- Last Updated on 01 November 2012
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The Legislative agenda for the 5th session of Parliament, as presented at its opening by the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Mr. Robert Mugabe, had nothing much to offer by way of a legislative agenda that can facilitate the spirit of free and fair elections in the coming year. After the Opening of Parliament, one of the local Daily Papers, The Herald, on the 31st of October 2012, led with, "Mugabe Sets Tone for Elections €. Given the occasion at which this tone is supposed to have been set, one would have thought that something on the agenda of the 5th Session of Parliament is what set this tone. However, this was not the case. Of the eight Bills to be tabled before parliament only three can be remotely related to the issue of elections or adversely affect them, while none actually facilitate the country's current pursuit of free and fair elections in 2013.
Attorney General's Amendment Bill
The Attorney General's Amendment Bill is one of the bills remotely related or having some impact on the Harmonized Elections, which necessity demands take place sometime in 2013, and the President wishes to be in March of the same year. The president said sections of the Attorney General's Act that "potentially infringe on the independence of that office, enshrined in the Constitution € shall be amended through the Attorney General's Amendment Bill which will be tabled for debate during this new session.
The proof of the pudding, on this one will obviously be in the eating, but we recall that outside what is proposed to be the essence of the changes proposed by the bill, the Current Attorney General was constantly referred to as an "outstanding issue € in the Global Political Agreement. Without becoming petty, the issue really has always been around the conduct of the Attorney General and his officers around impartiality and facilitating justice. The practice has often been that instead of facilitating justice, the Office has often perpetuated injustice, selectively prosecution on 'political cases' and has acted in unprofessional and partisan manners.
Given the easy resort to violence, extra-judicial killings, and enforced disappearances by some key political players as evidenced by the episodes of 2008, it is important for the office of the Attorney General to be occupied by a qualified, professional and non-partisan individual, who does not look at some members of our society with rose tainted glasses, while he/she looks at others with blood shot red eyes.
The hope is that the bill does not become a doubled edged sword, which seems intent on addressing gaps, while at the same time lending legitimacy to an office holder who is considered to be partisan in the way he carries his duties and whose conduct has not changed in the Inclusive Government era.
Minerals Amendment Bill
The president said that there would be a look at "the Mineral Amendment Bill, which seeks to facilitate increased mineral production, provide a more competitive mining legislative framework, and facilitate continuous exploration and local beneficiation of minerals. € He further revealed that Government, through the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, a state company at the centre of controversy around diamond revenues, is resuscitating the Mining Promotion Corporation, a company which will spearhead intensive exploration activities. Already, the company has purchased equipment worth US$ 4 million for eventual use.
The above seem to be noble initiatives; the one alarm bell that readily rings is around the bill's intent on legalizing current illegal mining activities. This too in a normal situation may seem like a noble end, but in Zimbabwe, where we know that authorities have not only turned a blind eye to some illegal mining activities but also stand accused of parceling out illegal mining rights on a partisan basis. The Crisis Report recently reported that there were allegations in Kwekwe that mining rights were being given out to ZANU PF members with declarations from the party's officials that anyone from outside of ZANU PF and the Midlands province would not be allowed on to the gold fields.
As such, while regularization is a good thing, it is hoped that this regularization is dissimilar to what we saw with the land question, and that access to legal mining opportunities will not be availed on a party basis, but that only qualifications to mine should be that one is capable of producing, and that they are nationals. Like many other Zimbabweans eking a living informally, artisanal miners (illegal panners) contribute to the economy, and their formal recognition and decriminalization will be positive for them and the country.
Conspicuous by its absence from talk around this bill by the President, was the issue of transparency in resource extraction. Outside artisanal mining, there are suspicions that there are too many leakages to the economy through opaque frameworks for the extraction of minerals in the country, and limited deposits to the national fiscus. This has been fermented further by suspicions that dividends that are undeclared may be stocking up electoral war chests of ZANU PF, given the reality that it is their members who have greater access to mining opportunities, a situation that can have negative consequences for the country come elections in 2013.
The President presented the reasonable notion that the Zimbabwe Diamond Policy, which is now in place, entailed the amendment of the Precious Stones Trade Act and promulgation of a Diamond Act. The above is indeed a necessity, especially from a strengthening perspective, as many have suggested t that the Diamond Policy, which aimed at stringently monitoring the value chain, did not change much because it did not deal with issues of concern outside just flow of revenue like the militarization of the sector, and effectively stemming smuggling and other un understood leakages related to sentiments shared in the above section.
The other unclear aspect is the thrust of these two related Bills - the Precious Stones Trade Amendment Bill and the Diamond Bill. This is not to say that the bills are unworthy of sponsorship and scrutiny, on the contrary, they are worth a closer look as they fall in the category of areas, which have been considered shoddy in resources extraction i.e. diamond mining and minerals trade. Clarity will be needed around what elements of the diamond policy will be guiding these Bills, the extent to which they are compliant with the global movement around transparency and accountability in mineral extraction, devoid of partisan deals, and insulated from hoarding of war chests for opaque political reasons.
Investment Authority Bill
According to the President, the Bill seeks to increase the country's competitiveness as an investment destination in line with the Governments Medium Term Plan. The bill is of interest to us because of the reasons that were sighted by the President as impediments to investment. Our contention is that it is commendable for the government to do all it can to lure investors to invest in our country and to ensure the Global competitiveness of brand Zimbabwe. However progress in that regard begins with an honest assessment. Attributing low growth in the economy to scapegoats such as "illegal sanctions €, without calling the President a liar is simply not honest. The Business Council of Zimbabwe is on record as saying that some the biggest challenges to investment are found within the government and the way they govern. Amongst other elements they list, Policy inconsistency, Policy unpredictability, political uncertainty and uncertainty around protection of property and rights. These are the real impediments to Investor Confidence in Brand Zimbabwe, and in dealing with the problem this honest place is the place to start. Allusions to the tried and tired mantras of 'sanctions' is not meant to present a sound argument, but are clearly indicative of the bully electoral mode that the President is getting into through a repetition of his Election Campaign Stump speeches and key talking points.
Other issues of note in the President's Speech
The President also touched on some issues as part of the address, which have an impact on the political fortunes of the country.
Constitution making process
While all indicators point to the fact that the country is not only ready for free and fair elections now, but also will not be ready for such by March 2013, President Mugabe continue to insist on his wish to have the National Plebiscite held in March 2013. In a bid to push through this unrealistic time frame, the President in his address revealed that the constitution making process would be sped up by putting it under the management of government.
"There is now need for Government to assume the management of the process leading to the holding of a Referendum, € he said.
This move which has been allied to the President's Statements at the 2nd All Stakeholders Conference that, "the Principals will have the final say on the draft €, is largely seen as a dangerous move, which jeopardizes further, the possibilities of the draft constitution being adopted at a referendum. These fears are not unfounded and without precedence. In 2000 during the constitutional reform process that was led by the President Appointed Constitutional Commission, a draft was rejected at a referendum. The reasons given were related to the process, and also accusations of executive editing of the people views. In that instance, the President of Zimbabwe nicodemously made at least 58 changes to the Constitutional Commission draft, fundamentally altering it and increasing the impetus for its rejection. Outside the real possibility as expressed above, the proposed executive intervention brings a lot of uncertainty on the fate of the constitution making process should a government usurp the management of the constitution making process from Parliament. In addition, there is no clarity on exactly what the Executive would do with the draft, except utterances by the President that the 'Principals shall find mechanisms of finding consensus in order to move forward'.
The President's sentiments, which other Principals, (Prime Minister M.R.Tsvangirai and Professor W. Ncube) are reported to have distanced themselves from are important in as far as his plan has an impact on the electoral calendar but also in as much as it shows us the total disregard to process that has been characteristic of the conduct of the GNU especially ZANU PF.
However, the move is more threatening in light of speculation that some sections of the party that the President leads, ZANU PF, are suspected to be intent on halting the emergence and adoption of a new Principle Charter for the country in order to go into the next elections under the current, undemocratic constitutional regime, which does not auger well for free and fair elections.
All the above, are in addition to the fact that the GPA does not give the three principals any specific or special role in the constitution making process, but stipulates in Article 6 that it is Parliament that is supposed to debate the draft Constitution and the Second All Stakeholders Report. In fact, as a matter of usage, it is the GPA negotiators who also form the Management Committee of COPAC who have been resolving contentious matters of the constitution making process and the GPA in general, not the principals in any direct capacity. It has been speculated that on current form it seems that ZANU PF has been outwitted by the 2 MDC Formations through their negotiators, and the attempt to have the matters resolved at the levels of the Principals is an attempt to reconfigure the players because of, on one hand, a loss of confidence by some powerful quarters in ZANU PF, of Ministers Chinamasa and Goche, and on the other hand, an attempt to isolate Morgan Tsvangirai through the insistence by the President that Professor Welshman Ncube is not a Principal, choosing to side with Professor Mutambara, who at this point seems to be more amenable to Mugabe's agenda.
Timeframe for elections
The president, as stated above, reiterated that, "the next harmonized elections will be held under a new constitution in March 2013 €. The challenge presented by this timeframe is that the short period now left leading to March 2013 presents challenges on several fronts. Firstly, on the assumption that a new constitution is adopted in January 2012, there will be hardly any time to ensure that meaningful transitional arrangements are instituted from the old Constitutional order to the new one. Secondly, it is not realistic to imagine that there can be any other business conducted outside that of constitutional reform, leading to some key issues related to the preparation of free and fair elections being neglected. Foremost amongst these issues that need to be dealt with ahead of elections, which will be neglected through the rushed constitution making and elections process are issue of Security sector realignment to ensure the military stays away and out of civilian political processes, and a progressive institutional reform agenda around the elections management body, the judiciary and the public service in general.
The above buttresses the suspicion that President Mugabe's rushed calendar and actions are all a ploy by the president to scuttle reform around election related issues.
Violence and elections
The one positive thing which is linked to elections to have emerged from the President's Speech, was his call that;
"Let us all shun violence in all its forms and manifestations and latent forms, especially as we look forward to our national elections. €
While these statements are encouraged and indeed commendable, our contention remains that a 'man of words without deeds is like a garden full of weeds', no one needs it. The President and the party he leads, just like all other political actors, need to walk their talk and turn their verbal expressions and love for peace to be seen in their deeds and actions. Statements such as those made repeatedly by some Service Chiefs and by Justice Minister Chimanasa, to the effect that the security forces will not salute any one that wins the next polls who did not participate in the liberation struggle to ZANU PF standard, falls squarely under the category of latent forms of violence. What is worse is that in some areas of Manicaland, in Mudzi and other areas, overt physical violence is still the choice weapon of dealing with perceived [political opponents. The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) has been consistently reporting over 365 cases of politically motivated violence a month since the year began, the average monthly rate is said be about 400 cases per month. Such a call for peace by the President in his speech at the opening of the Fifth Session of the Seventh Parliament may be hollow without proper action to reign in some members of his own party.