HomeCommentEditor's Memo: Bills prove democracy a long way off

Editor’s Memo: Bills prove democracy a long way off

WHEN President Robert Mugabe officially opened the 3rd session of the 7th parliament on Tuesday he announced that 23 Bills were on the legislative agenda, a perusal of which shows that there is a lot that still has to be done in terms of democratisation.

This democratic shortfall emanates from the anticipated  contents of the Bills as well as the manner they were introduced.

Mugabe said the 23 Bills to be debated touch on human rights and security reforms, laws affecting media practitioners, access to information, health and criminal law.

He was silent on repealing the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), which, despite cosmetic amendments, has curtailed some of the very basic freedoms such as movement and assembly.

Posa has always been cited as an obstacle to democracy, but for Mugabe it is not an urgent or important issue and should take backstage on the order of Bills to be debated in the current session.

Another large hole in the presentation was the announcement that there would be a Media Practitioners’ Bill, amending sections of the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) dealing with “the registration of journalists and privacy issues”.

While amending Aippa is commendable, it is important for Mugabe to reckon that what media practitioners and other stakeholders wanted, in regards to the law, is a complete repeal of the Act, not the piecemeal and ineffectual amendments.

Another Bill to go through this session of parliament is the Criminal Law (Codification and  Reform) Act Amendment, which according to Mugabe, “aims to incorporate into the code the suggestions by members of the public”.

We need to find out from Mugabe or members of his government what people were consulted, where and when. What is only in the public domain is that the Attorney-General’s office last month conceded in the Supreme Court that some sections of the code were vague and improperly couched.

We hope that the Bill is not meant to pre-empt the Supreme Court ruling on the sections of the code the Zimbabwe Independent has challenged.

Moreover, if there were people consulted and their views assented to on the code, why not do the same to Aippa and Posa? The MDC-T has introduced a private Bill to repeal Posa, but Mugabe was silent on that on Tuesday.

Many observers noted that in presenting the legislative agenda, Mugabe pulled the rug from under Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s feet as he deliberately bypassed those measures the premier had proposed under the Government Work Plan.

Tsvangirai, as leader of government business in parliament, had proposed the Freedom of Information Bill, which sought to repeal Aippa, the Labour Amendment Bill, and the Information and Communication Technology Bill.

When Tsvangirai proposed the Bills, he was executing his duties as a government leader in the House, meaning that he was only doing so on behalf of the executive.

There was no harm bringing in those Bills together with the fresh ones.
If their dropping was reflective of the thinking of Mugabe and the Zanu PF part of the inclusive government, then it is clear that reforms should only be incremental, but at a pace and content which they are comfortable with.

It has to dawn on Mugabe that the “world is now flat” and as such, Zimbabwe would not in any way win its case trying to erect barriers in terms of rights, freedoms, access to information and opening up of airwaves.

The announcement of the legislative agenda should have been an opportunity to credit the country’s democratic account which has been in the negative since the promulgation of harsh measures such as Posa and Aippa.

The government’s failure to repeal these hostile acts has compounded an already strongly-held view at home and abroad that this is not a reformist regime.

Constantine Chimakure

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