ZANU PF is using its parliamentary majority to bulldoze through the House of Assembly patently unconstitutional Bills against the advice of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, it has emerged.
Parliament has of late been disregarding adverse reports prepared by its own legal committee which is chaired by Professor Welshman Ncube of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change !MDC). The MDC has two MPs while Zanu PF has one on the committee which advises parliament on the constitutionality of Bills.
Despite the committee’s numerous adverse reports, Zanu PF has used its parliamentary majority to pass a number of controversial laws.
Recently the ruling party suspended parliament’s standing orders, which require a three-week delay to redraft Bills that have attracted adverse reports to bring them in line with the constitution. Lately Zanu PF has resorted to dividing the House and voting to get around such adverse reports.
The committee, which includes the MDC’s Innocent Gonese and a Zanu PF backbencher Kumbirai Kangai, seems to have created political difficulties for the ruling party.
According to parliamentary procedure, the legal committee is required to examine every Bill and statutory instrument (SI) to ascertain whether they are constitutional or not and report to the House.
In the absence of a negative report from the committee within a specified period, parliament can proceed on the assumption that the Bill or SI in question does not contravene the constitution.
If the legal committee considers that a Bill or SI contravenes the constitution, and parliament accepts this recommendation, the House “shall not pass” the proposed legislation or its offending sections. If the offending provision is redrafted, it must be resubmitted to the legal committee and the process repeated.
Constitutional law expert Dr Lovemore Madhuku said the disregard for parliamentary procedure on adverse reports demonstrated the ruling party’s contempt for democratic norms.
“It shows Zanu PF’s disrespect for the constitution,” Madhuku said.
“The ruling party would never respect constitutional provisions that stand in the way of their political plans.”
The legal committee last week produced adverse reports on a number of measures, including the Non-Governmental Organisations Bill, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bill and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill. In all three cases, the legal committee found clauses that contravened freedoms and rights enshrined in the constitution.
Heated debate between the ruling Zanu PF and the MDC last week saw an adverse report on electoral reforms prepared by the Parliamentary Legal Committee being thrown out by 75 votes to 37. The committee said clauses in new electoral reforms dealing with voter education and the banning of foreign funding were unconstitutional.
The NGOs Bill was on Wednesday pushed through parliament against the recommendations of the legal committee amid tough opposition to 12 clauses of the Bill which were found to be unconstitutional.