Eighth Parliament — a potpourri of experiences

The Nomination Court has sat. The Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe is seeing out its final days after five years of epoch-defining moments, drama, spills and thrills.

The Eighth Session of the Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe, which was opened by then President Robert Mugabe on September 12, 2017, will be remembered as the one that instituted impeachment proceedings against a sitting Head of State.

Mr Mugabe extricated himself from that ignominy by tendering his resignation on November 21, 2017 after facing serious charges of presiding over economic and political meltdown and allowing his wife, Mrs Grace Mugabe, to usurp executive authority.

While highly significant, that was not the whole story of the Eighth Parliament.

Women representatives significantly rose following the appointment of 60 additional women’s quota representatives in the National Assembly.

Women representation jumped to 35 percent in 2013 from 15 percent earlier.

The provision is however valid for two Parliamentary terms, which means it ends in 2023.

Despite being well represented in Parliament, women failed to push through major empowerment initiatives skewed towards women.

The Marriage Bill, for example, which seeks to align all marriage laws with the Constitution and the Sadc model law on eradicating child marriages, failed to sail through.

It has been on the legislative agenda since 2013.

Another Bill that sought to empower women is the Prisons and Correctional Services Bill, which fell by the wayside.

The proposed law seeks to empower female prison officers while upholding the rights of female inmates.

Another key legislative undertaking of the current Parliament was to align laws to the new Constitution, which took effect in 2013 before the First Session of the Eighth Parliament.

For UK-based strategic analyst, Dr Hopewell Mauwa, the alteration of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, which was largely considered as stringent in its former state, was a game-changer.

“From an economic and investor perspective, that was the most significant piece in years,” he said.

Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) executive director Mr John Makamure commended Parliament for opening up the institution to the public as stipulated in Section 141 in the Constitution.

The Eighth Parliament, he said, was more assertive in making Government officials accountable.

“There was significant progress if you compare with previous Parliament,” said Mr Makamure.

“Parliament is now more cognisant of its mandate. We have seen committees conducting hearings with public, with the media covering these hearings.

“In terms of oversight, we have seen quite a number of Government officials and ministers being summoned and appearing before committees. . .

“We are seeing a committee system that is becoming more and more assertive,” he said.

Perhaps one of the notable events of the current Parliament is when they arm-twisted Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa to increase the health budget from $454 million to $520 million.

“It never happened that Parliament would cause the Minister of Finance to make changes in the budget.

“We are now witnessing a Parliament influencing the content of the budget by extensively debating, which was not happening in the past.

“In the past, Parliament used to participate at only one stage, which was approving the budget. It was actually rubber stamping the budget,” observed Mr Makamure.

But experts say there is still need to capacitate Parliament financially in order to help it effectively executive its mandate.

First Session

In fact, the First Session of the Eight Parliament — opened on September 17, 2013 — was specifically charged with coming up with new legislation to give legal underpinning to new structures and institutions provided for in the new Constitution.

About 27 Bills, including the Land Commission Bill, the Banking Act Amendment Bill, the Consumer Protection Bill and the Zimbabwe Quality Standards Regulatory Authority Bill, were outlined on the legislative agenda.

Legislators were also expected to enact the Public Private Partnership Bill and the Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill, Mines and Minerals Bill, the Border Posts Authority Bill, Tripartite Negotiating Forum Bill, as well as the Trafficking in Persons Bill.

However, only 11 Acts were passed, with three having been carried over from the Seventh Parliament.

The Trafficking in Persons Act — one of the laws that were passed during the session — tightened penalties on trafficking and criminalised internet services hosting adverts linked to the scourge.

It coincided with rising cases of local women who were being lured to Middle East countries with promises of decent work, only for them to end up working as sex slaves.

In terms of aligning laws to the Constitution, the First Session only managed to pass two Bills — the National Prosecuting Authority Bill and the Electoral Amendment Bill.

The amended electoral law was meant to give legal effect to some provisions of the 2013 elections such as proportional representation.

Second Session

The Second Session had 14 Bills such as the Procurement Amendment Bill; Stimulation of Development and Foreign Direct Investment Bill; Tripartite Negotiating Forum Bill; Information Communication Technology, Cybercrime Bill; Data Protection Bill; and Electronic Transactions Bill, among others.

Other Bills such was the Insurance Amendment Bill; Pension and Provident Funds Amendment Bill; Joint Venture Bill; Public Health Bill; Gwanda State University Bill were carried over from the previous session.

Of the 14 Bills, only eight — the Marondera University of Agricultural Science and Technology Act, as well as Gwanda and Manicaland State University of Applied Sciences Bill, among others — were passed into law.

The Labour Act was also amended during that session in order to stem the rising tide of job losses that followed the July 17, 2015 Supreme Court ruling allowing companies to terminate their employees’ contracts of employment on a three month’s notice.

The Public Accountants and Auditors Amendment Act and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Debt Assumption and Public Debt Management Act were also enacted during the same session.

Parliament however failed to push through the General Laws Amendment Bill, which sought to align some 158 laws to the Constitution.

The Gender Commission Bill and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill also had to be carried over to the next session.

The Third Session

The Third Session kicked off on September 15, 2015, with 22 Bills on the legislative agenda.

By the end of the session, the Local Government Laws Amendment Act had been enacted. It brought the Urban Councils Act and the Rural District Councils Act in line with the new Constitution.

Essentially, the new Local Government Laws Amendment Act gives the Minister responsible for administering it the power to set up tribunals to consider proposals for the removal from office of elected mayors, council chairpersons and councillors.

Other Acts gazetted during this session included the Gender Commission of Zimbabwe Act, Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Act, Gender Commission Act, Joint Ventures Act, and Special Economic Zones Act.

Fourth Session

The Fourth Session was not without its fair share of drama.

Those who follow proceedings closely will remember the episode where police came into the chamber on October 26, 2016 to eject Budiriro MP Costa Machingauta (MDC-T) who was clad in a jacket emblazoned with national flag colours.

Zvishavane-Ngezi MP John Holder (Zanu-PF) raised a point of order, demanding the removal of the legislator.

Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Mabel Chinomona obliged.

When Machingauta took a stand, the Deputy Speaker called in the police, and the honourable members was dragged out on all fours, but not without a spirited attempt from opposition legislators to defend their colleague.

There was more drama.

After Machingauta’s removal, MDC-T Proportional Representation MP Mrs Susan Matsunga alleged that some police officers had fondled her during the melee.

Similarly, Bulawayo Metropolitan MP Ms Lwazi Sibanda (MDC-T) complained that her clothes had been torn.

It wasn’t all acrimony however.

Politicians from across the political divide forged a united front on July 27 last year when they rejected the proposed replacement of Auditor-General Mildred Chiri with IDC boss Michael Ndudzo.

Mrs Chiri was subsequently reinstated as Auditor-General in December 2017.

Thirty-three Bills were on the legislative agenda during the Fourth Session.

Some of the Bills that were introduced were the Insolvency Bill, Insurance Amendment Bill, Pension and Provident Funds Amendment Bill, Insurance and Pensions Commission Amendment Bill, and Micro-finance Amendment Bill.

Other bills included Zimbabwe Youth Council Bill, Electronic Transactions and Electronic Commerce Bill, and Data Protection Bill.

Although Bills such as the Computer Crimes and Cyber Security Bill, Data Protection Bill, Coroner’s Office Bill were part of the agenda, they were never tabled in Parliament.

Laws such as the Prisons Bill and the Marriages Bill that were expected to be aligned with the Constitution also suffered a similar fate.

Fifth to Final Session

As the curtain comes down on the Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe, it is important to note that key legislation has been passed during its life.

The Public Entities Corporate Governance Bill, which notably places limits on the terms of office of chief executives and board members of State enterprises, among major far-reaching reforms, was recently enacted.

Further, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act, which replaced the State Procurement Board with the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, was signed into law.

Also, of the 176 pieces of legislation identified as requiring alignment to the Constitution, only 30 Acts remain outstanding.

Although the Child Justice Bill, the Marriages Bill, the Coroner’s Office Bill, The Cooperating Societies Amendment Bill, Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill kept reappearing on the legislative agenda, there wasn’t any demonstrable progress in pushing through Parliament.

However, there seems to be some outstanding Bills such as Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill, Zisco Debt Redemption Bill, Civil Aviation Amendment Bill, and Public Health Bill that might need to be fast-tracked.

Yes, progress was made, but there are still hard miles ahead.

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