BILL WATCH 39/2020 - Bills in the National Assembly Last Week and This Week

BILL WATCH 39/2020

[23rd June 2020]

The National Assembly Sat Last Week and Continues This Week

The Senate’s Next Sitting Will Be on Tuesday 30th June

Bills Coming Up This Week

If the Leader of Government Business [the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs] wants the National Assembly to deal with all or most of the Bills listed below this week, MPs face a very heavy week. 

Fast-tracking expected for new Census and Statistics Amendment Bill

Although the brand-new Census and Statistics Amendment Bill [link] is bottom of the list of Bills on the Order Paper, the Minister is certain to press for it to be given priority.  It is truly urgent, as we explain below when outlining the special treatment it received last week; see under Why is the Bill so urgent? below. 

For Committee Stage

Items 1 and 2 on the Order Paper for Tuesday 23rd June are Bills that received their Second Readings last week [see below]:

Veterans of the Liberation Struggle [link]

Amendments by the Minister of Defence and War Veterans Affairs are already on the Order Paper for consideration.  They relate to clauses 2, 3 and 18 of the Bill.  The amendments provide for the use of the term “war veteran” instead of the term “liberation war fighter”, following MPs’ objections that the word “fighter” suggested that only those who fought were genuine veterans, thus excluding those veterans who did not bear arms.  Clause 3(2)(b), which now obliges the Minister to appoint the Commander of the Defence Forces to the Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Board, will be replaced by a paragraph providing for the Minister, after consultation with the President, to appoint “a war veteran … who shall be chairperson of the Board”. 

Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill [link]

When the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs moved that the Bill be read for the second time on 16th June, he referred to the fact that the Government had agreed to accept some of the amendments to the Bill proposed by the Portfolio Committee.  The amendments do not yet appear on the Order Paper for today, so there may be a further delay before the Bill is finalised and sent to the Senate. 

Bills for continuation of Second Reading debate

  • Constitutional Court Bill [link]
  • Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill [link]
  • Forest Amendment Bill [link]
  • National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Bill [link]

For launch of Second Reading stage with Minister’s Second Reading Speech

  • Financial Adjustments Bill [link]
  • Census and Statistics Amendment Bill [link] [see details below].

In the National Assembly Last Week

Second Reading stages completed

On Tuesday 16th June the House completed the Second Reading stages of the following two Bills:

  • Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill [link]  [There was no further debate, but the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, when moving the Second Reading, indicated that there would be Committee Stage amendments to deal with points made by the Portfolio Committee in its report.]
  • Veterans of the Liberation Struggle [link].  [Further debate took up the remainder of the afternoon.  The Deputy Minister of Defence and War Veterans Affairs replied to points made during a very wide-ranging debate, and the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs moved that the Bill be read for the second time.]

Wednesday and Thursday last week, however, passed without the Committee Stages having started.  Both Bills were, therefore, carried forward to this week.

Two Bills Presented in the National Assembly

On Wednesday 17th June two Bills were introduced in the National Assembly, given their First Readings and referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC] for reports on their consistency or otherwise with the Constitution.  Both Bills are available on the Veritas website at the links indicated below.

Census and Statistics Amendment Bill [link]

Early presentation and fast-tracking approved

This very short Bill has been accorded special priority by the Government since its approval by the Cabinet on 21st May.  It was gazetted on 12th June, only five days before 17th June , meaning that its presentation on 17th June required the prior permission of the House for the waiver of 14-day post-gazetting quarantine specified by Standing Order 134(1).  But the Government – correctly, for reasons given in the next paragraph – regards the Bill as very urgent.  The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, therefore, requested the permission of the House, by way of appropriate motions, not only to allow the Bill to be presented early but also to fast-tracked through its different stages subsequently.  These motions were approved without opposition or questions – presumably with MPs having been briefed beforehand on the reasons for treating the Bill as urgent.  Presentation of the Bill then proceeded and it was referred to the PLC.

Non-adverse report from PLC  

On Thursday 18th June receipt of the PLC’s non-adverse report was announced.  This means that its Second Reading and all subsequent stages can be taken before the end of this week.  The Senate will then be able to deal with the Bill next week and the President could gazette it as an Act shortly after that.   

Why is the Bill so urgent?  

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] must conduct a new delimitation of constituencies and wards before the 2023 harmonised elections.  The present constituency and ward boundaries were delimited in 2005 and are seriously out of date – and it would be unthinkable for them to be used for the purpose of the 2023 elections.  .  Section 161 of the Constitution requires ZEC, when conducting a delimitation exercise, to take into account census data among other things.  But by law the last national census under the Census and Statistics Act was in 2012 and the next the next census will be in 2022.  This timing creates two problems:

  • the results of the last census, in 2012, are so out of date as to be unfit for the purpose of a delimitation exercise;
  • the results of the 2022 census, will not be available early enough for ZEC to carry out a thorough delimitation exercise in time for the new constituencies and wards to be used in the mid-2023 harmonised elections.  And all agree that a thorough delimitation exercise is necessary.

The Bill’s simple solution to the problem is to amend the Census and Statistics Act to require the next census to completed by 1st July 2021.  The sooner the Bill becomes law and there is certainty on the point, the better.  A National Census is a mammoth exercise, which take some years to organise, and accelerating an already planned programme will not be an easy undertaking for the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency.   After the proposed 2021 census, National Censuses will follow a new 10-year cycle – 2031, 2041 and so on.    

Note:  This is another example of an unnecessary difficulty created by the Government’s dilatory approach to the question of aligning pre-existing laws with the 2013 Constitution.   The problems posed by the Constitution’s linkage between the delimitation of electoral boundaries and national census and the statutory timing of national censuses have been apparent for years.  The Government has, until now, chosen to tackle these problems by plans to amend the Constitution by deleting the delimitation-census linkage from section 161 – that is what  clause 12 of the currently stalled Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill provides.  In doing so it has ignored Veritas’ advice to align the Census and Statistics Act with the Constitution; see Constitution Watch 3/2020 of 28th January 2020 [link].   

Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill [link]

This long-awaited Bill, having been gazetted on 15th May, comfortably met Standing Order 134(1)’s requirement that there be at least a 14-day gap between gazetting and presentation.  Its presentation, First Reading and referral to the PLC were, therefore, routine.  Veritas will be summarising and commenting on the Bill in a separate bulletin in due course.

Note: Parliament has already called for submission of written comments on the Bill on or before Friday 26th June; see Bill Watch 37/2020 [link].   A decision is due this week on the itinerary for public hearings  on this Bill to be conducted jointly by the Portfolio Committees on ICT, Postal and Courier Services and Information, Media and Broadcasting Services – so an announcement of the public hearings programme is expected shortly. 

Other Business: Ministerial Statements

There were two Ministerial statements on the afternoon of Thursday 18th June:

Reopening of Informal Sector During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Minister of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Hon Sithembiso Nyoni, delivered her Ministerial Statement and answered numerous points of clarification raised by MPs.

Wetlands Management  The Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Hon Mangaliso Ndlovu, followed with his Ministerial Statement in response to a report by the Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism on Wetland Management which had been submitted to the House in February 2020. He also dealt with numerous points on which MPs sought clarification.

Before adjourning until 23rd June, MPs praised both Ministers for comprehensive and informative statements and their mastery of the subject matter as demonstrated in their responses to requests for clarification.

Other Business: PLC Report on May Statutory Instruments

On Wednesday received non-adverse reports on all statutory instruments published in the Government Gazette during the month of May 2020, i.e., SIs 97 to 123.


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