Legislative agenda: Another pie in the sky


Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe last week ushered in his ambitious legislative agenda for the third session of the eighth Parliament, bringing in a total of 22 bills that are set to be brought to the august House for debate and passage in what has been described by analysts as another pie in the sky.
It was actually Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who brought the legislative agenda through a tumultuous process on Wednesday last week after Parliament was recalled from its adjournment following a mishap in which President Mugabe read the wrong speech that he had previously delivered during his State of the Nation address.
The President lays out the legislative agenda, which basically refers to issues that Parliament is envisioned to tackle in a session, at the official opening of each session of Parliament, pronouncing the activities of the legislative assembly for the session, which spans a year.
He outlines all the bills that the august House would handle and other legislative issues to be tackled.
But now President Mugabe and his recently reshuffled executive are attempting perhaps their most difficult feat yet in the life of this eighth Parliament: Aligning a number of laws to the new Constitution.
This feat had so far eluded Parliament chiefly because line ministries have not been able to come up with requisite bills and the attorney general’s office, which is the drafting authority, has been lethargic.
The trend in recent years has been the conspicuous failure by Parliament to achieve the agenda.
While that failure has been largely blamed on the executive, some critics feel Parliament itself has not been as functional as expected.
The civic society and the general public have also been criticised for being too passive when the situation at hand demands them to be proactive.
During the previous session, Parliament only passed three out of 18 bills it was supposed to pass into law, while nine others are still going through the various stages of Parliament.
The rest were never gazetted.
And with the agenda for the last session spilling over, it is increasingly becoming a common trend that legislative agendas go begging, one after another until the whole term ends.
Some of the bills expected to be brought to Parliament this session include the Children’s Amendment Bill, the Bill to combine the existing War Veterans Act and Ex-Political Prisoners, Detainees and Restrictees Act and War Collaborators; Code of Corporate Governance Bill, National Security Council Bill, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill, and the Gender Commission of Zimbabwe Bill, which is actually an import from the previous session.
There is also the General Laws Amendment Bill which attempts to align 126 existing Acts to the national charter that has dragged on since Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013.
Some of the bills spelt out by the President, like the Local Authorities Bill, which seeks to harmonise the Urban Councils and the Rural District Councils Acts, and the Education Amendment Bill could actually fall under the General Laws Amendment Bill.
President Mugabe also outlined several Bills aimed at triggering economic revival that include an overhaul of the Companies Act and other legislation that are thought to hinder business development. These include the Zimbabwe Investment Bill, State Procurement Bill, the Special Economic Zones Bill and the Banking Amendment Bill as well as the Mineral Exploration and Marketing Corporation Bill, Consumer Protection Bill, and the National Competitiveness Commission Bill.
Analysts this week said while the Bill outline looked promising, there is very little to suggest that the legislative agenda will be met.
Parliamentary watchdog, Veritas, made an overall assessment of the bills and concluded that a combination of lethargic political will and Parliamentary ineptitude could lead to failure of the legislative agenda.
Veritas also noted that some of the bills not brought to Parliament during the first and second sessions, such as the Income Tax Bill and the Biological and Toxic Weapons Control Bill, could have been abandoned altogether, which is another signal of lack of impulsion to drive through the legislative agenda.
“The President refused to sign the (Income Tax) Bill into law and in December 2013, during the present Parliament’s first session, sent it back to Parliament for reconsideration in light of his reservations. That reconsideration did not take place promptly, as it should have, and the Bill was dropped from the Order Paper when the first session ended.
“In terms of Standing Orders, it is now too late to restore it to the Order Paper for reconsideration of the President’s reservations.
This means that income tax reform, if still in the government’s plans, will have to be tackled by starting all over again and submitting a new Bill to Parliament,” said Veritas in its analysis.
John Makamure, executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust, does not expect much.
“The legislative agenda is too ambitious and the previous sessions have taught us not to expect much as they dismally failed to live up to expectations. For as long as we do not change our approach to Parliamentary issues in this country, there will always be disappointments,” said Makamure.
Parliamentary Monitoring Trust director, Sibanengi Ncube, said: “Previous Parliaments and previous sessions have come and gone without any major success on the legislative front except where some interests are threatened. This is the problem we have when you do not hold legislators to account. A legislative agenda is set and there is no delivery and no one is bothered because MPs can get away with it and still be in office in the next Parliament.”
Despite, growing concerns, it seems unlikely that this longer-than-usual political honeymoon for President Mugabe’s administration and Parliament is ending anytime soon.
Everyone seems to be too busy getting along with their own socio-economic trials and tribulations to notice.