With only one session left, the life of this hung Parliament is almost coming to an end. The Global Political Agreement (GPA) conferred major responsibilities to this Parliament to prepare a conducive environment for free and fair elections and the emergence of a government with the full mandate from the people to govern. While there have been commendable efforts by portfolio committees to exercise oversight on government ministries, it is on the law-making front that this Parliament has not performed to our expectations.
Without quickly putting its act together to pass important pieces of legislation that have a huge bearing on the outcome of the electoral process, the majority of members sitting in this Parliament have no justification to seek for re-election. The sitting calendar of Parliament shows that the two houses will sit until the 21st June, marking the end of the 4th Session of the 7th Parliament. Official opening of the 5th and last session of this Parliament is tentatively scheduled for 17th July.
This session can legally run until June 2013 when Parliament has to be dissolved for the elections in line with Section 63 (4) of the Constitution. This Section says Parliament, unless sooner dissolved, shall last for five years, which period shall be deemed to commence on the day the person elected as President enters office. President Mugabe was sworn into office on 29th June 2008.
The only main pieces of legislation that this Parliament has passed since its inauguration in 2008 include the Public Finance Management Act, the Audit Office Act, the National Security Council Act, the Reserve Bank Amendment Act, the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 19, the Deposit Protection Corporation Act and the Small Enterprises Development Corporation Amendment Act.
The GPA mandated parties to come up with a legislative agenda that conforms to the spirit of the agreement. The spirit of the GPA is about promoting democratic values, human freedom and security of the person. One can safely say that there has been limited progress in that regard. Zimbabweans are still craving for a day that their civil, political, social and economic rights are fully promoted and protected.
There is need to strengthen the necessary legal and policy framework to promote and protect these rights. We have also seen that where policy and legislation exists, enforcement is a problem. The main reason why there has been slow progress on the law-making front is polarization in our Parliament or partisan approach to issues. This Parliament has been rocked by so much partisanship that some of us who work closely with law-makers have become increasingly frustrated. Surely, there is no plausible reason why a compromise piece of legislation such as the private member bill on the notorious Public Order and Security Amendment Bill remains stuck in the Senate apart from narrow partisan interests.
The Public Order and Security Act has been condemned for curtailing freedom of association and assembly and is certainly unconstitutional. Parliament has a duty to amend or repeal some of the sections and not block its constitutional obligations. We also have the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill that remains at committee stage in the House of Assembly despite agreement between the Minister of Justice, the Parliamentary Legal Committee and the Portfolio Committee on Justice that some of the provisions have to be amended. We would have expected the House of Assembly to deal with this Bill on resumption of business last week, especially after Minister Chinamasa placed proposed amendments on the Order Paper.
Let us hope Parliament will not be prorogued next week without this Bill having been passed. Prorogation or dissolution of Parliament means that every Bill or motion not finalized will lapse. Although the sponsor of a Bill can move a motion in the next session to re-introduce the Bill at the stage it had reached before prorogation, it is possible that he/she can decide not to do so due to political or other reasons. This will spell the end of the motion. I wish to also touch on the Electoral Amendment Bill which is due to go for Second Reading Stage in the House of Assembly.
The Parliamentary Legal Committee has tabled an adverse report on the Bill, which means in the opinion of the committee there are some sections which violate the Constitution. The PLC adverse report is only based on one provision to do with polling station based voting. Now that we are told that the principals to the GPA agreed to resort to the current dispensation which allows voters to cast their ballots at any polling station within a particular ward, then Minister Chinamasa should simply bring the proposed amendment in order for the PLC to certify the Bill as constitutional and allow it to move to the Second Reading stage where the Portfolio Committee on Justice will table its report for debate.
If the portfolio committee has further recommendations, Minister Chinamasa should respond to these recommendations the same way he did with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill when he took on board some of the recommendations and explained why he declined the others. This is how progress can be made on this Bill. The law-makers must be reminded that provided the President does not earlier dissolve Parliament for the elections, they only have twelve months left to make a difference in terms of enacting good laws for the country.
Failure to do so means this Parliament will only be remembered for clamoring for improved conditions of services which cannot be justified in the absence of tangible outcomes on the law-making front. If Cabinet is failing to bring legislation to Parliament, then private member bills must be fully supported. Rushing to the courts to block private bills introduced by back benchers is a very dangerous precedent that makes Parliament irrelevant. This becomes worse when the courts take their time to make a determination on an urgent application. John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org