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.
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.