Major Battle Looms Over RBZ Bill

A MAJOR political battle between Zanu PF and the main MDC wing which could further destabilise the already unstable inclusive government is looming in parliament over the contentious Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill.

The fight, coming at a time when the power struggle within the coalition government is intensifying necessitating the current regional diplomatic intervention, could fuel internal wrangling and widen cracks in the gradually crumbling arrangement.

Informed sources said Zanu PF was secretly mobilising to block Finance minister Tendai Biti’s Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill seen as designed to contain and weaken Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono whom the MDC is battling to force out.

The MDC accuses Gono of destroying the economy through massive printing of money which stoked hyperinflation and led to the decimation of the local currency. Gono, backed by Zanu PF, however, says he resorted to money printing because of financial sanctions imposed by Western countries on Zimbabwe at the MDC’s urging and has even written a book on the issue.

But the MDC dismisses the sanctions argument and blames President Robert Mugabe’s extended years of political repression, human rights abuses and economic mismanagement as the real causes of the economic meltdown.

Sources said Zanu PF ministers and MPs were mobilising through parliamentary and party structures as well as other platforms to block the Bill which Biti and the MDC are determined to railroad through parliament to reform the central bank and ring-fence Gono.

The sources said the Zanu PF manoeuvres are mainly intended to prevent Biti from becoming more powerful and ensure the removal of Gono. The central bank governor and his loyalists claim the Bill is draconian, something which Biti rejects.

Sources said although Zanu PF did not have the required numbers in the House of Assembly to block the Bill, it would show its opposition to it in parliament possibly next week.

Zanu PF’s campaign to stop the Bill is however being undermined by internal divisions on the issue. S

ome senior Zanu PF officials who are hostile to Gono, including Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, chairman of the cabinet committee on legislation, do not want to bring to a halt Biti’s process.

Although the Bill was cleared by cabinet, Zanu PF now wants to stop it for political reasons. This is despite an understanding in the Global Political Agreement that once a Bill has been cleared by cabinet all parties are obliged to support it in parliament.

Zanu PF’s move would be designed to force Biti to accept amendments to the Bill before it goes to senate where the party has a working majority, boosted mainly by appointed senators and chiefs, to stop it. Mugabe’s party hopes to block the Bill in senate if its campaign in the Lower House for it to be amended fails.

Although the main MDC defeated Zanu PF in the parliamentary elections last year, the polls produced a hung parliament. After factoring in Constitutional Amendment (No 19) and the Global Political Agreement, including Jonathan Moyo’s return to his former party, Zanu PF and the MDC-T more or less have the same number of seats in the House of Assembly. Zanu PF has a controversial majority in the senate.

With all things being equal and if the parties in government stick to their understanding that if each one of them loses an MP or senator, they virtually replace them without opposition in by-elections the situation would reflect that Zanu PF and the MDC-T would have equal numbers in the House of Assembly after Moyo moved back to the former ruling party. The situation would mean no party could claim numerical superiority in the House of Assembly.

Sources said if the MDC-T secures the support of the MDC-M it might succeed in pushing the Bill through the House of Assembly although it would be blocked in senate. If the two houses fail to resolve their deadlock in 90 days, the Bill may be presented to the president for assent in the form in which it was passed in the House of Assembly, except for minor changes required by the passage of time, provided it then goes on to secure a  majority backing in the Lower House.
The constitution provides that any Bill, other than a money Bill, can originate in the House of Assembly or senate. It gives powers to the two houses of parliament to make Standing Orders, jointly or severally, with respect to the passing of Bills. Each house is free to make any amendments to any Bill that comes before it. Money Bills can only originate from the House of Assembly.

House of Assembly and senate Standing Orders provide that every Bill, except to amend the constitution, shall stand referred to the relevant portfolio commit for at least 14 days upon its gazetting.

Parliament’s Standing Orders also provide that after its introduction the Bill shall be referred to the parliamentary legal committee for 26 days unless an extension has been granted by the president of senate of speaker of parliament. The Bill then goes to the second reading, committee stage where amendments may be proposed and finally third reading. Thereafter it goes to senate. Ordinary Bills are passed through a simple majority while the Bill to amend the constitution needs a two-thirds majority.

 

Dumisani Muleya

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