BILL WATCH 36/2020 - Senate Sittings 9th and 10th June

BILL WATCH 36/2020

[15th June 2020]

The Senate met on 9th and 10th June

The National Assembly will Sit on Tuesday 16th June

The Senate resumed sittings on Tuesday 9th June for the first time since 20th May.  Senators used the National Assembly chamber and other rooms within the Parliament building connected by audio-visual network to the Assembly Chamber.  Only two Senate sittings took place – the first, on Tuesday 9th June, lasted from prayers at 2.30 pm until 3.55 pm, and the second was even shorter, from 2.30 pm until 2.59 pm.  Attendance was good – 72 out of 79 Senators on Tuesday and 74 on Wednesday.  The Senate then adjourned until Tuesday 30th June.  

.Tuesday 9th June – Approval of new Senate Standing Orders

The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs introduced a motion for the approval of the 2020 edition of the Senate’s Standing Orders, incorporating changes prepared by the Legal Committee of the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.  Senators had been given ample opportunity to comment on an earlier draft.  Senator Komichi started the debate by complaining that the new rules would make the Senate like a prison because Senators would find their freedom being grossly curtailed.  His particular concern was that Senators would be prevented from expressing their feelings when the President came to Parliament or on other occasions, for example, by singing.  He did not specify which particular provisions he objected to, nor did most of the other Senators manage to do so, leading the President of the Senate to plead with Senators to be more focussed.  Most Senators seemed to support adoption of the new rules.  

When the Minister responded to the debate, he agreed to the removal of clause 79(d), which would have prohibited any singing whatsoever, but insisted on the retention of the new clause 87 which expressly requires members present to rise when the President enters the chamber, and clause 111 which allows the President of the Senate a wide discretion to deal with undefined “disorderly conduct”.  So it will be still be possible, as the Minister pointed out, for presiding officers to act against with disorderly or offensive singing.

Senators then approved the new rules on that basis, and the Senate adjourned until Wednesday.

Wednesday 10th June – Marriages Bill Second Reading Debate Day 1

The afternoon’s sitting was devoted to the beginning of the Second Reading stage of the Marriages Bill as amended by the National Assembly before transmission to the Senate on 4th June.  The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs’ Second Reading speech was followed by brief contributions from Senator Chief Charumbira and Senators Tongogora, Chabuka and Chimbudzi, followed by Senator Chief Ntabeni.  Debate was then adjourned to allow other Senators to look at the amended Bill and contribute at the Senate’s next sitting on Tuesday 30th June.  

Minister’s speech [link]

In his speech the Minister reassured Senators that the Bill will not revolutionise or overturn the marriage institution or subvert cultural values.  Those who think so, he said, think wrongly.  He went on to discuss several salient features of the Bill.

A single Act for all marriages  The Bill is intended to cater for all marriages in Zimbabwe in a single Act, rather than having one Act for civil monogamous marriages and another for customary polygamous or potentially polygamous marriages.  The Bill, however, maintains the distinction between the two types of marriages.

Unregistered/unsolemnised customary unions  The Minister assured Senators that the Bill will not abolish roora or lobola.  But the Bill will no longer require a customary marriage officer to satisfy himself or herself that there has been an agreement on roora or lobola, before solemnising a customary marriage.  This requirement, the Minister said, was why the majority of existing customary and non-customary unions were unregistered, and its abolition would solve the problem.

Civil partnerships – original clause 40 [now clause 41 of the amended Bill]  This clause has survived the stormy controversy that arose before and after the Bill was first gazetted – and the Cabinet’s initial knee-jerk decision to drop the clause in reaction to that controversy.  The Minister assured Senators that there is no sinister intention behind this clause and never had been.  It is “an attempt in good faith to help those women stranded between marriage and non-marriage”.  It lays down rules for what should happen to property purchased during an unregistered customary law union that later comes to an end.  In commending the clause to Senators, the Minister said the National Assembly had considered the clause in its present form to be a fair and just measure.

Child marriage  The Bill prohibits both civil and customary marriages between boys and girls under 18, thus bringing the law into line with the Constitution and giving effect to the 2015 judgment in Veritas’ Constitutional Court’s case outlawing child marriage.  The Bill provides heavy penalties for anyone assisting, encouraging or permitting a child to marry; if parents do so, that will be an aggravating feature when the court imposes sentence.  

Chiefs as marriage officers  Chiefs will qualify for designation by the Minister as marriage officers within their districts for both civil and customary marriages, subject to conditions prescribed in regulations.  The Minister indicated that training will be required before designation – just as it presently is and will still be for priests and pastors.  Magistrates will be the only ex officio marriage officers. 

Ambassadors as marriage officers  Clause 10 of the amended Bill is a new clause added by the National Assembly at the Minister’s request.  It allows heads of Zimbabwe’s diplomatic and consular missions to perform marriages outside Zimbabwe as long as one of the parties is a Zimbabwean citizen.  [This insertion required the renumbering of the Bill’s remaining clauses, including clause 40, now 41 as mentioned above].

Senators’ contributions to the debate

Senator Chief Charumbira, President of the Council of Chiefs, welcomed the Bill, particularly the provision for chiefs to be marriage officers in their districts.  He said this would lead to a marked improvement in the registration of customary marriages.  Under the present law it is necessary to travel to the district centre to have a customary marriage solemnised, which, he said, has been the main reason why there have been so many unregistered marriages in the past.  He predicted that most customary marriages would now be registered.

Other Senators briefly welcomed the Bill, echoing Senator Chief Charumbira.  

Liaison and Co-ordination Committee Retreat in Bulawayo

Composition and functions of the Liaison and Co-ordination Committee [LCC]  It is a Committee of Parliament consisting of the chairpersons of all portfolio and thematic committees, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, the Chief Whips of the governing and main opposition parties in both Houses, the chairperson and vice-chairperson of the Women’s Caucus and the President and Deputy President of the Chiefs Council.  Its functions are to co-ordinate and liaise on the scheduling of all committee business, liaise with the Speaker and the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders, liaise and co-ordinate with the Speaker on MPs’ attendance at conference, seminars, workshops and other functions or occasions, and finally to produce annual reports to the Houses on all committee business and activities and events in which MPs participated.

The Purpose of the retreat held over last weekend in Bulawayo was to review committees’ performance during the First Session of the present Parliament [2018-2019] and their performance so far in the Second Session.  

Opening address by the Speaker  Officially opening the LCC retreat in Bulawayo on 12th June, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon Jacob Mudenda, expressed shock at the situation revealed by an analysis of MPs’ attendance at Parliament committee meetings which was presented by the LCC chairperson, ZANU PF Chief Whip Hon Pupurai Togarepi.  The analysis showed that some MPs had not attended any meetings, while others had attended only one or two.  The Speaker reminded MPs that non-attendance at committee meetings constitutes both failure to meet the expectations of the electorate and breach of an MP’s oath of office, and said that lists of the culprits would be sent to their political parties. 

He also reminded the LCC that committees should be implementing Parliament’s responsibility for oversight of the Executive by actively monitoring Government’s expenditure on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic was not going astray, for instance, in corrupt deals or because of mismanagement. 

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