Section 141 (a) of the Constitution compels Parliament to facilitate public involvement in the legislative process in order to advance parliamentary democracy and an accountable governance system. While this new provision in the Constitution is a significant welcome development, it is still not explicitly clear about how this public involvement will take place in practice. In addition to the involvement of the public in parliamentary processes and the work of portfolio and thematic committees, Section 141 (b) says Parliament must ensure that interested parties are consulted about draft legislation being considered before it is passed for signing into law by the President. However, this right is not absolute as Parliament can decide not to consult if it feels that this consultation is “inappropriate or impracticable”. The interpretation of what is inappropriate or impracticable is open to debate. Cases of what is inappropriate should therefore be significantly minimised to allow all important pieces of legislation to be enacted after public input. Furthermore, Parliament is required to conduct its business in a transparent manner and hold its sittings and those of its committees in public, though measures may be taken to preserve order and regulate public access and the media. Again, while it is very necessary that Parliament should regulate public and media access, the regulations must be clearly spelt out in order not to defeat the whole import of Section 141 of opening up Parliament to the public. While the same section says any measures that Parliament takes to regulate public access must be “fair, reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom”, it is critical that these principles are fully respected by the authorities for the public to have confidence in the institution of Parliament as a representative body. The principle of representative democracy is championed by Parliament. The moment the public perceives Parliament to be a closed institution and an intimidating place to go, then we may as well kiss goodbye to any chance of representative democracy taking root in Zimbabwe. Increased citizen and civil society engagement of Parliament is one of the most important mechanisms to create a socially accountable governance system. Every citizen of this country has a right to social accountability. The right to social accountability asserts that the State is obliged to justify and explain its decisions to its citizens on how it is managing public resources and to take timely corrective action where weaknesses are identified. The right to social accountability also means citizens have the right to demand these justifications and explanations from the State when it fails to provide them adequately and take corrective action where required. A socially accountable government is one that respects its obligation to protect and promote the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of citizens. Surely, all this can only be realised if the public has full access to policymakers, including lawmakers. Citizens must be fully confident that they are being substantively represented by Members of Parliament. Substantive representation means interests, values, aspirations and opinions of the people being represented are truly promoted and succeed in becoming part of the policies implemented. At the very least, the aspirations of the people must be truly promoted and have an influence on the formulation of policies. I would like to look at the other very important constitutional provision to do with petitioning of Parliament. Section 149 of the Constitution confers on citizens and permanent residents of Zimbabwe the right to petition Parliament to consider any matter within its authority, including the enactment, amendment or repeal of legislation. It is without any shade of doubt that a petition is one of the most important instruments available to citizens to actively engage the State and enforce accountability on matters of public interest. The same section says the manner in which petitions are to be presented to Parliament, and the action that Parliament has to take on presentation of a petition, must be prescribed in the Standing Orders. I am aware that Standing Orders are currently being revised, including provisions to do with petitioning of Parliament. This process must be expedited in order for citizens to enjoy their constitutional right. It is my hope that the provisions on petitions should streamline the process in order to allow more citizens and civil society groups to constructively petition lawmakers on numerous matters of public interest that are currently not being redressed. I am happy to see that parliamentarians have been pushing for some actions to make Parliament more visible to the public through debating the motion on live coverage of plenary proceedings. The motion has already seen the State radio broadcaster, Spot FM, starting to provide live broadcast of plenary proceedings. The State television channel should follow suit as part of its social responsibility contribution to citizens whose tax payments fund the same State broadcaster.John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: