9 January 2013

Zimbabwe: MPs' Last Supper

ONE of the enduring lessons to be drawn from the biblical Last Supper is that people should live by faith through serving others instead of following the worldly influences of power.

In Zimbabwe, the country's lawmakers are slowly but surely heading towards their own celestial last supper since Parliament would be dissolved in the coming months to pave way for fresh polls.

The bicameral Parliament resumes sitting on February 7 to go through a crowded legislative schedule amid high expectations from Zimbabweans who expect their Members of Parliament to find ways to deliver an uncontested poll.

The forthcoming parliamentary seating, the last before the polls, will debate one of the most important bills since the country's independence in 1980 - the Constitutional Bill.

Its passage will give Zimbabwe its first ever home grown supreme law, replacing the one negotiated at Lancaster House in London to bring about majority rule in 1980.

As the last session of Parliament reaches the home stretch, MPs are being expected to push for more political reforms to avoid plunging the country into the same pitfalls that caused severe economic, social and political hardships after the inconclusive 2008 elections.

The bickering that followed the disputed polls forced the African Union and the Southern African Development Community to nudge the country's governing powers towards the formation of the inclusive government in February 2009.

This week, political analyst Gideon Chitanga, said the legislative assembly should urgently deal with all proposed legislation that would usher in political reforms to make it possible for Zimbabweans to pick up the pieces after the elections.

He said MPs should focus on amending or repealing draconian laws that restrict civil liberties, namely the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and sections of the Criminal Law Code.

"This has been expected ever since the inception of the inclusive government. This will be critical in enabling credible, free and fair elections whose legitimacy will not be disputed and also setting the country on a clear path for democracy," he said.

Chitanga said while issues of political transition are critical, the electioneering season should not supersede issues of national development. Thus, the country should not be allowed to go on auto-pilot because of issues related to elections, making it imperative for MPs not to lose sight of economic issues such as outstanding bills related to the management of national resources especially diamonds.

Tied to that is the issue of national competiveness, which should allow the country to lure both domestic and international investors, taxation of incomes, investment and aviation issues.

Takavafira Zhou, an analyst, said after much haggling by politicians over the crafting of a constitution, lawmakers should ensure that when the Constitutional Bill is finally tabled in the august House, it should gather the necessary two-thirds majority required for it to see the light of day.

Zhou said parliamentarians should also set the tempo for a violence free poll and put in place mechanisms for the realisation of that goal.

"Also under the economy, if they can perfect the country's indigenisation law, they would have done better. There is also need for the synchronisation of the mining industry and the finance ministry so that the revenue base improves," said Zhou.

He, however, warned that it would not be possible to resolve all issues through the parliamentary platform as some contentious matters are likely to remain unresolved until election time.

The issues of security sector reform and of a national land audit are among the so called Global Political Agreement outstanding issues that are unlikely to be implemented.

Implementation of those reforms would be undermined by ZANU-PF's intransigence due to the belief that making too many concessions may threaten the party's grip on power.

Developments at the local government level also point to the need for the decentralisation of power to promote participatory governance, and ensure transparency and accountability as far as public resources are concerned.

Attempts by the Movement for Democratic Change to push through Parliament a private members Bill to amend the Urban Council's Act are being scuttled by ZANU-PF, which lost dominion over the majority of the country's municipalities to its governing partners in the 2008 general polls.

Precious Shumba, the coordinator of the Harare Residents Trust, said Parliament should consider harmonising local government laws because municipalities are failing to deliver as a result of disjointed legislative frameworks that give excessive authority and power to the Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development, Ignatius Chombo.

That centralisation of power is seen depriving the electorate of a workable link between their elected councillors and the whole councils' administration.

"Harmonisation of local government legislation is needed to ensure that the country has one consolidated piece of law dealing with local government issues. The country has the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act Chapter 29:12, the Urban Councils' Act Chapter 29:15, Traditional Leaders Act Chapter 29:17, Municipal Traffic Laws Enforcement Act Chapter 29:10, Provincial Councils and Administration Act Chapter 29:11, Housing Standards Control Act Chapter 29:08, and the Rural District Councils Act Chapter 29:13 among others that speak on the issues of local government in one way or the other," said Shumba.

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