IN the past few months, the Justice ministry has dominated public debate regarding a number of issues pertaining to its operations. These issues range from combating corruption, alignment of laws with the constitution and justice delivery. The Zimbabwe Independent acting editor Faith Zaba and reporter Andrew Kunambura (ZI) sat down with the ministry’s permanent secretary Virginia Mabhiza (vm) this week to discuss these and other issues. Below are the excerpts:
ZI: There are concerns about the apparently slow pace of aligning various pieces of legislation to the constitution. Where are we now in terms of that?
VM: Whatever pace is going on is not a deliberate slowdown of the process. Part of it could be the issue of resource challenges. You may want to know what resources we are talking about when we talk of alignment of laws. We have an inter-ministerial committee which is supposed to be co-ordinating in order to come up with draft Bills that will eventually find themselves in parliament. I am sure you are aware that alignment is not a ministry of justice alone process. We simply coordinate, but the bulk of the work is done from other ministries. So you find that in the past it was a question of attitude by the policymakers, the ministers. I can give you an example of local government. When we were looking at the provincial councils in the past, there was a certain thrust by the then dispensation to align certain metropolitan provincial councils with the law, but certain ministers were not very keen on bringing it to us. Those are some of the obstacles we came across in the process of aligning laws.
However, the new dispensation has made it very clear as to what we are supposed to do especially in terms of the provincial councils. Devolution is one of the thrusts of the new dispensation, so we are also prioritising the laws in order to align those provincial council laws with the constitution.
In fact, I can say we are left with 56 laws altogether that require alignment. But when you look at the 56, it is not much that is required. I also understand from the Attorney-General’s Office that they are also working on another omnibus Bill. It is a General Laws Amendment Bill. As the Ministry of Justice, we are looking at marriage laws. You remember we have a landmark ruling from the Constitutional Court where we saw the Constitutional Court prohibiting child marriages. Our current law allows the minister to issue a licence to a child who is under 18 to be able to marry in special circumstances and we are going to align our laws to totally abolish child marriages.
Those are some of the laws we are looking at and, as we continue to align, we also call upon sectors to give their contributions, even the public is also allowed to participate.
I am happy we are also working together with parliament and the various portfolio committees. The exercise is supported by the United Nations family.
They have been funding some of the outreach programmes to support alignment of legislation. In summary, that is where we are.
ZI: Do you have a timetable which says this should be done by this time?
VM: Not at the moment. Right now we are yet to convene with all ministries, departments and sectors, giving each other targets and also working on the ease of doing business. You find out that most of the legislation that we are also seeking to align falls under the ease of doing business. We had a meeting to resuscitate our ease of doing business. So on February 4, we are going to finalise those targets to say what is going to be done by when. We are mostly targeting April 30 as a major deadline for the key legislative reforms under the ease of doing business. I am sure you know we are going to be compared with other competing countries, 190 altogether; as it stands we are at 155.
It is our hope that in the next round, we would have improved but, as you know, legislative framework plays an important role in facilitating these sector reforms. So I am sure most of our laws will fall under the ease of doing business. We were promised by the Office of the President and Cabinet that they are going to support us with the necessary resources to be able to achieve this.
ZI: Will there be any formal amendments to deal with the Indigenisaion Act as pronounced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa that the 51%-49% will only apply to diamond and platinum mining ventures?
VM: The indigenisaion law is also being looked at. If you talk to the relevant permanent secretary, you will be given greater details, but what I can confirm is that the as the Ministry of Justice, through our drafting department, we had such instructions earlier on. I am not sure where we are now in terms of giving effect in terms of what the President had pronounced, but it is certainly something that is going to be attended to in our next phase of the ease of doing business.
ZI: What is going to happen regarding the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act?
VM: I think we all agree we need to align Posa with the constitution. There are some provisions, for instance that provision that requires certain procedures to be followed in deploying the army in an effort to assist the police in cases of emergency has to be aligned. What it means is that we clearly have to scrutinise Posa and see if there are other provisions which do not tally with the constitution. As for Aippa, I will refer you to the secretary of information.
ZI: Why not repeal Posa?
VM: And replace it with what? It is very important to be careful when you make a decision to repeal and replace because sometimes it will be a wasted effort whereby we may end up repealing and replacing with the same provisions.
So you have to carefully think along as to what is no longer relevant to our current position. We have a department in the ministry of justice which is specifically designated to look into law reform, to revise it. They are working on many pieces of legislation, including Posa. We will look at their recommendations and take on board what is consistent with government policy.
ZI: What do you make of lawyers implicating the Ministry of Justice in influencing judicial outcomes?
VM: I deny that in total. No such conniving happened. We respect the rule of law and l cannot think of any event where we would tell the judiciary and legislature what to do. They make their own decisions independent of the executive and whatever is happening at the courts is what the courts intend to do in line with their duties and it has nothing to do with the influence of any member of the executive, including myself.
ZI: Our prisons have been overcrowded and appalling. What is being done to address that?
VM: We are planning on building a new prison in Marondera. This prison is designed to be an open prison and it is going to prioritise women. That will decongest the current prisons and the male prisoners will occupy the prisons which would have been vacated by the female prisoners. But, certainly, our prisons are overcrowded.
ZI: Do you have figures?
VM: As of today, I do not have the statistics.
ZI: Normally after presidential elections there is a presidential amnesty. Are we going to see one this time around?
VM: I am not sure what the President intends to do. You may recall that sometime last year, we had an amnesty which saw all women being released and a certain number of men. About 5 000 people got the benefit of amnesty not so long ago.
ZI: Does the country have a hangman now?
VM: We do not have a hangman although we continue to receive numerous applications from people of all walks of life and I think part of it is unemployment. That is how I see it. People just look for employment irrespective of what it is. You see this issue of trying to do away with the death penalty; it is one of those aspects which make us a bit hesitant to want to have a hangman.
ZI: How many applications have you received?
VM: This year l did not see any application but as of last year, we had an excess of 50 applications from people of different age groups and races.
ZI: Did you have female applicants?
VM: Yes, there were female applicants. That was what caught my attention and that is why I said it is just a case of one looking for a job rather than anything else.
ZI: So what is happening regarding the death penalty?
VM: I think you can strike a better conversation with the minister on that one. He is the one who has been attending a lot of international meetings, debates and so forth with regards to the death penalty
ZI: The President has spoken a lot on corruption. What are you doing as a ministry to eradicate this vice?
VM: As the ministry, we handle it by way of legislative reforms. We have to craft laws that handle corruption and are enforceable and we also embark on awareness programmes against corruption to encourage people to act and speak out against corruption. We are also working in collaboration with other arms in the justice delivery sector, including the courts, the judiciary, prisons, police, ourselves and the Anti-Corruption Commission in what we call Act. I am sure you are aware of the Act Against Corruption Together. We coordinate and help each other. If there is anything that has to be done, it is brought to us through the minister and we address it, but otherwise the police, the anti-corruption commission, National Prosecuting Authority, and the courts have a bigger role to play than us.
ZI: In terms of the specialised anti-corruption courts, are they now fully functional across the country?
VM: You can check with the secretary to the judiciary. But from what I have gathered, they are functional and they are being utilised although l do not have the statistics as to what extent they are utilised. I also know there are plans to decentralise the courts to other provinces.