PRESS STATEMENT: PARLIAMENT AND COVID 19 RESPONSE
This statement is issued for the benefit of the public and to address some misconceptions published online by NewsdzeZimbabwe.
For the record, Parliament adjourned on Wednesday 18th March 2020 to 5th May 2020. Parliament had initially been scheduled to adjourn on Thursday 26th March 2020 to 5th May 2020, in line with its approved Sitting Calendar for 2020, but had to take an early break due to concerns arising from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Contrary to some perceptions and misconceptions, however, Parliament has not been idle during this unforeseen extended break but has, instead, taken advantage of this period to put in place measures that will allow the institution to function without jeopardising the health of Members and staff of Parliament as well as visitors to the institution in the wake of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak has heightened our resolve as Parliament to accelerate the use of technologies in our work. The institution is thus working on setting up facilities for virtual meetings, where appropriate, without compromising the requirements of the national Constitution, law and the public interest.
There has also been concern from some quarters that Parliament and Parliamentarians have not been actively responding to COVID-19. This could not be further from the truth. Zimbabwe operates as a constitutional democracy in which the observance of the principle of separation of powers and the rule of law are primary. In line with the principle of separation of powers, Parliament has three main roles, namely, legislative, oversight and representative. Accordingly, Members of Parliament have been exercising their representative role during the lockdown through educating their constituencies on the outbreak. Further, they have been meeting with the local COVID-19 Taskforce structures highlighting the requirements of their constituencies. On the legislative role, the Minister of Health and Child Care on 23rd March 2020 published Statutory Instrument 77 of 2020 that, among others, declared COVID-19 to be a formidable disease, banned gatherings of more than 100 people and permitted compulsory testing, detention, quarantine and treatment. These are powers granted to the Minister, by Parliament, under section 28 of the Public Health Act. Subsequent Statutory Instruments were also passed by the same Minister under the same Section. The Parliamentary Legal Committee will duly consider the Statutory Instruments and all other legal Instruments as required by the Constitution.
In respect of expenditure related to COVID-19, the nation has recourse to a number of avenues. Section 24 of the Public Finance Management Act allows His Excellency, the President, through a warrant to authorise the Minister of Finance and Economic Development to withdraw funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for unforeseen expenditure which cannot be postponed in the public interest. The caveat is that that expenditure must not at any one time exceed one and half per centum of the total approved Budget in the last Appropriation Act. Additionally, that expenditure must be submitted to the National Assembly for appropriation within the next 14 days in which the National Assembly meets. It is trite to state that the COVID-19 pandemic meets this requirement as this was not anticipated when the 2020 Budget was presented in November 2019. The public can rest assured that the necessary oversight by Parliament will be done in line with the law and the national Constitution. The appropriate Committees of Parliament will undertake their oversight role as is the usual practice in that regard.
It must be noted that there is no competition for space between the three Arms of the State and the principles of good governance require that each Arm of the State undertakes its role without impinging on the other Arms of the State. This outbreak requires that there is co-ordination between the three Arms of the State in the interest of public health and that, in our humble opinion, is exactly what is happening. Consequently, today 30 th April 2020 the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders (CSRO) met to discuss, among other things, the resumption of Parliament business and possible alternatives to facilitate the business of Parliament in the event that the lockdown continues in one form or another. The CSRO noted that the current lockdown ends at midnight on Sunday 3rd May 2020 and that a decision on the lockdown will, therefore, be made on or around the 3rd May 2020. As a contingency measure, the CSRO resolved that both Houses sit on Tuesday 5th May 2020, the date to which they had adjourned, for the sake of formally adjourning to a date that will be informed by the government decision on the lockdown or otherwise. In that respect, and to comply with social distance requirements, only Members of Parliament in both Houses from the following provinces will attend Parliament on Tuesday 5th May 2020: Harare, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central, and all Ministers and Deputy Ministers. However, only Members from those four provinces that are able to drive from and back to their constituencies on the same day will be required to attend.