HomePoliticsAG’s Office Bill ‘falls short’

AG’s Office Bill ‘falls short’

GOVERNMENT has gazetted the Attorney-General’s Office Bill which provides for a board to supervise the operations of one of the institutions at the centre of Zimbabwe’s political stalemate that has stunted economic growth.

But rights lawyers say the Bill falls short of addressing challenges facing the AG’s Office such as independence from the executive, low remuneration and corruption.
They cite President Robert Mugabe’s strong influence on the appointment of the board members as one of the Bill’s weaknesses.
The AG’s Office has repeatedly been forced to defend allegations that it is being used to prosecute Mugabe’s rivals, while ignoring Zanu PF officials and activists implicated in political crimes.
“The president has a larger say in the appointment of the board as he has the power to appoint at least four members of the seven member board,” said Andrew Makoni, chairperson of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a group of over 100 lawyers that has represented activists prosecuted for their political work.
”He also appoints the Attorney-General,” Makoni says. “Virtually all the appointed board members are appointed by the executive. Parliament, which represents the people, has no say in the appointment of the board. Although it is provided that this board shall not be subject to the control of any person or authority, the appointment process in my view compromises its independence.”
The purpose of this Bill, first introduced in 2005, is to constitute the Attorney-General’s Office as a service outside the public service. It should provide for the administration of the AG’s Office and conditions of service for staff.
Alleged politically motivated prosecutions as well as the continued stay of AG Johannes Tomana that have emerged as some of the contentious power-sharing disputes were unlikely to end, Makoni said.
According to the gazetted Bill, the AG’s office board shall also consist of the AG, a commissioner of the Public Service Commission and not more than four members appointed by Mugabe.
Section 5(3) of the Bill states that the “board shall not be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority other than for the purpose of audit by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of those funds of the office that are voted by parliament or charged on the Consolidated Fund by this Act or any other law”.
Makoni said issues of remuneration would also affect the prosecuting authority’s independence as staff, whose salary structure is not clearly defined, could still be tempted to engage in corrupt activities to boost income.
“Contrast this with the South African National Prosecution Authority (NPA) Act 32 of 1998, which guarantees the earnings of the officials in the NPA,” Makoni said. “It specifies the salary of the office bearers in a simple formula: The salary of the national director shall not be less than the salary of a judge of the High Court; the salary of a deputy national director shall not be less than 85% of the salary of the national director; and the salary of a director shall not be less than 80% of the salary of the national director,” said Makoni.
He added: “Such clarity in earnings of the officials guarantees their independence as their earnings will not be diminished by politicians who might want to use their financial muscle to influence prosecutions and decisions. There are many imperfections in this Bill, such that I recommend a complete revision.”

Wongai Zhangazha

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