REFLECTIONS ON THE 3RD SESSION OF THE 8TH PARLIAMENT: “ENHANCING PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY”
Greetings fellow bloggers! I hope I found you in good spirits. Let me begin by apologizing for the apparent inactivity on this blog. We have had a hectic few weeks with our heads stuck to the grinding stone preparing for the Official Opening of the 4th Session of the 8th Parliament by His Excellency, the President, scheduled for Thursday 6th October 2016. It promises, once again, to be a glorious conglomeration of sight, sound and colour when the Head of State rightly leads this time-honoured tradition which signals the official commencement of business for the penultimate session of the 8th Parliament. The Official Opening Ceremony will be broadcast live on the national broadcaster ZTV and ZBC. But for those of us who are free, nothing beats the spills and thrills of watching the event live as it happens from the lush gardens of the aptly named Africa Unity Square. You will forgive me for digressing, for the focus today is not on the Official Opening Ceremony (important as it may be).
I take time today to reflect on the 3rd Session of the 8th Parliament with a view to sharing important insights that may not be in the public domain. As the American author, Margaret J. Wheatley, rightly observed, ‘Without reflection we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.’ It is important, therefore, as we draw closer to the opening of a new session, to take time to reflect on the successes and challenges of the preceding session.
In my view, as reflected in the title of this article during the 3rd Session, the 8th Parliament played its part in advancing participatory democracy. Why do I say so? It has been a widely held view and, I must concede, sometimes not without justification, that Parliament is oftentimes a rubber stamp institution incapable of holding the Executive to account for its actions. There has also been a growing perception that the input by the public in the legislative process is not taken seriously either by the Executive or Parliament itself. Regrettably, members of the public have opted to shun public hearings by Parliamentary Committees on important legislation that affects their livelihoods owing to this ‘mis-perception.’ I am proud to report that the outcome of public hearings conducted during the 3rd Session have confounded this long-held belief.
Those who closely follow the business of Parliament will be aware that the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill was withdrawn by the Executive as a result of the concerns raised by the public during the public hearings held on the Bill. The concerned Ministry is now working on an improved draft which takes into account the issues raised by the public during the public consultations. In addition, public input was used by the Executive to effect amendments to such Bills as the Finance Bill No. 2 of 2016, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill, the Labour Amendment Bill and the General Laws Amendment Bill all of which are now Acts of Parliament. The Amendments to the Finance Bill No.2 resulted in the Ministry of Finance creating separate budget allocations for Independent Commissions as required by the Constitution. There are several other Bills, besides the ones cited above, that were amended following submissions by the public. It is clear, therefore, that the input by members of the public during public consultations with Parliamentary Committees is taken seriously by both the Executive and Parliament. Members of the public must, therefore, religiously take part in these public hearings and lend their voice to proposed legislation which affects both their lives and livelihoods. Parliament of Zimbabwe will continue to play its part in advancing participatory democracy and fulfilling the obligations imposed on it by Section 141 of the Constitution by involving the public in its legislative and other processes. To that end, in the 3rd Session alone Parliamentary Committees conducted 54 public hearings on proposed legislation.
I must acknowledge, however, that owing to resource constraints we have not always been able to spread out these public hearings to the hinterland. It is our desire to ensure that every Zimbabwean citizen is given an opportunity to contribute to proposed legislation, especially those in the rural areas where the majority reside. To this end, we have engaged our development partners to assist us in marshalling resources for this to be achievable. I am happy to report that this request has been well received by our partners, UNDP, EU, SIDA, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and SAPST, all of which have played an important and indispensable role in mobilizing resources for activities of Parliament. In addition, during the 3rd Session we managed to revamp our website www.parlzim.gov.zw to make it more interactive. Members of the public can now download bills from our website once they have been gazetted and can also give their input on the bills either through the website or our institutional e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Going forward into the 4th Session, we look forward to introducing social media links on our website, that is, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, to enable you, our stakeholders to easily interact with your Parliament. We are also at an advanced stage with the development of a Parliament App that users of smart phones and other electronic gadgets can use to access documents and information from Parliament.
The Presiding Officers and the Administration of Parliament have also played their part in advancing participatory democracy. The Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon. Adv. Jacob Francis Mudenda, has to date convened 3 stakeholder meetings with civil society organisations and the media in Harare, Bulawayo and Masvingo to explain the roles and functions of Parliament and how the media and civic society organisations can play an active part in the legislative process. The Hon. Speaker also recently convened a meeting with tertiary institutions in Masvingo as part of the public engagement process and to create mutually beneficial synergies between the academia and Parliament. The next stop for the Hon. Speaker is Bindura. Watch this space for that event!
The Administration of Parliament has, in turn, played its own small part in enhancing public participation in the business of Parliament through public outreach programmes to schools in the Midlands, Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West Provinces. 3 400 people participated in these programmes. The institution has also exhibited at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and the Harare Agricultural Show. We are also in consultations with the TV and various Radio Stations with the view to increasing coverage of Parliamentary proceedings
A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. We have made the tentative first steps in the direction of participatory democracy and we go forward into the 4th Session with renewed hope of doing even more. Aluta Continua!!