On Friday, October 23, 2015, SAPST hosted the inaugural Speaker’s Dialogue Forum where the Speake of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, Hon. Advocate Jacob Francis Mudenda, met representatives from various Civil Society at Parliament building.
The forum afforded the Speaker a platform to brief Civil Society and development partners on Parliament’s role on the alignment process and other pertinent issues of public interest. In addition, the event provided an opportunity for participants to field questions to the Speaker.
Proceedings began with the SAPST Executive Director, Mr John Makamure, explaining the thinking behind the Speaker’s Dialogue Forum. He underlined that the Forum is in furtherance of Section 141 of the Constitution that mandates Parliament to create mechanisms of public access to and involvement in Parliamentary business and processes. The SAPST Executive Director also highlighted that he hoped such dialogue between the Speaker and Civil Society would demystify Parliament and its processes.
Next, the Speaker addressed the attendees and encouraged openness highlighting that he was only occupying a public office that was there to serve people. The Speaker then took participants through the legislative process and where Parliament drives its legislative authority. In addition, the Speaker underlined the separation of powers doctrine as one that governs Parliament’s operations. The Speaker also challenged participants to engage their MPs so as to ensure that issues that affect the public are brought to and debated in Parliament.
The Speaker’s presentation set the tone for a lively question and answer session where Civil Society posed a number of questions to the Speaker including,
1. Parliament’s failure to initiate Bills owing to the slow pace of the alignment process and despite the legislative programme announced by the President when he opened the Third Session of Parliament. The Speaker indicated that it was possible for MPs to table Private Member’s Bills in Parliament, but pointed to the prohibitive costs associated with initiating and shepherding Private Member’s Bills through Parliament and the capacity of MPs as the major impediments.
2. The establishment of Commissions, in particular, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), the only Commission with a life span under the Constitution. The Speaker highlighted that Parliament had done its part by interviewing potential Commissioners and had sent a list to the President for appointment. He refuted suggestions that the lack of an enabling Act of Parliament had resulted in the delay in the setting up of the NPRC as the NPRC is a constitutional Commission.
3. The blocking of petitioners by police. The Speaker informed Civil Society that petitioners need only hand in their petitions without demonstrating coming to Parliament in large numbers.
4. The Constitutionality of the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act. The Speaker advised attendees that only the Constitutional Court has the power to declare an Act of provisions of the same unconstitutional.
5. The treatment of journalists. The Speaker informed media practitioners of the need to observe accreditation rules as this would ensure that they will be allowed to operate without problems.
6. Support to women MPs who were elected to the National Assembly on Proportional Representation. The Speaker indicated that Parliament was working towards capacitating proportional representation MPs to place them on an equal footing with their elected peers. He however indicated that turf disputes are better resolved by political parties rather than Parliament.