The Senate had its turn in Parliament last week. It sat from Tuesday 15th to Thursday 17th September and then adjourned until Tuesday 22nd September.

As the National Assembly was already in recess until 22nd September, both Houses will be sitting this coming week [presumably not all MPs and Senators will be present in person, but some will join in virtually]. The end of 2019/2020 Parliamentary session is approaching.

This bulletin deals focuses on Senate business conducted last week. A separate bulletin will deal with the business due to come up in both Houses this week.

Tuesday 15th September

Receipt of Bills from National Assembly

The President of the Senate announced that three Bills had been received from the National Assembly: the Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill; the Finance Bill; and the National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Bill.

2020 Edition of Standing Orders approved again after reconsideration

On 9th June the Senate had approved the 2020 Edition of Senate Standing Orders subject to the deletion of Standing Order 79(d), which prohibited any singing whatsoever during proceedings in the Senate.

The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs had agreed to the deletion on that occasion. Now, however, the Minister moved a motion for Standing Order 79 (d) to be restored, “to allow synchronisation with the corresponding National Assembly Standing Order which bans singing in the Chamber”.

Senators approved the motion without debate, apparently abandoning their previous desire to feel free to break into song when appropriate.

Constitutional Court Bill

This had been amended by the National Assembly. The Bill as amended went through the Committee Stage and Third Reading completely without debate, enabling Senators to disband for the day just before 3 pm after a 29-minute sitting.

Wednesday 16th September

Appointment of Leader of Government Business in the Senate

The President of the Senate announced that the President had appointed Hon Senator Monica Mutsvangwa to be the Leader of Government Business in the Senate with immediate effect. This will probably lighten the workload of Hon Ziyambi Ziyambi who is Leader of Government Business in Parliament.

Teething Troubles with Electronic Gadgets and Virtual Attendance

The following remarks delivered by the President of the Senate will give an idea of how Parliament is slowly adapting its procedures to cope with COVID-19 restrictions:

“In order to maintain social distancing, Hon. Senators can make their contributions from wherever they are connected. For this reason, Hon. Senators are advised to bring and speak into their gadgets [Note: All MPs have been issued with iPads] to enable those Senators who are not in the Chamber to follow proceedings.

Consequently, any Member who does not bring his/ her ICT gadget will not be allowed to speak. In the same vein, members who are not contributing must put their gadgets on mute to avoid interferences in the House.”

Fast-tracking resolution approved

The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs secured approval of a motion for fast-tracking all Government business, including Bills, for the afternoon and for the next series of sittings.

He had already secured approval from the National Assembly. So fast-tracking will be applicable in both Houses during the next few days.

Attorney-General’s Office Amendment Bill

After the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs’ Second Reading speech those Senators who contributed all acclaimed the Bill. The Committee Stage was completed without debate and the Bill finally passed by, being given its Third Reading.

National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Bill

The same happened to this Bill, also piloted by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

Finance Bill [as amended by the National Assembly]

The Minister of Finance and Economic Development delivered his Second Reading speech summarising the Bill, as passed by the National Assembly on 10th September. Senators raised several points in their contributions.

Responding to a suggestion that the income tax threshold should be increased for the benefit of low-income earners such as civil servants, the Minister said this discussion should wait until the proceedings on the 2021 annual Budget in November, due for presentation in November; this would be preceded by a pre-Budget Seminar, which would probably take place virtually to meet COVID-19 restrictions.

He replied in similar fashion to Senator Mohadi’s “persuasive” suggestion that at least a portion of revenue from taxation generated at ports of entry should be reserved for the benefit of ports of entry [Beitbridge, in Senator Mohadi’s home area, being a case in point].

There was no debate in the Committee Stage, so the Senate went on to pass the Bill and adjourn for the day at 4.14 pm, having sat for less than two hours.

Bills carried forward

At the end of the afternoon’s sitting the only two Bills that remained on the Senate’s Order Paper were the :

· Marriages Bill [as amended by the National Assembly]

· The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 1) Bill.

Thursday 17th September

Question Time

Senator Mutsvangwa, now Leader of Government Business in the Senate, was present for the first time since the announcement of her appointment on Wednesday.

As one of her functions in this office is to answer questions on Government policy during Questions without Notice if the responsible Minister is not present. Hon Mutsvangwa found herself answering several questions on behalf of absent Ministerial colleagues.

Questions Without Notice

Senator’s questions on Government policy covered a wide range of issues, including:

Status of national soccer stadiums: The Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation said the National Sports Stadium in Harare and Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo had been renovated to meet Confederation of African Football [CAF] requirements – apart from seating and electronic ticketing, procurement of which was at the tender stage.

She expressed confidence that CAF would give the go-ahead for international fixtures.

Two Bills about Sport being worked on by Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation: Hon Coventry also said her Ministry was, in conjunction with the legislative drafters in the Attorney-General’s Office, working on the Sport Integrity Bill [to ensure good governance in sporting organisations and protect athletes from abuse, doping etc] and a Bill to repeal and replace the existing Sports and Recreation Act and Boxing and Wrestling Control Act [she hinted that the prohibition on women boxers is to be scrapped].

Shops must display prices of goods in both ZWL and Forex: The Minister of Industry and Commerce, Hon Dr Kanhutu-Nzenza, replying to questions about retailers’ failing to display prices in both ZWL and forex and also using the black-market exchange rate, said it was Government policy that the law must be complied with and offenders would be prosecuted.

On businessmen, particularly in rural areas, refusing to accept payments in Ecocash, she said her Ministry would work with the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services to make both customers and businesses better informed on legal requirements.

Payment of cotton farmers in forex: In response to a question about cotton farmers being paid in kind for their crop, e.g., with groceries, Hon Karoro, Deputy Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, said this was not Government policy, but had arisen because of a liquidity problem in the fiscus and also from farmers difficulties in opening FCA accounts in banks.

He hoped that, following recent meetings with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, both problems would be resolved.

Command Agriculture farmers’ problems with banks’ interest charges: Hon Karoro said the bank now managing Command Agriculture had not changed the rules regarding interest. Farmers’ ignorance on the issue of interest was probably because, in their eagerness to access funds, they had signed the relevant bank documents without reading and understanding them properly.

Vetting of beneficiaries under new, Veterans of the Liberation Struggle Act: Standing in for the Minister of Defence, Hon Mutsvangwa assured Senators that teams would be travelling around the country to vet the additional classes of veterans provided for under the Act, including chimbwidos and mujibhas.

Written questions with notice were curtailed to allow presentation of Ministerial Statements.

Two Ministerial Statements [these will soon available on Veritas website]

The Deputy Ministers of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, repeated the statements made by the Minister, Hon Masuka, in the National Assembly last week. The sitting ended with both Deputy Ministers responding to Senators’ requests for clarification on particular points.

Statement regarding the State of Water Sources in Urban Areas

Deputy Minister Karoro delivered this statement. In response to information that some boreholes drilled by Government in rural areas had collapsed because they had not been cased, he said failing to case the boreholes had been an indefensible waste of resources; he asked the chiefs to report instances to the Ministry so that follow-up action could be taken.

Statement regarding Climate-proofed Agriculture – the Pfumvudza Programme

Deputy Minister Haritatos told Senators that the programme’s aim is to address household food security as well as the commercialisation of smallholder farming in Zimbabwe, enabling each of 1.8 million smallholder households to produce one tonne of cereals and 0.2 tonnes of oilseeds (sunflower or soya bean).

The expected total output would be 1.8 million tonnes of cereals and 360 000 tonnes of oil seed. Distribution of inputs should be completed by the end of October.

The more than 5 294 specially trained extension workers had already trained 3 255 378 farmers (1 483 195 males, 1 772 183 females) and training is continuing. The necessity for mulching is being stressed and explained. Extension workers will monitor farmers until the crops are harvested.

Senators received the statement with enthusiasm, requesting clarification on some points. Hon Haritatos obliged and ended the afternoon’s sitting with a positive prediction:

“In the coming seasons, I doubt that we will have to import even a grain of any crop that we need be it maize, be it wheat. I believe that this will be the last season that we have to import.”