Both Houses of Zimbabwe’s bicameral parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate will resume sittings today, after long recesses, amid a backlog on Bills  and dodged questions.

The National Assembly last sat on Thursday 21st March, the Senate on Thursday 28th March.  The parliamentary sitting calendar shows that both Houses are scheduled to sit nine times from Tuesday 7th to Thursday 23rd May.

However, as it stands, only the two routine Budget Bills have been passed in that time, leaving all 30 Bills on the legislative agenda at various stages to be completed in the next three months. A mission impossible considering the slow pace by which the relevant departments are bringing up Bills for debate and consideration.

Relatively, at least 116 written questions with notice remained unanswered by the time the House adjourned on 21st March, now to be carried forward and backlog more likely to grow, as Members of Parliament are more likely to be having many other policy questions to put to Ministers during the first hour of Question Time, when notice is not required.

The written questions with notice awaiting Ministerial replies range from; whether Chinese businesses in the mining sector are paying royalties to Government and, if so, what was the total amount of royalties received in 2017? What progress has been made by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development on fencing the Bulawayo-Beitbridge road to keep wild animals away? When will people living in shanty houses under high-voltage power lines in Kariba’s Mahombekombe Township will be relocated; and when will the Government produce a Bill to ensure equal gender representation all Government institutions among others.

Be that as it may, the backlog in unanswered questions had been to a greater extent caused by the non-availability of ministers in parliament during question time sessions. While in some cases the failures to attend parliament’s question time had been attributed to ministers being away on government business, in other instances ministers absented themselves in order to avoid being grilled.

As if that was not enough, to make matters worse, some ministers who had managed to be present have been shielded from parliamentary grilling by the Speaker of the House Jacob Mudenda. While in other times he would let them dodge the questions by straying away from the questions raised.

There are also twenty-three motions awaiting presentation by their movers and seconders.  Subjects raised include: welfare of war veterans, war collaborators and ex-detainees; enabling local authorities to maintain roads by decentralising vehicle licence fees from ZINARA to local authorities. The economic empowerment of Zimbabwe’s youth, a call for an amendment to section 129(1)(k) of the Constitution to regulate the right of political parties to “recall” their MPs (Hon Mliswa and Hon Misihairabwi-Mushonga); and the need for an Act to establish an independent complaints mechanism to investigate complaints about sexual misconduct by members of the security forces.

The seven Bills that are likely to come up for attention in May, five of them were on the legislative agenda, the other two were not, but are nevertheless very important Bills.  That five of the Bills are from the legislative agenda is encouraging, but as pointed out previously, the government is running out of time to pass the other twenty-five Bills on its agenda by the end of this Parliamentary session.

Parliament Status of Bills list contains seven Bills received from Ministers for consideration.  All seven have been gazetted and are at various stages in the Parliamentary legislative production line.

Some of the Bills up for deliberation include the Consumer Protection Bill, to protect consumers of goods and services by establishing the Consumer Protection Agency, to regulate Consumer Advocacy Organisations, and also to repeal the Consumer Contracts Act.

The Microfinance Amendment Bill, to reduce the variety of institutions that can carry on microfinance business from four to two; and extend the supervisory powers of the Reserve Bank and its officials to cover not only microfinance institutions themselves, but also their “associates”, a new term defined in clause 2 of the Bill.

The Education Amendment Bill, which seeks to align the Education Act with the Constitution, and in so doing to put an end to corporal punishment. The Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill, this is the Government’s much-hyped Bill to replace POSA, but has been condemned for its similarities to POSA.

Other Business coming up in the National Assembly Order Paper for today lists plenty of work for MPs apart from the above Bills, including new motions awaiting presentation and Question Time this Wednesday.

Coming up in the Senate, Until the National Assembly sends them some Bills, Senators will have to spend their time on business carried over from their last sitting in March.  There are several adjourned debates on motions, but no new motions to be presented.

The current parliamentary session began on 18th September, when President Mnangagwa presented his State of the Nation address and the Government’s legislative agenda for the session.  So far this session the National Assembly has sat on 45 days and the Senate on 39.