THE country’s constitution-making process has been mired in controversy amid reports that the 25-member parliamentary select committee spearheading the process has written to the principals of the global political agreement —— President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Arthur Mutambara —— asking for autonomy after “clashes” with parliament’s administration headed by Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma.
Our News Editor Constantine Chimakure on Monday met Zvoma at his Parliament Building offices to get an insight on what is going on. Below are the excerpts.
Chimakure: What is your role and that of parliament’s administration in the constitution-making process?
Zvoma: There is need to clarify what the administration of parliament means. Administration of parliament, in the context that it has been reported in the media, seems to suggest two levels. At the first level, it is that the speaker of the house of assembly, the president of the senate and their deputies are part of the administration of parliament and, at the second level, it is clear that reference is to the clerk and staff of parliament.
For the avoidance of doubt it is important to clarify this when people talk about what the administration of parliament is doing or is interfering in. Administration of parliament strictly refers to staff of parliament headed by the clerk of parliament who provides support services to parliament and all its committees. When I say all its committees, that is to say any committee called a parliamentary or select committee of parliament is part and parcel of our responsibility in so far as service provision is concerned.
The speaker (of parliament), the president of the senate and their deputies, sometimes called presiding officers, who provide policy guidelines, are members of the Standing Rules and Orders Committee (SROC) with the speaker and the president of the senate being the chairperson and vice-chairperson of the SROC.
The SROC is the policy-making body of parliament which is established by the constitution for the purposes of running the affairs of parliament. It is the appointing authority of all committees of parliament, committees of the house of assembly, committees of the senate. For the avoidance of doubt, the SROC —— whose composition and mandate were expanded by Amendment No 19 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe —— is provided for in Standing Order No 14 of both the house of assembly and the senate. Its mandate is as follows: “There shall be for the life of parliament a committee to be designated a committee on Standing Rules and Orders which shall consider and decides all such matters concerning parliament as it shall deem fit”.
The SROC appoints all the committees of parliament. So, interpreting Article VI of the GPA, the SROC met in March and appointed, using a consultative process, the select committee on the new constitution in terms of that political agreement. The process of constituting that committee was completed early April and the membership of the committee was finalised and announced by the speaker of the house of assembly (Lovemore Moyo). The terms of reference of the select committee, which are in the GPA, are unambiguous.
Among others, the terms of reference provide for the setting up of a select committee of parliament composed of representatives of the parties to the agreement…
Chimakure: From your explanation, then what is a select committee of parliament?
Zvoma: In terms of the rules of parliament in the standing orders —— in terms of its reporting structure and operational parameters —— a select committee of parliament is the same as other committees of parliament, portfolio and thematic.
They (committees) fall generally within the policy framework of a committee of parliament and this is not different from any other select committees anywhere else.
Admittedly, this is a historic and important exercise of national significance and, therefore, requires more resources than ordinary committees. The volume of work, because of the time frame, is much more. The level of operation in terms of reaching out to ensure that the process is people-driven requires a lot of resources, but that is to say parliament, which relies for allocation from central government and from donors, has to secure and obtain adequate resources to meet the requirements of the select committee.
Chimakure: Are you saying the committee’s demand for autonomy is misplaced and unfounded? It is bound by the rules of parliament despite being a creature of the GPA?
Zvoma: It’s a committee of parliament. If the principals (of the GPA) intended it to be independent and autonomous then probably they omitted that part, but that raises other questions. If it is a committee of parliament, how can a committee of parliament become autonomous from its m`other body? I am unable to answer that because the principals and the drafters of the agreement will be the best placed people to address that.
Chimakure: What do you then say to the decision by the select committee to write to the principals asking for autonomy? Co-select committee chairperson Paul Mangwana told the media that they had written to the principals.
Zvoma: I am not aware whether they have written the letter or not. I have read that they have written, so if they have written we will await the response, but suffice it to say, what I am confident to comment on is the existing provisions and arrangements.
The provision of support services in terms of policy direction and policy compliance with existing regulations, presiding officers —— on behalf the SROC which does not meet on a daily basis —— are mandated to ensure that activities of parliament are undertaken within the given policy framework.
The administration of parliament’s (the clerk of parliament and his staff), responsibility is to provide support services in compliance with existing regulations.Â The committee’s terms of reference are clear and are not in conflict with those regulations.
The presiding officers would not dictate to the committee to say we don’t want you to propose this or that in steering the constitution-making process because the select committee’s role is clearly stated, that it is one of facilitating rather than writing the constitution.
In the same way that the presiding officers and staff in their respect roles facilitate the work of the committee through the provision of resources, policy direction, secretariat and logistical support services, the committee itself is also enjoined to facilitate the writing of the constitution by the people and for the people in a transparent, democratic and inclusive manner, which is what the GPA says, not the SROC or the administrators of parliament want.
Chimakure: Is the clash between your administration and the select committee to do with donor funds? Who is the Non-State Sector Forum who paid allowances to 500 of the 2 000 delegates who attended the first All-Stakeholders Conference a fortnight ago and why were the payments not disclosed to the committee?
Zvoma: What is the clash? I don’t see the clash. We have produced a preliminary report of our accounts for the first All-Stakeholders Conference. The committee was briefed throughout the process on the source of funds, being UNDP, Ministry of Finance, the group of Western European countries and USAid. This organisation called the Non-State Actors Forum is an NGO registered in this country, which receives funding from the Western donors —— the European Commission —— and part of the understanding was that funds they receive as part of their work is to promote the work of NGOs end use.
There was an agreement that they would pay the approved transport refunds and meal allowances as part and parcel of the figure of US$968 000 for which an undertaking was given in writing by the Western donors.
Chimakure: Why then the outcry from Mangwana and his committee if everything was done above board?
Zvoma: I cannot answer that. I can only explain what really happened. That question can be best put to Honourable Mangwana and the select committee. For the record, UNDP undertook to provide US$300 000, USAid US$300 000, DFID US$150 000, European Commission, US$150 000 and the Swedish Foreign Ministry US$100 000. From funds allocated by the European Commission, the Non-State Actors Forum paid for 500 delegates from the NGO sector and youth. This is fact.
When parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, or any committee, holds a workshop either in Kadoma, Kariba or wherever, they will ask for resources from the administration. When the resources are made available, members of the committee go to the function and in line with the objective of its workshop, it holds its workshop and on its return, produces its report. The committee does not say we want to physically handle the money.Â That is how committees of parliament operate.
Chimakure: The MDC-T has issued a statement accusing you of being “economical” with the truth when you addressed a press conference after the All-Stakeholders’ Conference and that you reportedly blamed NGOs for causing chaos on the first day. Your response?
Zvoma: I never made such a statement. If anyone says that, they are the ones being economical with the truth. What I explained was that I agreed with Honourable Mangwana and other members who said the conference was rushed because the committee was not ready. I explained that decisions related to the dates, budget and delegates categories were made at the last minute and there is evidence to that effect. I never accused any organisation of causing the chaos or problems.