Pertinent issues left out in the legislative agenda for third session

via Pertinent issues left out in the legislative agenda for third session – NewsDay Zimbabwe September 18, 2015

The Third Session of the Eighth Parliament commenced on Tuesday with the official opening address by President Robert Mugabe, who strangely read the wrong speech. The correct speech outlining the legislative agenda for the session was then tabled in Parliament by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Wednesday.

Many people expected the President to come back to Parliament to read the correct speech after the Tuesday confusion. While the Constitution does not compel the President to officially open a session of Parliament, it is good practice to do so, especially when the supreme law reposes in the President legislative authority together with Parliament. Furthermore, an official opening address affords the nation an opportunity to get to know and plan for the legislative proposals that will come before Parliament.

The drafts of importance that are expected to come before Parliament include Banking Act Amendment Bill to strengthen the banking regulatory system, further amendments to the Labour Act to take into account the recommendations from labour and business, Code of Corporate Governance Bill, Mineral Exploration and Marketing Bill, State Procurement Amendment Bill and Public Health Bill.

The Code of Corporate Governance Bill is long overdue in order to address corporate governance deficits and rampant abuse of public resources by public officials. The State Procurement Bill is also critical to plug massive corruption and loopholes in state procurement.

Surprisingly, there is no Bill to amend the Public Finance and Management Act. This would have gone a long way in complementing the State Procurement and Corporate Governance bills in terms of strengthening public finance management. The Minister of Finance recently announced in Parliament that he was amending the Public Finance Management Act to align it with the Constitution. Those of us who strongly advocate transparency and accountability in public financial matters were therefore expecting to see the Bill featuring prominently on the list.

To make matters worse, the list of bills for this session does not include legislation that entrenches the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms. I was expecting to see amendments to the Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, among others that cannot pass the constitutional test, being included on the list.

The President in his speech believes the alignment of laws with the Constitution is being “accelerated”. He cited the passing into law of the omnibus General Laws Amendment Bill and the amendment of the Electoral Act as examples of this acceleration. I am not so sure that this is a correct interpretation of the current alignment process.

This is because the whole approach to the alignment process is seriously flawed. The current process has been lambasted for its piecemeal approach. The drafters have failed to embrace the spirit of the Constitution of an open society, fostering of fundamental human rights and freedoms, the rule of law, equality of all human beings, separation of powers between the three arms of government and accountability of institutions and agencies of government to the people through Parliament.

These are the fundamental issues that have to be addressed before we talk about an accelerated alignment process. Better to delay the process as we seek to do it better. The alignment process cannot be led by drafters who are still living in the previous constitutional dispensation. They need to be educated first on the spirit of the Constitution if we are to do justice to the alignment process.

Lawmakers have to take seriously the alignment process before the constitutional court is inundated with constitutional challenges.

One other issue that the third session should seriously address is to do with implementation of Parliament resolutions arrived at through the work of portfolio and thematic committees. Some ministers still continue not to respond to committee reports, motions and questions brought to the House by backbenchers. This is in flagrant violation of the rules of Parliament that stipulate that motions have to be responded to within 10 sitting days. The minister concerned can be charged under contempt of Parliament if he/she fails to respond as prescribed by the rules.

Parliament itself must enforce this standing order during the third session if it is to be effective in its executive oversight mandate. I am not advocating confrontation between the legislative branch and the executive, but merely reminding Parliament to enforce its own rules. Parliament operates on the basis of rules and these should be respected. Parliament cannot effectively oversee the operations of ministers and other public officials if it fails to enforce its own rules.

We have two speeches before Parliament: the State of the Nation Address and the official opening of the Third Session of Parliament Address. The MPs must debate in a robust manner the two speeches in order to enhance their executive accountability role, which has so far achieved mixed results.

It is too early for the country to slide into an election mode characterised by a partisan and non-objective approach to public policy issues. I shudder to think that for the next three years to the general election public policy decisions would be driven more by political expediency. The effect of that on the economy and society at large would be devastating.

l John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust. Feedback: