The Expanded mandate and Role of the Parliament of Zimbabwe

1.0 Introduction

Universally, the mandate of Parliaments may be generally described as legislative, representational and oversight in nature as well as judicial to some extent. These core functions have evolved over millennia and in their present form; they chiefly comprise legislation, consent to taxation and control of public expenditure, debate on government policy and scrutiny of government administration. Pursuant to the need to enhance governance systems, some parliaments are now actively involved in the selection and appointments of members of independent constitutional commissions. However, before a detailed comparative enumeration of the roles of parliament can be articulated, it is important for one to understand the constitutional mandate of Parliament as derived from the new Constitution of Zimbabwe that was passed by the Parliament of Zimbabwe on the 15th of May 2013 and assented to by His Excellency The President on the 22nd of May 2013.

1.1 Mandate of Parliament

The Legislature of Zimbabwe consists of Parliament and the President. Legislative authority of Zimbabwe is derived from the people through democratic elections founded on values of fairness and transparency and is vested in the Legislature. s.117 (2)(b) of the constitution states that the Legislature has power to amend the constitution and to ‘… make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Zimbabwe’ . Primary law making powers are vested in Parliament and the President notwithstanding the fact that legislative authority may be conferred or delegated to other bodies and authorities. Bradley and Ewing(2011) observed that it is a fundamental principle of democratic government that there should be an elected assembly representing the people, and that this assembly should have the authority to make laws that apply to the entire population. In concurrence with this view, s.119 of the new constitution states that Parliament is vested with supreme authority to promote democratic governance in Zimbabwe and to ensure that the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level act ‘constitutionally and in the national interest’. As the supreme law, the constitution and its obligations must be complied with pursuant to s.2 of the constitution categorically which enumerates that ‘…this constitution is the supreme law of Zimbabwe and any law, practice, custom or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid to the extent of the consistency’.

The new Constitution of Zimbabwe gives prominence to the fact that all institutions and agencies of the state and government are accountable to Parliament. Even the Presidency as a state institution is not exempt from accountability to Parliament. For instance, s.111 states that ‘…The President has power to declare war and make peace, and must advise the Senate and the National Assembly within seven sitting days after exercising such power. The Senate and the National Assembly, by a joint resolution passed by at least two-thirds of the total membership of Parliament, may resolve that a declaration of war should be revoked’. Where such a joint resolution has been made, the President is obliged to make all practical steps to disengage from the war. s.214 further add that ‘when the Defence forces are deployed in Zimbabwe for the maintenance of order…the President must cause Parliament to be informed, promptly and in appropriate detail, of the reasons of their deployment…’ The foregoing provisions are a gradual modification of the repealed constitution which did not empower parliament to have any say in the declaration of war or the deployment of defence forces in Zimbabwe for the maintenance of order. s.31 (H)(d)of the former constitution provided that, subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the President shall have the power to ‘…to declare war and to make peace’. No explicit role was given to Parliament.
s.107 of the constitution affirms that ‘…every Vice-President, Minister and Deputy Minister must attend parliamentary committees in order to answer questions concerning matters for which he or she is collectively and individually responsible’. The former constitution had no similar clause though the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act provided for the summoning of any person to appear before Parliament or its committee. It can be argued that providing a constitutional provision compelling the Executive to avail itself to oversight scrutiny by Parliament was meant to enhance accountability and transparency. Compliance with constitutional provisions is obligatory and not discretionary, unless otherwise stated. s.2(2) of the constitution makes it crystal clear that the obligations imposed by the constitution are binding on every person, natural or juristic, including the State and all executive, legislative and judicial institutions and agencies of government at every level.

2.0 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:-

  1. 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;
  2. 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
  3. 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;
  4. 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;

  1. ‘directing the operations of government;
  2. conducting government business in Parliament;
  3. preparing, initiating and implementing national legislation; and
  4. 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.

  1. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
  2. Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission
  3. Zimbabwe Gender Commission
  4. Zimbabwe Media Commission; and
  5. The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission

3.0 Conclusion

Parliament performs three key functions and these can be summed up as legislative, representative and oversight. To achieve these, MPs, on one hand, must collectively and individually ensure that the provisions of the constitution as the supreme law are adhered to and implemented. Decisions of MPs in Parliament must always reflect national interest. On the other hand, citizens and permanent residents must take part in parliamentary business by participating in public hearings, attending committee meetings and where necessary, petition parliament on urgent issues which they want addressed.