THE government has withdrawn the Interception of Communications Bill which was meant to spy on people’s messages after the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC) raised strong objections to its clauses, th
e Zimbabwe Independent established this week.
In an interview on Wednesday the chairman of the PLC, Welshman Ncube, confirmed that government had undertaken to come up with a new version of the Bill that would take into account the committee’s concerns.
The climbdown on the proposed legislation came after Ncube’s committee met the Attorney-General Sobusa Gula-Ndebele and Transport and Communications minister Christopher Mushohwe last month where the legislative body queried the constitutionality of some of its clauses.
Mushohwe, who is sponsoring the Bill, and Gula-Ndebele, who sits in parliament as an ex-officio member and is the government’s principal advisor on legal matters, promised to come back to the PLC with a response to their objections.
“They accepted our objections. They said they are going to come up with a new version,” Ncube said on Wednesday.
The Bill’s memorandum says its purpose is to “establish an interception of communication centre for the appointment of persons to that centre whose function shall be to monitor and intercept certain communications in the course of their transmission through a telecommunications, postal or any other related service system”.
The Bill also says that the Transport minister may issue warrants for the interception of communications on application by the Chief of Defence Intelligence, the Director-General of the President’s Department of National Security (the CIO), the Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority or by any nominee of any of the above.
Although Ncube did not state the contentious clauses, sources said the PLC had raised objections to clauses 4, 6, 8, and 18, among others.
They said on clause 4, the committee objected to the establishing of a centre known as the Monitoring of Interception of Communications Centre (MICC) saying it was unconstitutional to have such a body.
The sources added that on clause 6, the committee objected to the part that says “in the case of urgency or the existence of exceptional circumstances, an oral application may be made”.
Clause 8 allows courts to use information intercepted unlawfully in prosecutions while clause 18 says aggrieved persons can appeal to the same minister who issues a warrant for their communication to be intercepted.
The Interception of Communications Bill becomes the second proposed law to be withdrawn this year following the withdrawal of the Suppression of Foreign and International Terrorism Bill, after the government conceded that some of its provisions were unconstitutional.
A new version of the terrorism Bill, which critics say is aimed at cracking down on dissenting voices, is expected to be gazzetted soon.