PRESIDENT Say ‘No’ to a Senate of deadwood

IT is official. Zanu PF is pressing for a two-thirds majority to enable it to amend the constitution in the middle of the year to reintroduce the Senate.

President Mugabe last weekend t

old a rally in Hurungwe District that the envisaged Senate would accommodate Zanu PF members who lost in the party primary elections. We hope this is not the executive’s only motivation in reestablishing the bi-cameral parliamentary system, which was abolished in 1989.

But for a government which premises reward on cronyism, we were not at all surprised by the latest quest to accommodate politicians who were rejected by the people at the primaries. At a time when people are looking for MPs who serve their interests, the latest effort by Mugabe is set to create an institution whose members owe allegiance to the executive first instead of serving the people.

Those given a second bite of the cherry to practise politics, albeit as senators, as is evident in the current parliament, only serve to make up the numbers for the ruling party with little real contribution to the nation.

In 2000 the 57 seats won by the opposition MDC prevented Zanu PF’s pursuit of a two-thirds majority which it needed to amend the constitution to, among other things, reintroduce the Senate.

The real issue here was not that Zimbabweans were against the concept of a second house. The opposition, which campaigned feverishly against Mugabe’s draft constitution, also spoke of the need for a second house but the party differed with Zanu PF on the reason to broaden the legislature. A Senate made up of yes men would only entrench autocracy and perpetuate a system devoid of checks and balances.

Not much has changed since 2000 and we believe that the proposed Senate will only serve to rubber -stamp party policies instead of providing robust interventions on despotic legislation which is in conflict with the constitution. In a functioning parliamentary system, all new legislation is referred to the Senate whose role is to pick out unconstitutional clauses and recommend amendments.

The Senate should therefore have experienced lawmakers who understand the spirit of every proposed piece of legislation. It is a legislative institution which should be the custodian of best practices in governance and not a conveyor belt of dictatorial laws.

The same institution can be poisonous to the democratic process if it is staffed by the wrong people, especially those who are only too ready to nod through retrogressive pieces of legislation because they are beneficiaries of presidential patronage. Zanu PF deadwood which Mugabe is promising jobs in the Senate does not inspire confidence. A lot of them will not be different from chiefs in the current parliament who are woken up from deep sleep to vote on legislation they know next to nothing about.

More worrying though is the fact that the Senate will not be allowed to carry out its mandate of combing the statute books for bad laws as long as the Zanu PF government believes that every law brought to parliament must be passed. We have seen how recommendations of the Parliamentary Legal Committee were ignored when repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act were forced through the House.

This mindset of the party is not likely to evaporate with the setting up of a bi-cameral system. In fact, the Senate would be invited to lend legitimacy to the repression.

Apart from providing checks and balances in law making, a functioning Senate should also be involved in vetting and ratifying key appointments to government and quasi-government bodies. This role has remained largely the preserve of the executive. The results are manifest in the way parastatals have been run down. There is no accountability.

A Senate should also be representative of various interest groups such as women, youths, the disabled, trade unions, ex-combatants, farmers, conservationists and business. There should therefore be proper consultation in selecting candidates for the upper house so that it is representative of the country’s different groupings.

It is therefore imperative that attempts to establish a partisan Senate are resisted by the electorate. In fact, as the National Constitutional Assembly said this week, “any political party that attains a two-thirds majority in parliament and then manipulates that advantage to tinker with the constitution for self-serving ends would be betraying the sacred and patriotic hopes of Zimbabweans”.

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