PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s legislative agenda shows a progressive mind-set for democratic reforms, but the real challenge lies in delivery.
Candid Comment Faith Zaba
While Mnangagwa’s speeches have always struck the right chord since his inauguration in November last year, what remains to be seen is whether his government has the political will to implement comprehensive reforms. The President on Tuesday announced an ambitious legislative agenda for the first session of the ninth Parliament, bringing in a total of 27 bills set to be brought to the august House for debate and passage.
One of the progressive bills concerns liberalising the media environment. This dovetails with what Mnangagwa has mandated the new Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa to implement in a draft document outlining his government’s key performance indicators.
According to the document, Mutsvangwa is mandated to licence more radio and television stations. She is directed to open the airwaves. Mutsvangwa’s mandate also includes ensuring that press freedom and freedom of expression are respected. This, he says, should be done through protection of independent journalists, among other things.
Mutsvangwa also has to ensure the state-owned newspaper group, Zimpapers, is reformed so that it avails unbiased airtime and space to civic groups, opposition parties and other groupings as enshrined in the constitution. Mnangagwa also directed the minister to reform the national broadcaster ZTV in line with global trends. If implemented, these would be most welcome after years of lobbying by media organisations such as Misa Zimbabwe for government to amend the now outdated Broadcasting Services Act.
This is a response to the criticism that state media outlets function as Zanu PF propaganda mouthpieces, constantly shutting out opposition parties’ views. These are some of the low hanging fruits that need very little resources for Mnangagwa to implement.
He also spoke on the realignment of the laws to the constitution, which has dragged on since the country adopted a new constitution in 2013. The General Laws Amendment Bill is supposed to align 126 acts to the national charter. Some of the bills that deal with human rights, which Parliament is expected to consider, are the Child Justice Bill and Marriages Bill, and The Customary Law and Local Courts Bill.
In addition to the bills that promote ease of doing business and protect ordinary Zimbabweans from unfair trade practices, parliament will also align the laws of devolution of government powers and responsibilities.
Signs that he wants to move away from former president Robert Mugabe’s order to the so-called “new dispensation” are there. But as the saying goes, the taste of the pudding is in the eating. The onus is now on ministers and parliamentarians to follow through to craft and pass the appropriate legislation. To many, the legislative agenda appears ambitious, considering the previous parliamentary session only passed three out of the 22 bills on the agenda.
The ball is in Mnangagwa’s court to ensure the draft document does not just gather dust with no corresponding action. The world is watching.