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PARLIAMENT OPEN DAY SPEECH BY THE HON ADV. J F MUDENDA

 

 

 

 

OFFICIAL OPENING ADDRESS

 

 

BY

 

THE HON. ADV.  J. F. MUDENDA

SPEAKER OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

 

ON THE OCCASION OF THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF THE PARLIAMENT OF ZIMBABWE OPEN DAY

 

 

 

8 JUNE 2017

PARLIAMENT, HARARE.

 

 

 

The President of the Senate, Hon E. G. Madzongwe;

The Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon M. M. Chinomona

The Deputy President of the Senate, Hon C.C.C. Chimutengwende;

Hon. Members of the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders;

Hon. Members of the Chairpersons’ Panel;

Hon Chairpersons of Portfolio and Thematic Committees;

The Clerk of Parliament, Mr. K. M.  Chokuda and Senior Management Staff of Parliament;

Members of the Diplomatic Corps;

Senior Government Officials;

Our esteemed Development Partners, here present;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

 

I wish, on behalf of the Presiding Officers, the Hon. Members of Parliament and the entirety of the Parliament family to extend a warm and fraternal welcome to you all to this inaugural Parliament of Zimbabwe Open Day which is being celebrated under the theme: “Parliament: Celebrating 37 Years of Independence and Parliamentary Democracy”.  This felicitous occasion is momentous and enables us to look back with pride at our history and the journey we have walked from colonial bondage to self-determination. This Open Day stands as a vivid reminder that our freedom and democracy, earned through the blood of our heroic fallen gallant patriots who lost life and limb, must never be taken for granted.  Without doubt, this was a perilous and treacherous political journey sustained only by the fundamental conviction of the compelling need to regain our dignity and freedom deprived us by foreign oppressors.  The armed national liberation struggle of the 1960s and 1970s against superior firepower and an array of internal and external forces of negative support, saw the inevitable collapse of colonialism because of the heroic power of the people motivated by their just cause and the unstoppable human spirit hankering after self-determination.

 

The celebrations today are, therefore, deeply immersed in our historical antecedents and seek to extol the struggle for freedom and democracy by our forebearers, at the different stages of that struggle, propelled us to our independence on 18 April 1980.  The struggle for independence was also a struggle for universal adult suffrage as encapsulated in the slogan “One Man, One Vote” during the era of the liberation struggle.  As inheritors of that proud history of valour and political emancipation, the Parliament of Zimbabwe is honoured to hold the inaugural Open Day in order to loudly celebrate our democracy, deepen and consolidate it as a tribute to the sterling  sacrifices of our living and departed heroes.

The celebrations are also epochal as they have come at an opportune time when Parliament is in the process of aligning the national laws to the Constitution in order to further make provisions for the people’s participation in the legislative process. Thus, our coming together today, underpins these celebrations as reflective of a truly people’s Parliament which is deeply and fundamentally rooted in its history but looks to the future with hope and faith of a prosperous Zimbabwe founded on our constitutional democracy. The Recommendations of the Parliamentary Reform Committee set up in 1997 to primarily look at the ways and means of how our Parliament could be more effective and efficient in executing its constitutional mandate in part, constitute the rationale for holding the Open Day. But the Open Day is also consistent with the universal concept from which the creation of Parliaments springs, namely, to represent the interests of the electorate and for Parliaments to be truly people’s institutions by being open to the public who are the creators of these institutions. 

 

Though the Open Day features vary from country to country, their principal objective and intrinsic worth is to demystify Parliament and create its new image of catholic relevance.  Indeed, in South Africa the “People’s Assembly”, the Imbizo, provides a national platform for the most marginalized communities to interact with their representatives and enable constituents to contribute to the governance of the country.  In the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, the Open Day provides students, Civil Society Organisations and the general public with the opportunity to learn about the roles and functions of Parliament. Other progressive Parliaments are attuned to holding Open Days as a measure to make Parliaments more visible and creature institutions of society.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In this vein, the launch of the Parliament Open Day, therefore, stems from a basic and profound awareness of the strategic importance, not only of the institution of Parliament, but also of political parties, civil society and other stakeholders in Parliamentary processes. In particular, there is need for inclusivity and broader participation in socio-economic development of the country as we seek to ameliorate the social and material conditions of our people through the workings of Parliament. That is why Section 141 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe captures the essence of the outcome of our Parliamentary Reforms by enjoining Parliament peremptorily by stating that:

“Parliament must:-

a) facilitate public involvement in its legislative and other processes of its committees;

b) ensure that interested parties are consulted about Bills being considered by Parliament, unless such consultation is inappropriate or impracticable; and

c) conduct its business in a transparent manner and hold its sittings, and those of its Committees, in public …”

 

This injunction pivotally and squarely delineates the centrality of the people in the policy and legislative processes of Parliament.  It unambiguously places people at the center of governance and the body polity.

 

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen;

As I observed in my earlier remarks, democracy can never be taken for granted.  As we celebrate this joyous occasion, it will be remiss to avoid reference to the history of Parliament and the constitutional developments that have shaped the composition, functions and authority of Parliament. In recasting our history over the past 37 years of Parliamentary democracy, we have much to be proud of in terms of our legislative, oversight and representative roles of Parliament. In this journey, the Parliament of Zimbabwe has gone through different epochs and traversed many paths before and after 1980. Starting as the preserve of the white minority legislative cacoon prior to independence, it has now matured into a true forum for democratic dispensation anchored on a multi-party democratic political system. The constitutional developments since 1980 have created space for democratic reforms and left a deep imprint on our political dispensation.  Indeed, each constitutional development has been unique in its own way as it brought changes that responded to the needs and aspirations of the Zimbabwean populace.

 

Initially, decolonization and the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement and the subsequent Constitution, created a multi-racial Parliament with 20 seats reserved for the white minority which were to be reviewed after 5 years and a general voters’ roll seats contested exclusively by the black majority. The genesis of this was premised on the need to entrench the white minority interests as Zimbabwe was on the threshold of democracy and self-rule. Although the first independent bicameral Parliament had some vestiges of the colonial period, it nevertheless represented, for the first time in the history of the country, all the people. The liberation Movement, represented by ZANU PF and PF ZAPU, sought to advance the democratization of society and the empowerment of the previously marginalized black people while the Rhodesia Front still held the fortuitous hope to defend the vestiges of colonialism and white privilege.

 

The most significant achievement of Parliament in its early years was the passing of the Constitutional Amendment No 6 of 1986, which abrogated the 20 reserved seats for whites and opened all the 100 House of Assembly seats for contest under the general voters’ roll. Constitutional Amendment No 7 of 1987 introduced the Executive Presidency and abolished the position of Prime Minister while Constitutional Amendment No 8 of 1989 introduced a unicameral legislature and abolished the Senate. These amendments left an indelible mark and attempted to rectify the odious provisions of the Lancaster House Constitution, most of which fettered the ability of Parliament to amend it, thereby negating the sovereignty of the people of Zimbabwe to chart their own destiny through a constitutional dispensation.

 

The second phase of the development of our Parliamentary democracy, that is, from 1990 to 1999, was characterized by an overwhelming majority commanded by the united ruling party, ZANU-PF, with insignificant opposition. In the third phase starting from 2000, Parliament saw the birth of a visible multi-party democracy brought about by the 2000 general elections, characterized by the emergence of a strong MDC opposition representation in Parliament. Since 2000, therefore, despite the twists and turns, Parliament comprises two major opposing parties that reflect different ideological inclinations. At the Committee level, however, there tends to be a remarkable semblance of harmony and constructive consensus engagement by political parties.     This culture of political tolerance in our Parliamentary Committee system should permeate our politics outside Parliament.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen;

This historical Parliamentary democratic growth has witnessed an enviable transformative legislative accent in the promulgation of key pieces of legislation such as:

·       The Customary Law and Primary Courts Act 1981 which provided that primary courts in the form of Community courts take over the judicial functions in the administration of customary law from District Commissioners.

·       The Legal Age of Majority Act 1982 ( LAMA) which provided that at the age of 18 years and above a person was an adult, had no guardian, could sue and be sued in their own right and could enter into a contract or own property.

·       Labour Relations Act 1985 (LRA) provided for a comprehensive code of regulations relating to employment, remuneration, collective bargaining and settlement of labour disputes.

·       Land Acquisition Act 1985 which provided for the acquisition of land on willing-buyer-wiling-seller basis to resettle about 162 000 families.

·       Land Acquisition Amendment Act of 2004.

This amendment had the effect of empowering the government to acquire land without further delay.

·       Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act 2007 was meant to create an enabling environment that would increase the participation of indigenous Zimbabweans in all sectors of the country’s economy.

Of late, the legislative agenda has included the alignment of laws to the Constitution and the passing of laws to create a conducive business environment and the promotion of the ease of doing business in Zimbabwe.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen;

There is no doubt that besides the political developments, the Parliament of Zimbabwe has also gone through a number of administrative reforms since independence. The objective of early reforms was to transform the institution from a colonial to a peoples’ Parliament and to expedite the work of the Legislature. Before the reforms were implemented, active citizen participation was hindered by the lack of general information about Parliament. Parliament was closed cacoon. The other weaknesses included, inter alia, lack of capacity to influence Executive policies and decisions. It had a limited role of the public in policy formulation and scrutiny of the Executive governmental delivery. It experienced inadequate administrative support services and financial resources. Parliament also played a perfunctory role in the budgetary processes. The introduction of the reforms, therefore, sought to address these concerns and had the other objective of enhancing the institution’s legislative, representative and oversight roles through, among other things, opening its doors to members of the public, the media and civic society.  The Parliamentary Reform Committee recognized the important role played by the media and civil society in making parliamentary information more accessible to citizens, strengthening the capacity of citizens to participate in parliamentary processes and improving parliamentary accountability.

To date, Parliament is proud of the achievements made in ensuring that it is accessible and promotive of public involvement in its business. The institution has adopted the production and distribution of publicity materials about Parliament, its functions, procedures and activities. Televised live broadcasts of Question Time and special Parliamentary occasions such as the President’s State of the Nation Address and the Official Opening of Parliament have also aided in opening Parliament to the public. Parliamentary Committees have been opened to the public in order to facilitate their input during public hearings. In addition to these activities, Parliament has made positive progress in the implementation of the reforms, especially with regard to the dress code and civic participation in parliamentary business whereby:

·       The dress code for visitors to Parliament has been relaxed to accommodate the cultural diversity of society;

·       Outreach programmes to schools and tertiary institutions are being conducted to educate the youth and the academia about the role and functions of Parliament;

·       Parliament is now showcasing its activities at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and the Harare Agricultural Show.

·       Public participation in Parliamentary business, in general, and in the Legislative process, has been strengthened through increased Public Hearings. This has enabled citizen’s views to influence the legislative processes. Indeed a number of pieces of legislation such as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill, the General Laws Amendment Bill, the Gender Commission Bill and the National Peace and Reconciliation Bill were amended by taking into account comments from the public.

·       Parliament has also revised its Petition process to make it simpler and easier for the public to petition Parliament. Consequently, we have begun to see a significant number of Petitions being submitted to Parliament for consideration by Committees of Parliament in terms of Section 149 of the Constitution.

In this regard, the celebrations mark the coming of age of the Parliament of Zimbabwe in its quest for public participation in parliamentary business. As you may be aware, public participation is the key to keeping a democracy alive and vibrant. A sound and robust democracy requires that people have a sense of belonging and equality, and that they have confidence in the institutions of democracy. In fact, one of the greatest challenges is to include and engage all citizens so that they may take an active part in our constitutional democracy, now and in the future. Without the full participation of the people, how can there be a genuine political debate on the future of the country? As Parliament and Parliamentarians, we have a crucial role to play here. We must be at the centre of the democratic debate because the ultimate responsibility to protect democracy rests with Parliament.

Let me reiterate my fervent plea to all stakeholders to actively contribute to the work of Parliament so that our Parliament is at the center of the development of our country, as the repository of the people’s aspirations and their dreams for qualitative life.

Finally, I wish to express Parliament’s profound appreciation to all development partners who have made this event possible, namely, UNDP, European Union, the Embassy of Sweden, ZELA, WIPSU and Transparency International Zimbabwe.  Indeed, I wish to equally express our profound gratitude to other supportive organisations whose contribution has made it possible for us to realize our institutional objectives, namely, the African Development Bank and the World Bank. This partnership has principally contributed to the capacity building of Parliament in the discharge of its constitutional mandate.  It is my fervent hope that this partnership will continue to grow from strength to strength so that Parliament effectively plays its role of making laws for the peace, order and good governance of Zimbabwe as it discharges its legislative, oversight and representative functions.

I also wish to thank most heartily Croco Motors, Baker’s Inn, Netone, TelOne, Holiday Inn, Nyaradzo Funeral Services, Rainbow Towers Hotel, Genesis Travel, Shanyayi Travel, Cresta Group of Hotels, African Sun Hotels and Oncocare Center for their generous support towards the holding of this Open Day.  The Ministry of Rural Development and Preservation of Culture and Heritage provided invaluable technical support for which we are eternally grateful. Last but by no means least, let me acknowledge Hon. Mlotshwa and her Sub-committee on Cultural Reforms for having broached the idea of staging this Open Day to the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders.  In the same vein, let me salute the Clerk of Parliament and Parliament staff for their sterling efforts in putting together the nuts and bolts for this successful Parliament Open Day.

This Open Day is historic. It marks the beginning of Parliament’s greater interaction with the citizens of our country.  This is your day. It is our day.

It is now my pleasure to declare the Parliament Open Day officially launched.

 

I THANK YOU.

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