Roles and Functions of Parliament
A number of functions and roles can be derived or are derivatives of the broad mandate of ‘making laws for peace, order and good governance of Zimbabwe’. The most prominent role of parliament is the legislative function.
2.1 Legislative Function
To legislate is ‘… to make or enact laws’ . Legislative authority refers to the making of laws that govern parties and transactions. In other words, the law binds and governs every person, natural or juristic as well as all state institutions. Legislative supremacy by the legislature is exercised through the passing of bills. Unless otherwise explicitly stated, a bill may originate in either house of Parliament. A house where a bill is initiated is referred to as the House of Origin. s.130 of the Constitution provides that ‘… in the exercise of their legislative authority both the Senate and the National Assembly have power to initiate, prepare, consider or reject any legislation’ . This means that Parliament should not just rubber stamp bills, but should interrogate them to ensure that they are not only constitutional, but also address matters of national interest. Put differently, Parliament is obliged to thoroughly debate and scrutinise bills so that there is value addition. A bill becomes an act once it has been presented and passed in both Houses of Parliament and assented to and signed by the President.
2.2 Oversight Function
The traditional Westminster view on oversight, as inherited by many former British colonies, was rather adversarial and in some instances oversight was professed to be the purview of opposition politicians and not the legislature as an institution. In the South African context, oversight is a constitutionally mandated function of legislative organs of state to scrutinise and oversee executive action and any organ of state. Oversight entails the informal and formal, watchful, strategic and structured scrutiny exercised by the legislature in respect of the implementation of laws, the application of the budget and the strict observance of statutes and the Constitution. Oversight extends to the monitoring of the performance of government departments through establishing compliance with rules and regulations as well as other best practices where there are no formalized procedures. In terms of the provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, as well as Standing Orders, Parliament has power to conduct oversight of all organs of state, including those at provincial and local government level.
Standing Orders of Parliament categorically makes it clear that, a portfolio committee shall:-
- consider and deal with all bills and statutory instruments or other matters which are referred to it by or under a resolution of the House or by the Speaker;
- consider or deal with an appropriation or money bill or any aspect of an appropriation or money bill referred to it by these Standing Orders or by or under resolution of this House; and
- monitor, investigate, enquire into and make recommendations relating to any aspect of the legislative programme, budget, policy or any other matter it may consider relevant to the government department falling within the category of affairs assigned to it, and may for that purpose consult and liaise with such department;
- Consider or deal with all international treaties, conventions and agreements relevant to it, which are from time to time negotiated, entered into or agreed upon
Parliament performs executive oversight by scrutinizing government policies, programmes and expenditure plans in order to ensure that they are in line with legislative intent and are governed by documented policies and procedures. Parliament, through its committee system monitors all government policies and programmes to ensure efficient use of finite and scarce national resources. Individual Members, through the Question Time in Parliament can raise questions on any matter of public policy. In addition, MPs can move motions that relate to areas of their interest that require response from a Vice President or a relevant government Minister or Deputy Minister.
In a constitutional democracy such as Zimbabwe, the Executive is accountable to Parliament as a body elected to represent the will of the people. It is Parliament’s duty to deliberate on and pass laws, to scrutinize government performance and to make the Executive effectively accountable for the manner it initiates and implements public policies and programmes. However, in line with the principle of the separation of powers as enunciated in s.3 (2)(e) of the new constitution, Parliament must not seek to govern because that is the duty of the Executive.
Indeed, it is instructive for any disciple of national governance to understand the doctrine of the separation of powers as this is the bedrock of any governance system. Within a system of governance based on law, there are legislative, executive and judicial functions to be performed; and the primary organs for discharging these functions are respectively the legislature, the executive and the courts. The three fold division of labour, between a legislator, an administrative official, and an independent judge is a necessary precondition for the rule of law in modern society and therefore for democratic government itself. It is a hallmark of the modern idea of a democratic state that there should be a separation of powers between the legislature and the executive, on the one hand and the judiciary on the other
The tri-model of separation of powers can be seen in the law of taxation: to authorise the levying of a new tax is a legislative function; to assess and collect the tax payable by individuals is an executive (or administrative) function; to settle disputes between the tax official and the taxpayer as to the tax due is a judicial function, involving interpretation of the law and applying it to the facts. So, too, the creation of a new offence is a matter for legislation, enforcement of the law is an executive function, and the trial of alleged offenders is a judicial function.
2.3 Executive Authority and the new constitution
Bradley and Ewing (2011) observed that the executive function broadly comprises the whole corpus of authority to govern, other than that which is involved in the legislative functions of Parliament and the judicial decisions of the courts. The general direction of policy includes initiating and implementing legislation, maintaining order and security, promoting social and economic welfare, administering public services and conducting the external relations of the state. The executive function therefore has a residual character, its techniques ranging from the formation of broad policy to the detailed management of routing services. Executive functions are also performed by the policy, local authorities and many statutory bodies
The President and Cabinet are responsible for initiating, coordinating and executing of public policies and programmes. s.110 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe highlights that subject to the law, Cabinet is responsible for;
- directing the operations of government;
- conducting government business in Parliament;
- preparing, initiating and implementing national legislation; and
- developing and implementing national policy …’
2.4 Representative Function
To represent is to ‘…act for and on behalf of some other party or estate…”. As elected officials, MPs are expected to speak for and air the views of those who elected them to power or office. They are expected to represent the aspirations of the electorate and engage in debates that give prominence to the wishes and will of citizens.
Appointment of Independent Constitutional Commissions
Over and above the above stated functions, Parliament, through the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders (CSRO) is involved in the process of selecting persons to be appointed all independent constitutional commissions that support democracy. Commissioners, save for Commission Chairpersons of all Independent Commissions, can only be appointed from a list provided by the CSRO which during the Seventh Parliament adopted a system of conducting public interviews for all Commissions before names can be submitted to the President. For the avoidance of doubt, the following independent commissions can only be appointed after the CSRO has selected and compiled a list of persons to be submitted to the President for appointment and the he or she can only appoint from that list pursuant to various provisions of Chapter 12 of the New Constitution.
- Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
- Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission
- Zimbabwe Gender Commission
- Zimbabwe Media Commission; and
- The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission
- Ramanatha P(2012) Concise Law Dictionary,4th Edition,Lexis Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa,India.
- Oversight and Accountability Model ‘Asserting Parliament’s Oversight Role in Enhancing Democracy’, Parliament of South Africa, undated.
- See Standing Order 159 of the House of Assembly, Parliament of Zimbabwe
- Henderson, Foundations of English Administrative Law.
- The State v Khoyratty.
- Aiyar’s P.R(2012) Concise Law Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Lexis Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa, India.