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Law-making process not democratic

Orirando Manwere

THE current law-making process in which the executive initiates legislation, has proven to be partisan, undemocratic and at times counter-productive to

the nation, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.

The ruling Zanu PF party, with a majority in parliament, has despite constructive criticism of some Bills by legislators from both sides of the House, used the whipping system to push laws through.

The executive has thus continued to use parliament to merely rubber stamp its partisan policies.

This, according to MDC legislator and chairman of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, Welshman Ncube, has rendered the legislative and oversight role of parliament null and void.

In an interview this week, Ncube said the executive had through the whipping system adopted an undemocratic culture of fast-tracking legislation without due consideration of the input from Parliamentary Portfolio Committees and relevant stakeholders.

He said this could only be addressed through a complete paradigm shift by government on the role of parliament in a democracy and the adoption of a new people-driven democratic constitution.

During the current Third Session of the Sixth Parliament, both Zanu PF and MDC legislators in the Lower House and the Senate which is expected to further scrutinise and refine proposed legislation, expressed grave concerns on some provisions in the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Bill.They were also unanimous on the shortcomings of the Zimbabwe National Water Authority’s takeover of water and sewer reticulation services from local authorities, the establishment of the proposed National Health Insurance Scheme, and the national youth training programme, among other policy initiatives by government.

However, despite heated debate and well-researched reports and recommendations by Zanu PF-dominated portfolio committees and input from stakeholders through public hearings, the Bills have been passed.

Concerns on the Indigenisation Bill and the effect of price controls by central bank governor Gideon Gono during last week’s mid-term monetary policy, all but confirmed the increasingly unresponsive attitude of government which has resulted in policy failures.

Ncube said there was need to strengthen the current parliamentary committee system as there was not much time between Bill presentation and second readings.

“There is fast-tracking of legislation,” Ncube said. “Committees are not given enough time to fully reflect on provisions in the Bills and input towards them. Even if they do, second readings are done within a day and ministers merely push for adoption of those Bills and in the end we have flawed legislation.

“Reports of portfolio committees are often not considered,” he said. “This is the effect of unilateral governance which is hostile to consultation. This dictatorial tendency is inherent in Zanu PF which depends more on coercion than opening up democratic space.

“Unless there is a complete paradigm shift in government, we will continue to have this problem. We must draw lessons from the South African parliamentary committee system which is well organised. Committees there are given much more time to critique Bills and the oversight there is much more intense and more effective than ours,” said Ncube

The executive director of the Public Affairs and Parliamentary Support Trust Michael Mataure said parliamentary reform was a process and there was need for education and awareness on emerging trends.

Mataure pointed out that the initiation of legislation by the executive was a common trend the world over except in the United States where there was provision for private motions by legislators.

“It’s common practice the world over that the executive originates laws, policies and regulations from ruling party manifestos for consideration by ordinary back benchers who in the majority of cases are not legal experts.

“The Bills are drafted by legal experts in ministries or through the Attorney-General’s Office and they are often complex for ordinary back benchers. “However, legislators are expected to make contributions towards the proposed laws but the executive ultimately determines the outcome although it is obliged to adopt certain recommendations. This can be immediately done or in the later stages,” he said.

Mataure added stakeholders and general members of the public still had recourse through the courts if they felt that their rights were violated.

“This is where the courts and the civil society come in to provide checks and balances. Although the executive is obliged to respond and adopt recommendations, it must be appreciated that this is a process.

“Our parliamentary system is going through an evolution. The introduction of portfolio committees to give voice to the public using their MPs marked the first step towards bridging the gap between the executive and the public.”

He pointed out that circumstances and levels of development determined what issues were critical and the US system could not be compared to the Zimbabwean situation.

However, over the years, legislation like the Electricity Act of 2000, Broadcasting Services Act, Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act have been enacted despite criticism from legislators and stakeholders.

Earlier this year, officials from the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe told the portfolio committee on Transport and Communications that the authority was finding it difficult to grant licences to new players because of the restrictive provisions in the Act.

Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings head Henry Muradzikwa confirmed government interference at the broadcaster when commenting on the Pius Ncube coverage before the same committee.

During the initial stages of the tabling of Aippa, the late Edison Zvobgo who was the chairperson of the legal committee, criticised provisions of the Bill, leading to amendments though the current Act still remains overweening.

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