Home » Governance » Pass Laws On Their Merits, Not Source [opinion]

Mr Speaker, Sir

Our parliamentarians, albeit a few of them, are slowly getting there, unless the momentum is deflated by some forces.

MPs are now refusing to be bulldozed into rubber-stamping legislation that originates from the Executive, who often are their superiors in the party, in the case of the ruling Zanu-PF.

It would appear it has suddenly dawned on them that they are constitutionally cushioned if they demand to be respected and be allowed to act in accordance with the dictates of the supreme law of the land.

They cite Section 141 of the Constitution in defending their position though sometimes they misdirect it.

The section on public access to and involvement in Parliament states that it must, among other things, facilitate public involvement in its legislative and other processes and in the processes of its committees and ensure that interested parties are consulted about Bills being considered by Parliament.

One of the major threats to our parliamentarians serving us is polarisation and fear of the unknown as they sometimes heckle each other instead of scrutinising Bills from a non-partisan perspective.

While some people may not care about what happens in Parliament, it actually matters how MPs behave when Bills are brought before them because the outcome is what makes it into our statutes.

It is therefore important that our representatives ensure that people’s aspirations are achieved through enacting legislation that serves their interests.

To that end, it is heartening that a handful of our MPs are saying enough is enough by demanding their place in the law-making process.

Home Affairs secretary Melusi Matshiya appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services earlier this week to give evidence on the rationale behind seeking to fast track the Trafficking in Persons Bill through Parliament.

Matshiya said any delays in passing the legislation would cost Zimbabwe a lot in terms of economic co-operation with countries that have passed the law, adding that the Financial Action Taskforce (FAT) would also impose sanctions on Zimbabwe.

He implored Parliament to immediately pass the Bill adding that other concerns would be considered for amendment when the law has already been promulgated.

To convince legislators of the urgent need to pass the Bill, Mr Matshiya gave a graphic description of how human trafficking affected women hence the need to nip the menace in the bud.

But legislators could not be swayed into submission as they demanded that the third pillar of the State be allowed to play its role.

Committee chairperson Clifford Sibanda, MP for Bubi, said it was wrong for the Ministry of Home Affairs to defy the Constitution on Section 141 by seeking to fast track enactment of the Bill without following proper procedures.

“In (the year) 2000 we signed the protocol,” he said.

“Fourteen years down the line you now want to stampede the two Houses (Senate and the National Assembly) and now when we are saying can you give us the processes of the Constitution now you are begging us that you guys are not sensitive to this issue…

“What Parliament is demanding is constitutionality. We need to behave in a constitutional manner. People just passed the Constitution ‘yesterday’ (last year) and we are now being begged, Mr Permanent Secretary, not to follow it because it’s urgent?”

Buhera South MP Joseph Chinotimba quipped: “What were you doing all along when we all knew about human trafficking from a long time ago but now you want to rush us to pass this as if we knew about it yesterday?”

Southerton MP Gift Chimanikire questioned why Matshiya said they expected Parliament to regularise the Bill as if they did not expect the third arm of the State to scrutinise it and determine on its own if it should pass or reject it.

“This is the attitude that we are concerned with that we are there to regularise without following the necessary protocol that is constitutional.

“That statement actually does undo his appeal to some of us. If we are going to sit here just to regularise what ministries would have drafted then we have problems,” said Chimanikire.

Buhera West MP Oliver Mandipaka added: “Can we rush to pass the Bill at the expense of constitutional provisions?”

The Executive will rightfully argue that the Constitution says it is the role of Parliament to ensure public involvement in law making not the former.

But how does Parliament perform those roles when the same Executive through Treasury has not availed money for such purposes?

The buck still stops with the Executive by capacitating the Legislature so that it can perform its duties without fear or favour.

Let’s face it rushing legislation through Parliament will not do us any good because our MPs must do the job properly.

But still there is something I do not understand about MPs because they often change goalposts for expedience deviating from a principled position.

The problem we have is that legislators from the ruling Zanu-PF sometimes do not even debate when Bills are brought before the House, especially in the Senate, maybe because they do not want to delay passage of the law or to be seen to be challenging ministers who are also their superiors at party level.

On the other hand, we have the opposition MDC-T legislators who believe every Bill that is brought to Parliament would benefit Zanu-PF alone.

As such, they oppose or do everything possible to delay the process.

For instance, they want every Bill to go through the Copac process (outreach) but how many Bills would have been aligned with the Constitution by 2018 if the more than 400 laws that await alignment are all taken to an outreach?

It would be naiumlve on the part of MPs to suggest that every Bill be taken to the public given the economic challenges the country faces.

We are indeed at a crossroads but the Executive must show goodwill when they bring Bills before Parliament and effect reasonable amendments as and when they are proposed by MPs because collective wisdom is always good.

Ministers must accept that they are not the alpha and omega of wisdom because they were only fortunate to be appointed ministers yet there could be backbenchers who are experts in certain areas than them.

It would be unfortunate for us to spend millions of dollars on about 300 backbencher MPs who are just there to rubberstamp Bills without scrutinising them or their proposals not being taken on board.

It has become common knowledge that Bills just pass through Parliament as a routine process when in actually fact they must past the test of scrutiny.

The only way for us to have proper legislation is to consider Bills on merit, not who originates them.

Source : The Herald