via BILL WATCH: General Laws Amendment Bill – The Zimbabwean 7 June 2015
The General Laws Amendment Bill [GLA Bill] was gazetted on 8th May [The complete 65-page Bill is available from Veritas at the addresses given at the end of this bulletin].
The Bill will amend a total of 126 Acts. In this Bill Watch we shall comment on the amendments the Bill will make to the Electoral Act; in the next one we shall indicate the further amendments which it should make to the Act, but doesn’t. [The amendments the Bill makes are set out in full in a short document compiled by Veritas and available from Veritas at the addresses below].
To enable the July 2013 harmonised elections to be conducted in compliance with the new Constitution, the Electoral Act had to be amended to cater for matters such as proportional representation. The amendments were made, not by Act of Parliament [as they should have been] but by regulations under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act. These regulations, like all regulations made under the Presidential Powers Act, expired after six months and then the Electoral Act reverted to its pre-June 2013 condition. It needed to be amended again, therefore, this time by Act of Parliament, to bring it into line with the Constitution.
An Electoral Amendment Bill was gazetted in January 2014. It provided for only some of the amendments needed to achieve compliance with the Constitution [see critique in Bill Watch 12/3014 of 4th March]. When the Bill came to Parliament the Minister acknowledged that more changes were needed to the Electoral Act, but said that he would make those changes later with yet another Bill. Parliament then passed the Bill as it was, and it was gazetted as the Electoral Act, 2014 [Act 6/2014].
As Veritas bulletins pointed out at the time, and have repeated since, this left the Electoral Act still needing major amendments to bring it into line with the Constitution. We have also stressed that the Electoral Act should be replaced with an entirely new simplified Act.
Unfortunately the Government has not heeded this call. Instead it has chosen to make a few amendments – not nearly as many as are needed – in the GLA Bill.
Amendments that will be made by the GLA Bill
The GLA Bill deals with only one of the substantive issues that must be tackled if the Electoral Act is to be aligned with the Constitution: the transfer of responsibility for registering voters and compiling voters rolls from the Registrar-General of Voters to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC]. Anyone reading the explanatory memorandum published with the Bill would think that this is the only issue on which alignment is needed.
The GLA Bill also makes provision for a few minor tidying-up amendments to the Electoral Act, but they fall short of what is needed to genuinely tidy up an Act that has become unnecessarily unwieldy and confusing.
The One Substantive Amendment:
Transfer of Responsibility for Voter Registration and Voters Rolls
Section 239 of the Constitution makes ZEC responsible for registering voters, compiling voters rolls and registers, and ensuring their proper custody and maintenance – all functions which the Electoral Act vests in the Registrar-General of Voters and his officials. The section also empowers ZEC to give instructions to persons employed by the State and local authorities to ensure the efficient, free fair, proper and transparent conduct of elections and referendums.
The GLA Bill seeks to achieve compliance with the Constitution on this score by replacing sections 18 and 19 of the Act, which currently establish the offices of Registrar-General of Voters, constituency registrars and other officers working under the Registrar-General’s direction. The new sections 18 and 19 purport to confer the functions of the Registrar-General and his officials on ZEC and its officers.
Unfortunately the new sections are seriously defective:
• They are unnecessarily complicated. Instead of simply saying that ZEC will be responsible for registering voters, compiling voters rolls and so on, the sections say that ZEC is deemed to have assumed the functions of “the former Registrar-General of Voters”, i.e. Mr Mudede who currently holds that office. So to find out what functions have been assumed by ZEC, one will have to find a copy of the unamended Act – i.e. the Act before it is amended by the Bill – and see what it says about the Registrar-General’s functions.
• The sections require ZEC to co-operate with “the former Registrar-General of Voters”, i.e. with Mr Mudede. This will be fine so long as Mr Mudede holds office, but when he ceases to do so, as eventually he must, there will be no one with whom ZEC must co-operate.
• The sections empower ZEC to give “the former Registrar-General of Voters” instructions to ensure the efficient conduct of elections. This suggests [erroneously, one assumes] that Mr Mudede will continue to play a role in the conduct of elections.
• The sections make no clear provision for the transfer of records from the former Registrar-General of Voters to ZEC.
• The sections empower the Minister of Justice, not ZEC, to make regulations providing for the resolution of discrepancies between the records of ZEC and Mr Mudede – but the regulations will not apply to discrepancies between ZEC’s records and those of the Registrar-General of Births and Deaths after Mr Mudede ceases to hold that office.
Particulars of voters
The GLA Bill will require voters rolls and voters registration certificates to record voters’ sex as well as their names, age and other particulars. Although the point is not mentioned in the memorandum to the Bill, the sex of voters is a useful statistic to analyse results of elections and any gender bias in voter registration.
Assumption of office by President
The Bill will amend section 110 of the Electoral Act which states a presidential candidate assumes office forty-eight hours after being declared elected. The amended section will state that, in accordance with the Constitution, a person elected as President assumes office when he or she swears the oath of office.
That sums up the extent the GLA Bill goes towards aligning the Electoral Act with the Constitution. Put bluntly, the Bill does very little in that regard, and what it does it doesn’t do very well.
In Part 2 of this Bill Watch we shall set out some of the issues that should have been covered in the Bill but have not.
Veritas makes every effort to ensure reliable information, but cannot take legal responsibility for information supplied.