.36 pm yesterday, and at 2.50 pm last Wednesday.  Senate sittings start at 2.30 pm.

Motions  Senators continued debating the motion on the President’s speech, the motion on harmonising existing legislation with the new Constitution, and the motion on cancer, and hearing Senator Ncube’s opening speech in support of his motion suggesting measures to curb the carnage on Zimbabwe’s roads, such as resuscitating the railway system and limiting heavy vehicles on highways to certain hours only.

Question Time [Thursday]  This saw a virtuoso performance from the lone Minister present, Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Parirenyatwa.  He spent the whole hour allotted to questions without notice by answering a wide range of questions on health matters.  Questions with notice were carried forward to 31st January.

Statutory Instruments and General Notices of 24th January

Telecommunications licensing fees  SI 8/2014 is a republication with corrections of SI 165/2013.  It deals only with licence fees for private networks and VSAT with local hub.

Government financial statements  GN 12/2014 notifies the inclusion in the Gazette of the financial statements for the month of October 2013.

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