In a disturbing development, members of the Senate this week failed to debate adverse reports from the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC) on statutory instruments. This is disturbing because these are legislators who have been in Parliament for almost four years and still cannot prepare themselves properly to execute their primary legislative responsibilities. The senators demanded legal training and more time before they can consider the adverse reports. These demands cannot be justified especially coming when the life of this Parliament is legally expected to end in June 2013.

The question is why have the senators not bothered to improve themselves all these years? How then can they justify being paid salaries and allowances for sittings that can be described as unproductive from a law-making point of view. We have bills such as the private member bill on the Public Order and Security Act stuck in the Senate because these law-makers are ignorant of their law-making functions. A statutory instrument is a species of delegated legislation issued either by a minister or local authority which comes into effect upon gazetting.

The minister/local authority has to be empowered by enabling legislation or parent Act to issue the statutory instrument. In other words, a statutory instrument operationalises some aspects of the parent act. On Tuesday, the PLC chairperson, Hon. Shepherd Mushonga (MDC-T) issued adverse reports on the following six statutory instruments for consideration by the Senate:

• Statutory Instrument No. 25 of 2012 – Mberengwa Rural District Council (Traffic) By-Laws, 2012

• Statutory Instrument No. 28 of 2012 – Marondera Municipal Council (Incorporated Areas)(Amendment) By-Laws, 2012 (No.31)

• Statutory Instrument No. 30 of 2012- Chegutu (Incorporated Areas) (Amendment) By-Laws, 2012 (No.18)

• Statutory Instrument No. 40 of 2012 – Kariba (Incorporated Areas) (Amendment) By-Laws, 2012 (No.33)

• Statutory Instrument No. 41 of 2012 – Norton Town Council (Food Hygiene) By-laws, 2012

• Statutory Instrument No. 44 of 2012 – Bindura Municipality (Chipadze and Chiwaraidzo Annexe Incorporated Areas) (Rent Services and Supplementary Charges) (Amendment) By-Laws, 2012 (No.18) The adverse reports were issued on the above-mentioned statutory instruments mainly on account of the fact that the levels of fines they impose were above level 3 ($20), which did not require judiciary involvement.

In terms of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, any level of fine above level 3 can only be imposed or confirmed by a court of law. Schedule 4 (8) to the Constitution requires the submission of adverse reports on statutory instruments by the PLC to the Senate. If after considering a report from the PLC the Senate adopts it (that a provision of the statutory instrument is in contravention of the Declaration of Rights or any other provision of the Constitution) and the House of Assembly has not resolved otherwise within 21 days, then the Clerk of Parliament shall report the circumstances to the President who shall forthwith, by notice in the Gazette, repeal that provision. So in other words, Parliament has supreme powers to repeal statutory instruments that are in contravention of the Constitution.

It is sad that Parliament is not exercising these powers. During debate on the aforementioned PLC adverse reports, the Senators were clearly out of depth as they struggled to understand what they were expected to do. Even after thorough explanation by the PLC chairperson, Hon. Mushonga, the Senators had difficulties in offering useful debate on the adverse reports. This resulted in debate being adjourned to give Senators more time to reflect on the reports, despite the fact that these reports have been on the Order Paper for several months.

When something is on the Order Paper, it basically means it is an agenda item that can be debated anytime. You therefore expect a legislator worth his salt to familiarize himself with the agenda item and consult staff of Parliament or abundant expertise in this country in order to adequately prepare for plenary sessions. Demanding more time when the issue is set for debate is unjustified and clearly demonstrates that the senators are reneging on their constitutional mandate.

It would also be sad if their actions can be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to frustrate the legislative process in the country at a time when we are all keen to see a Parliament playing a leading role enacting legislation that advances the democratization agenda in Zimbabwe. Given what happened this week, the question that I pose is do we really need a Senate under a new political dispensation? I see in the draft constitution that MDC and Zanu PF are for two houses – Senate and House of Assembly. Is this not a mere waste of public resources? We surely don’t need a creature existing merely to frustrate the legislative process in the country. John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: john.makamure@gmail.com