BILL WATCH 44/2013

BILL WATCH 44/2013

[6th September 2013]

Swearing-in of MPs of 8th Parliament

The swearing-in of MPs took place on 3rd September, the date fixed by a Presidential proclamation gazetted in Statutory Instrument [SI] 128/2013 late on 30th August.  Members of the National Assembly were sworn in inthe morning.  Senators took their oaths in the afternoon.  The Clerk of Parliament presided over the proceedings until members had been sworn in and the Speaker and the President of the Senate and their deputies had been elected and been sworn in.

Note: all references to the Constitution are to the new Constitution and will be in all Bill Watches from now on unless otherwise indicated.

Election of Presiding Officers

After the swearing-in proceedings, legislators elected their presiding officers.  MDC-T did not put forward candidates.   ZANU-PF’s nominees were therefore elected unopposed:

National Assembly

Speaker:                 Jacob Mudenda

Deputy Speaker:     Mabel Chinomona

Senate

President:                Ednah Madzongwe

Deputy President:   Chenhamo Chimutengwende.

Worthy of note is the observance of gender balance in these choices.

The newly-elected presiding officers took the oaths of loyalty and office before the Chief Justice, as required by the Constitution.  They then addressed members, to express what Standing Orders describe as their “sense of the honour conferred” upon them.  There were brief congratulatory contributions from other members before the Houses adjourned until 17th September for the ceremonial opening of Parliament.

Ceremonial Opening of Parliament: 17th September

The same Presidential proclamation in SI 128/2013 that announced the time and date for the swearing-in of members of Parliament, also fixed 12 noon on Tuesday 17th September as the time and date for the first session of the new Parliament to begin.  Parliament has now confirmed that at this ceremonial opening the President will deliver the customary speech outlining his Government’s legislative and other intentions before ending his speech with “I declare the first Parliamentary session open.”

Section 145 of the Constitution requires the President to determine the time and date of the first sitting of Parliament after a general election, which has to be within 30 days after his assumption of office on the 22nd August. From now on, however, each House will determine when it will sit and adjourn.

Vacancy in Parliament Arising from the Presiding Officer Elections

Party-list vacancy in the Senate

Mrs Madzongwe was returned as a Mashonaland West party-list Senator for ZANU-PF in the harmonised elections.  Her election as President of the Senate automatically caused her Senate seat to fall vacant  [Constitution, section 129(1)(d)].  [See below for the procedure for filling this vacancy and the other party-list vacancy that has already occurred.]

No Vacancy arising in Parliament from Speaker’s Election

Mr Mudenda did not hold a seat in either House.  So his election as Speaker has not caused a Parliamentary vacancy.   But his place as chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission [ZHRC] falls vacant because under section 128(9) of the Constitution the Speaker cannot hold any other public office or any other employment.

Filling the Party-List Vacancies in the Senate

As already pointed out, Mrs Madzongwe’s election as President of the Senate caused a vacancy in the Senate party-list seats for Mashonaland West.  There was already one other vacancy, in the Senate party-list seats for Manicaland, caused by the death on 24th August of ZANU-PF Senator Kumbirai Kangai.

As these are both party-list seats, the vacancies do not necessitate by-elections involving voting by registered voters.  Instead, according to section 157(1)(c) of the Constitution, any vacancy in a party-list seat must be filled by a person belonging to the same political party, and of the same gender, as the person who previously held the seat.  So Mrs Madzongwe’s former seat must be filled by a woman who belongs to ZANU-PF, and MrKangai’s by a man who belongs to ZANU-PF.

Procedure for filling vacancy  The elaborate procedure for filling such a vacancy is laid down in section 39 of the Electoral Act.  It involves several steps:

  • ·      Mrs Madzongwe, in her capacity as President of the Senate, must as soon as possible notify the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] of the vacancy, in writing.
  • ·      ZEC must without delay:

o    notify the public of the vacancy by notice in the Government Gazette

o    invite ZANU-PF to submit the name of a qualified person to fill the vacancy [note: one person, not a list].

  • ·      ZANU-PF must then lodge with ZEC a nomination paper, in the prescribed form and countersigned by two national office-bearers of the party, nominating a qualified person to fill the vacancy.
  • ·      ZEC’s Chief Elections Officer must then scrutinise the nomination paper to check whether it is in conformity with the Act.
  • ·      Once the Chief Elections Officer is satisfied the nomination paper is in order, ZEC must without delay:

o    give public notice of the nomination by notice in the Government Gazette, and

o    specify in the notice a time within which any registered voter may lodge an objection to the nomination together with his or her reasons for the objection.

  • ·      If no objections are lodged – or if ZEC, after considering all objections lodged, finds that there are no valid grounds for objection – ZEC must notify the public by notice in the Government Gazette that the nominee has been appointed as a Senator with effect from the date of the notice.
  • ·      If an objection is lodged, and ZEC finds there are valid grounds for objection, ZEC must invite ZANU-PF to submit another nomination, and the same procedure will be followed until a qualified person is identified to fill the vacancy.

Committee on Standing Rules and Orders

The composition and responsibilities of this large and important committee are stated in section 151 of the Constitution.

Composition  The committee is chaired by the Speaker, with the President of the Senate as deputy chairperson, and includes the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy President of the Senate; the Minister of Finance and two other Ministers appointed by the President; the Leaders of Government Business and the Leaders of the Opposition in both Houses; the party chief whips in both Houses; the President of the National Council of Chiefs; two backbenchers nominated by the Speaker and the President of the Senate, respectively; and eight backbenchers elected by members, four from each House.  The committee must be set up “as soon as possible”.

Functions  The committee supervises the administration of Parliament, formulates Standing Orders, considers and decides all matters concerning Parliament, and exercises other constitutional functions, such as its functions in relation to the making of constitutional appointments by the President, and functions assigned to it by Standing Orders or any other law.

New Standing Orders necessary  Standing Orders regulate the proceedings in both Houses.  The new Constitution contains provisions which need to be incorporated into or will mean changes to the existing Standing Orders.  Under section 139 of the Constitution, Standing Orders are made by the Houses “individually or jointly on the recommendation of the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.   New or amending Standing Orders will be formulated by the committee, with the assistance of Parliamentary Counsel and staff, for eventual approval by the National Assembly and the Senate.  Until this is done, the existing Standing Orders will continue in force under paragraph 12 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution.

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