Covid-19 wreaks havoc on Parly business

16 Aug, 2020 - 00:08 0 Views
Covid-19 wreaks havoc on Parly business Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi

The Sunday Mail

Parliament Lincoln Towindo

TWO Parliamentarians from the Transport Portfolio Committee tested positive for Covid-19 towards the end of July.

A journalist and a driver who travelled with the committee on a field tour also tested positive. Due to this unfortunate development, Clerk of Parliament Mr Kennedy Chokuda said most business of the House had to be stopped.

The National Assembly later convened to procedurally suspend House business.

“Earlier this week, we have had some of the honourable members, as well as some staff members, testing positive for Covid-19,” said Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, while moving a motion to adjourn business.

“In view of that, after consulting both Parliament administration and His Excellency (President Mnangagwa), we decided that we have to adjourn the house for the purposes of housekeeping, disinfection and also monitoring the trends in the pandemic to August 25 this year.”

Later on, the Senate met on August 4 in a sitting that lasted less than five minutes and followed suit in adjourning to September 15.

This was the second time this year that Parliament has been forced to adjourn business on account of coronavirus.

This has adversely affected much of Parliament’s business, which includes committee meetings, public hearings and field visits that have either been suspended or scrapped altogether because of restrictions occasioned by Covid-19.

Backlog

Worryingly, Bills that had been gazetted are still pending because the House cannot meet. It was reported last week that the National Assembly is saddled with a huge backlog of 15 Bills at different legislative stages in the House.

Parliament traditionally adjourns during this time of the year before reconvening for a new session around September, and there are fears that some of the Bills will be removed from the Order Paper once the current session expires.

Bills that are before the National Assembly include the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill (Number 2), Forest Amendment Bill, National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Bill, Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill, Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill and Financial Adjustments Bill.

The Senate, on the other hand, is yet to dispose of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill (Number 1), Marriages Bill and Constitutional Court Amendment Bill.

The Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill, Pension and Provident Funds Bill and the Manpower Planning and Development Bill have been gazetted but have not yet been tabled.

Last week, Mr Chokuda said gazetted Bills that are not disposed of before the current second session of the Ninth Parliament will have to be procedurally restored to the Order Paper during the forthcoming session.

“If time and the Covid-19 situation permit us, we should be able to dispose of them before the end of this session,” said Mr Chokuda.

“If we fail to do so, the responsible minister can move a motion in the House to have them restored to the Order Paper in the next session.”

There is a real risk that Parliament may not be able to reconvene by August 25, given the upward trajectory of new Covid-19 infections in the country.

It is going to take some time before traditional face-to-face sittings of the House are considered safe.

We might as well consider most of these Bills “lost” for the current session.

There have been concerns that the slow pace of legislation is stifling Government’s reform agenda.

Parliament has to strongly consider conducting its business virtually, as is being done in other jurisdictions.

While a handful of Bills have been passed over the current session, the advent of Covid-19 has slowed down much of the business.

This is why new and innovative ways to allow for safe resumption of House business have to be found as a matter of urgency.

There is no guarantee that Covid-19 infections will have been eliminated when the House reconvenes for the third session.

Clearly, the days of safe, face-to-face sittings remain distant and this calls for an immediate shift to modern ways such as video conferencing to convene meetings.

Zimbabwe cannot afford to have a Parliament that is perpetually in recess, and the time is now to move or we risk losing another session of implementing legislative reforms to the pandemic.

SADC is doing it with the annual Heads of State meeting, our Parliament should follow suit.

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