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Political squabbles hinder progress in parliament

POLITICAL squabbles between the inclusive government partners reduced a promising 2010 legislative year to just another year with no new meaningful laws to democratise the country.

Parliament could not move with its legislative agenda as the principals’ differences over outstanding Global Political Agreement (GPA) issues strained their relations. Differences between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai became so intense that the latter snubbed cabinet and the weekly principals’ meetings.
The House of Assembly only sat for 33 days this year when normally it is supposed to sit for at least 71.
Matters boiled over in October when Mugabe unilaterally “reappointed” 10 provincial governors without consulting the premier as required by law.
MDC-T senators in line with their party position refused to recognise the governors in November when senate resumed. They sang and danced, resulting in a two-day disruption that forced an early adjournment of Senate till February next year. But the senators were recalled in December to consider the Finance Bill and Appropriation Bill.
Presenting a joint end-of-year State of the Nation Address last week, the three political principals in the inclusive government, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, agreed that more could have been achieved under the inclusive government in 2010.
Mutambara frankly castigated the continued political bickering among the principals as the major cause for slowing down progress.
“We should have concentrated on the 23 agreed issues than continued debates on the four areas of disagreement. We should learn to work on the areas of agreement that … can help the majority of Zimbabweans,” Mutambara said.  
Parliament’s truncated sitting was blamed for lack of progress in passing legislation. The House adjourned for three months in June to allow legislators to attend to the constitutional outreach programme.
While conceding that the constitutional outreach slowed parliamentary business, Parliamentary Select Committee (Copac) co-chairperson Douglas Mwonzora blamed it on the executive, which he said did not bring legislation for debate.
“The outreach took MPs out for three months but take into consideration that ministers brought a limited number of Bills for debate. MPs could only work on what was presented to them. Remember most laws originate from the cabinet,” Mwonzora said.
Tsvangirai in March 2010 delivered a promising statement on the legislative democratisation agenda to the House but very little was delivered by year-end.
In the Government Work Plan 2010, Tsvangirai highlighted that the administration had five priorities: promoting economic growth and ensuring food security, providing basic services and infrastructural development, strengthening and ensuring the rule of law and respect for property rights, advancement and safeguarding basic freedoms through legislative reform and the constitutional process and normalisation of international relations.
To achieve the agenda, the premier said the government proposed 17 legislative reforms to be completed in the year. Of all the proposed Bills only four were passed by the National Assembly before year-end.
However, Mugabe, when he officially opened the third session in July, said 24 pieces of legislation would be amended.
Among the proposed laws that did not materialise were a Freedom of Information Bill and the Media Practitioners Bill that were meant to replace the contentious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The fight for human rights, justice and electoral reforms did not move an inch. Parliament neither debated nor passed the Human Rights Commission Bill, the National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration Bill and Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
However, in a rare moment of bipartisanship in a usually polarised House, the Public Order and Security Act Amendment Bill was passed. Mutare Central legislator Innocent Gonese had moved the amendments as a Private Member’s Bill.
The lower House passed seven other Bills besides the customary financial Bills brought by Finance minister Tendai Biti to operationalise the national budget.
These were the Energy Regulatory Amendment Bill, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill, National Security Council Amendment Bill, Audit Bill, Public Finance Management Bill, Criminal Laws Amendment (Protection of Power, Communication and Water Infrastructure) Bill and Posa amendment.
The House is still considering the Attorney-General (AG)’s Bill and Sedco Amendment Bill. These Bills seek to professionalise the AG’s office and make it independent from executive interference while the Sedco amendment will improve the way the state company operates and helps fund small businesses.
Parliament also ratified the US$45 million loan extended by the Chinese Bank and the Zambezi Shared Water Course Management Treaty during the year.
The passage of the 2011 National Budget brought to the fore the need for proper separation of powers among the three arms of state.
Despite spirited and fiery speeches by MPs that they would block the budget if vote allocations to agriculture and their conditions of service and those of civil servants are not improved, they were whipped into line. The budget passed without debate or amendments before it was taken to senate.
The 2011 budget had its own lighter moments in the Senate when senators accused Biti of trying to amend laws through the back door to accommodate his friend, Charles Kuwaza, on state enterprises boards. Senator Josiah Hungwe recommended that the amendments should be forgone and the laws remain in their current form. The law currently says no person can sit on more than two boards. Biti had proposed to amend the clause to read three boards.
Cabinet debated the matter and Biti was forced to withdraw the amendments he had proposed in the Finance Bill. The Bill later sailed through without debate or amendments after MPs were whipped into line by the executive.
Parliamentary Monitoring Trust of Zimbabwe Programmes manager Sibanengi Ncube said the passing of the 2011 budget left a lot to be desired.
“It is also important to mention that the passing of Bills if the way it was done with the Finance Bill is anything to go by, then there should be changes to how the executive deals with the legislature as there was a lot of arm twisting and promises done,” Ncube said. “The passing of the Bill under such circumstances could be out of fear and not on the merits, thus defeating the purpose of debating Bills.”
It remains to be seen whether parliament will deliver on the outstanding Bills that have the capacity to change the political environment. Whether the executive will not ride roughshod over the House and whether parliament will stand up to the executive’s bullying tactics, all shall be clear Come 2011.

Paidamoyo Muzulu

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