BILL WATCH 24/2021
[20th April 2021]
Constitution Amendment (2) Bill Almost Through the National Assembly
Both Houses Will be Sitting This Week
The Senate’s passing of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 1) Bill, 2017 – this time by well over two-thirds of the Senate’s membership – was taken as the signal for the National Assembly to get on with the Second Reading and Committee Stages of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill. This took up much of the National Assembly’s time.
Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill
On Tuesday 13th April when the National Assembly resumed after its Easter Recess, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs resuscitated the Second Reading debate on the Constitution Amendment (No. 2) Bill. MPs had last discussed the Bill on 9th July 2020, when the Minister introduced it and delivered his Second Reading speech and the report [link] of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs on the Bill was presented. On that occasion only a few MPs spoke. On Tuesday, however, fifteen MPs were able to add their contributions during a period of over two hours.
On Wednesday 14th April after Question Time, the Minister prepared the ground for late sittings on this Bill by successfully moving that Standing Order 52 be suspended, from then and for the next series of sittings, which meant that debate could continue, if necessary, on this Bill after 7 pm that day and after 7 pm the following day, and even on Friday if necessary – a clear signal that the Government wished the House to complete the passage of this Bill and send it to the Senate by the end of the week.
Four further contributions to the Second Reading debate were then delivered by MPs, followed by the Minister’s response to points made by the Portfolio Committee in its report [link] on the Bill and by MPs during the course of the debate. In his response the Minister took the opportunity to explain the amendments he would be proposing to the Bill during the Committee Stage – which, he warned members, would be the following day.
On Thursday 15th April the Speaker, obviously anticipating that both the Committee Stage and the Third Reading of the Bill would be completed successfully during the sitting, made an announcement about arrangements for the Third Reading vote:
“I also wish to remind Hon. Members that their physical presence for voting on the Constitutional Amendment Bill is required. Members were advised yesterday at the conclusion of the Second Reading debate that business on the Constitution Amendment Bill will continue today. To comply with the COVID-19 regulations, Members will use both the Senate and the National Assembly Chambers. Members who will be in the two Chambers at the time the bells are stopped and the question is put upon which the House will be voting will be deemed to be present. Consequently, I advise all Members to be within the vicinity of Parliament to ensure that they avail themselves during the voting on the Bill.” [Comment: in fact the Bill did not go through the final Third Reading last week, but presumably these arrangements will be made for when it does.]
Only later in the afternoon’s sitting did the House go into Committee of the whole House for the start of the Committee Stage during which the Bill was amended, with amendments being proposed both by the Minister and by Hon Misihairabwi-Mushonga, two of whose amendments were accepted by the Minister and approved by the House. That completed the Committee Stage, and the Bill was then reported to the House “with amendments”.
Important Note: Some of the Minister’s proposed amendments were on the Order Paper [albeit in a somewhat muddled form] and some were not. Hon Misihairabwi-Mushonga’s were not on the Order Paper.
As this is a Bill amending the Constitution it should have been absolutely vital that:
- Parliamentarians should have prior notice of amendments
- If amendments substantially change a Constitution Amendment Bill then the Bill should be re-gazetted at least 90 days before being re-presented to Parliament and also have been subjected to fresh public consultation [Constitution, section 328 – “a Constitutional Bill may not be presented in the Senate or the National Assembly ... unless the Speaker has given at least ninety days’ notice in the Gazette of the precise terms of the Bill”].
It is essential that both constitutional and parliamentary procedures should be followed.
By rushing the Bill through [for whatever reason] the Government may in fact slow down the whole process by provoking legal challenges.
The Bill, as amended, is now scheduled to be considered by the full House on Tuesday 20th April. The House will then move on to the final vote on the Bill – the Third Reading vote – once the Minister is satisfied that he has enough MPs present to achieve the essential two-thirds affirmative votes for the Bill to be passed by the House in accordance with section 328 of the Constitution – 180 votes out of the 270 MPs that constitute the entire membership of the National Assembly under the Constitution.
So this week will, perhaps, see the Bill being passed by the National Assembly and sent to the Senate.
Coming up in the National Assembly This Week
Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill For consideration of the Bill, as amended during the Committee Stage, and possible Third Reading [see above].
Forest Amendment Bill [link] – for the start of the Committee Stage. Comprehensive amendments, all proposed by the Minister Environmental, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry, now appear on the Order Paper and are available on the Veritas website [link]
Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill [link] – also for the start of the Committee Stage, as it has been for such a long time. There are many pages of proposed amendments, emanating from both the Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services and the Portfolio Committee [all the amendments are captured in a document prepared by Veritas [link], available on our website]. The Minister‘s amendments are extensive and were summarised in Bill Watch 18/2021 [link]; if adopted, they will change the original Bill considerably.
Pension and Provident Funds Bill [link] – for the start of the Second Reading stage. Public hearings have now been conducted by the relevant portfolio committee.
Centre for Education, Innovation, Research and Development Bill [link] – for continuation of the Second Reading stage. The Minister has already delivered his Second Reading speech [link]. The next step is presentation of the Portfolio Committee’s report on the Bill and the virtual public hearings it has conducted.
Take-note motions on ZHRC and NPA reports
The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs has three such motions still on the Order Paper, all of them carried over from last year:
ZHRC Annual Reports for 2018 and 2019 [link]
ZHRC Report on National Inquiry on Access to Documentation in Zimbabwe [link] This is an important report on access to birth certificates and other identity documents.
NPA Annual Report for 2019 [link]
Other motions on reports
Quality assurance in the Higher and Tertiary Institutions in Zimbabwe Hon Maphosa’s presentation of the report by the Portfolio Committee on Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development is nearing the top of the Order Paper.
Coming up in the Senate This Week
Marriages Bill – Committee Stage
The Senate finally gave the Bill its Second Reading when it last sat. The Committee Stage is set down for Tuesday 20th April. The Minister’s Notice of Amendments is available on the Veritas website [link]. The amendments were summarised in Bill Watch 22/2021 [link].
Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill Depending on what happens in the National Assembly, this Bill, as amended by the National Assembly, may reach the Senate this week.