The Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Advocate Jacob Francis Mudenda, met civil society organizations (CSOs), media practitioners and members of the business community in Bulawayo on Thursday 19 May 2016. A total number of 147 participants attended the Speaker’s Public Dialogue Forum; 49 female and 98 male participants representing civil society organizations, the media and the business sector.
The main purpose of the Speaker’s Public Dialogue Forum is to create a platform whereby Civil Society, Media and Development Partners interact with the Speaker on a regular basis to discuss effective strategies of engagement as well as getting updates on critical issues before Parliament. Participants have an opportunity to field questions to the Speaker on any important issues of public interest before or related to the business of Parliament. The Speaker’s Public Dialogue Forum is conducted under the theme, “Public Engagement of Parliament”, in furtherance of Section 141 of the Constitution which mandates Parliament to create mechanisms of public access to and involvement in parliamentary business.
In his opening remarks the SAPST Executive Director, John Makamure set the tone for the meeting as he explained SAPST’s support for the initiative behind the Speaker’s Public Dialogue Forum. He said one of the major aims of this initiative was to create a platform to educate the public on parliamentary procedures and processes to enable citizens to engage Parliament constructively. He said the ultimate goal of this project is to strengthen public accountability given that accountability is a central component of good governance and democracy.
The Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Advocate Jacob Francis Mudenda, stressed in his key note address to the participants that “the authority of Parliament derives from the people” and therefore it was important for citizens to contribute to the law-making process in Parliament. He said Parliament has done everything in its powers to reach out to the public in line with the provisions of Section 141 of the Constitution, which enjoins Parliament to consult the public on legislation before Parliament. Thus, the Speaker challenged participants to take public hearings on Bills and other public policy issues seriously which Parliament often conducts across the country through its portfolio committees. He assured participants that Parliament valued public input in its law-making mandate as this has a great influence on the outcome of legislation before Parliament. He cited the example of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill, which the Executive redrew from Parliament recently. He said this was due to the overwhelming condemnation of the Bill by the public during the public hearings, which were conducted by the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs as well as an adverse report from the Parliamentary Legal Committee. He hoped that the sponsoring ministry will reintroduce a better Bill in due course incorporating the views of the public expressed at the aforementioned public hearings.
Hon. Advocate Mudenda also informed the participants that the Constitution in Section 149 has availed to citizens a very important avenue of seeking redress from Parliament; namely the petition process. The Speaker took time to explain the petition process step by step and encouraged citizens to grab this opportunity and use it to their advantage to address policy challenges they were facing. He said Parliament has received quite a number of petitions and that the relevant portfolio Committees were seized with those petitions. He assured participants that Parliament will always respect petitions from citizens as this was one of the fundamental rights granted to them by the Constitution.
The Speaker acknowledged the important role played by the media in “promoting parliamentary democracy”. He said the media played a crucial role in disseminating information about parliamentary business. He, however, challenged journalists to report responsibly as the public relied on the media to inform them about what is happening in Parliament. He urged journalists to desist from what he called, “gutter journalism” as this did not address developmental issues. Hon. Advocate Mudenda informed participants that the new Parliament Building will have its own fully-fledged in-house Television and Radio station to disseminate information on parliamentary activities. Moreover, the new Parliament Building will have a media conference room equipped with appropriate information communication technology to facilitate extensive coverage of Parliament by the media.
Hon. Advocate Mudenda appealed to civil society organizations and development partners to assist Parliament in translating the Constitution into all the languages recognized by the Constitution as well as conducting public education on the Constitution in line with provisions of Section 7 of the Constitution.
Participants raised the following issues which the Speaker responded to:
• Use of Local Languages during Public Hearings.
The Speaker said Parliament has already started implementing some measures to address the issue. He said Chairpersons of parliamentary Committees have been instructed that if they were in an area where they were not conversant with local languages, they should let one of the Members of the Committee who is conversant with the local language/s chair the meeting. In addition, the Speaker said Parliament will provide interpreters at such meetings to ensure that communication between Committees and members of the public was not affected.
• Re-introduction of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill.
The Speaker said he expected the NPRC Bill to be reintroduce very soon given that the Parliamentary Legal Committee has done a lot of work in pointing out the inadequacies of the Bill coupled with views expressed by the public at the public hearings.
• Slow Pace of the Alignment of Laws to the Constitution.
The Speaker said Parliament was as concerned as the public on the slow pace by the Executive in aligning laws to the Constitution. He said Parliament has suggested to the Executive to disaggregate the laws that needed to be aligned to the Constitution or new laws that needed to enacted in fulfilment of the provisions of the Constitution according to sectors instead of amending these laws in a piece meal fashion. He said on its part, Parliament has approached Law Faculties of local universities, some Civil Society Organizations (Law Society of Zimbabwe) to assist with research on laws that needed to aligned as well as coming up with model laws on identified pieces of legislation. He said once this exercise has been done, the information will be passed on to relevant ministries. He hoped that this will help to speed up the alignment process and gave an estimate period of 18 months.
• Public Enterprises and Corporate Governance Issues.
The Speaker said Parliament, through its oversight function has been seized with the matter as testified by the number of parastatals that have appeared before portfolio Committees. He further pointed out that portfolio Committees have quizzed Ministers on the poor performance of parastatals as well as during question and answer session in both Houses of Parliament.
• De-Industrialization of Bulawayo.
He said Parliament has played its role by advocating for the special economic zones policy through a motion by Hon. Dexter Nduna (Chegutu West Constituency). He said as a result of the robust debate on that motion across the political divide, the Executive responded swiftly by introducing the Special Economic Zones Bill. He said the enactment of this Bill will greatly assist the economically depressed areas in the country such as Bulawayo. The Speaker also challenged participants to petition Parliament if they felt that the Executive was not doing enough to address the issue.
• Implementation of Chapter 14
The Speaker informed participants that Parliament engaged the Minister of Finance last year on the 5% of the National Budget that must be allocated to provinces. He said the Minister of Finance made an undertaking to effect that in the 2017 National Budget. The Speaker also informed participants that Parliament was in receipt of a petition on the implementation of Chapter 14. He said the petition was under consideration by the relevant portfolio Committee.
• Unprofessional Conduct of MPs.
The Speaker acknowledged the fact that the conduct of some MPs left a lot to be desired. He said he had reprimanded some MPs before. The Speaker further noted that in quite a number of occasions Parliament has been forced to adjourn prematurely as a result of lack of a quorum. He, thus, challenged the media to expose all MPs guilty of such conduct. The Speaker noted that in other parliamentary jurisdictions, they had a recall law whereby citizens can recall non-performing MPs. He thus challenged participants to petition Parliament for the enactment of such a law if they so wished.
Noting time constraints during the plenary discussion session, the Speaker requested participants that still had questions to write to him personally and made an undertaking to respond to all written questions.