3 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Chikwinya Shoots in the Dark

There is always a struggle for relevance especially when elections are around the corner. Some suggestions by political players are barren, wayward, and thoughtless, and meant to attract attention even when odds are against them. The futile attempt by MDC-T's Settlement Chikwinya to introduce a Private Members Bill (Media Freedom and Transparency Bill) in Parliament aimed at replacing the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act during this Parliamentary session is more of a shot in the dark if the timing of the attempt is anything to go by.

While most jurisdictions across the world recognise the need to have back-benchers introduce Bills, the trend has always been that in as much as these bills stand some degree of success it is overall extremely unlikely that Private Members' Bills will ever make it onto the statute book.

The reason is clear, the executive, regardless of its composition does not want the legislature to appear to be wiser and sensitive than them. Experts say after failing to influence "meaningful reforms" in governance since the MDC-T entered the inclusive Government, the party was bound to make desperate attempts to portray itself as reformists albeit failed ones. And in panic after realising that the party is likely to go into the March 2013 elections without pushing their legislative agenda and staring a possible defeat, its legislators are being forced to move Bills that have no potential of success.

As one analyst said MP Chikwinya Bill was a false Private Members Bill, an MDC-T agenda. The party is not sure of the end-game so they are using Chikwinya to push their agenda. When the attempt does not succeed, they will say they were not involved but in an unlikely event that he succeeds, they will say this was our man.

He said it would be a falsehood to call it a Private Members Bill. Chikwinya is there to hedge MDC-T against a negative outcome. That is the reason why they have decided to use it as a Private Members Bill.

The party in general and Mr Chikwinya in particular have every reason to panic because odds are against them. Since the inception of the inclusive Government which ushered in a hung parliament, it is not easy to pass a Bill that is not supported by all the parties regardless of its origination.

Mr Chikwinya should spare some time to ask Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga the fate of his proposed amendments to the Referendums Act. He may also have to check what happened to the Bills steered by party Chief Whip Mr Innocent Gonese and legislator for Buhera Central Mr Tangwara Matimba.

Because of their very nature, MDC formations may reunite in their unholy and sometimes acrimonious matrimony to cause the passage of the Bill in the Lower House simply because a simple majority is required to pass a Bill. Even if it passes through the lower house the Bill is certainly going to meet the fate of Public Order and Security Act Amendment Bill that was shot down in the Upper House.

The Public Order and Security Act Amendment Bill, that was sponsored by MP Gonese is now destined for the dustbin despite renewed attempts to have it reconsidered in the Lower House.

Mr Chikwinya's attempts and donors' resources are destined for the same fate. It is crystal clear that the Senate will be the rock once again where the revolution is built. Even if the Senate refers the Bill to the House of Assembly as provided for by the law, the Lower House can send the Bill straight to the President as provided for by the law for his assent.

It is the President's prerogative to either assent to the Bill or not. In case of the latter, two-thirds majority of Parliamentarians would have to impeach the President but considering the composition of the two Houses, this can only be cloudcuckooland.

By pushing for a Private Members Bill, there are chances that the Legal Drafting Department in the Attorney General's office will take time to prepare the draft Bill hence will not pass through house before the dissolution of the Seven Parliament session.

In between the processes, the Bill would face a myriad of hitches along the way because the Parliamentary Legal Committee and the Cabinet Committee on Legislation would have to look at it not to mention that the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity would have to scrutinise the draft. It would take supersonic minds to outdo all these bottlenecks.

In essence, the draft might not even survive beyond the First reading considering the time left before the current Parliament lapses. With Zimbabwe expected to hold harmonised elections in three months time and to assume that the Bill would be fast-tracked within the remaining months would be naïve.

The media fraternity has already shot down the attempt leaving Mr Chikwinya a lone man. It is unfortunate that the supposed intended beneficiaries of the legislation have already rejected it. It therefore takes bankruptcy to pursue such a matter. By the way, we should not forget that Minister of State in the Prime Minister's office Mr Jameson Timba once confided in former US ambassador here Mr James McGee that he wanted to collapse the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity. It would have helped if Mr Chikwinya understood the rationale behind the delay in implementing the All Stakeholders Media conference that recommended the establishment of Media Practitioners Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill or Access to information Bill.

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