HARARE – Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda says over the years governance systems in Africa have tended to emphasise direct and representative democracy at the expense of participatory democracy that encompasses the popular will of the people and that now has to change.
Mudenda said this fundamental omission has now been addressed by section 141 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which articulates that Parliament must facilitate public involvement in all its legislative and other processes.
“This also includes the processes of its committees, (and it) ensures that interested parties are consulted about Bills being considered by Parliament, unless such consultation is inappropriate or impracticable, and conduct its business in a transparent manner and hold its sittings and those of its committees in public,” added Mudenda.
Speaking to delegates from 32 African countries who had gathered in Harare for the ADF General Assembly coordinated by ZimRights early this month Mudenda said Parliament, as the supreme legislative body, has the responsibility to ensure that rights of citizens are protected.
“Parliament has both a constitutional and fiduciary duty to see to it that participatory democratic governance is achieved in practice. As defenders of human rights, we must solidly ground all our actions in constitutionalism — contrary to widespread perceptions, it is not just laws that can be deemed to be contrary to the Constitution,” said Mudenda.
He said while certain practices and customs are prejudicial to the principle of constitutionalism “we look upon to all citizens to identify these so that appropriate legislative and other measures are implemented as corrective remedies.
“We must all take generational leadership in sustaining the values that promote human dignity as all other rights are threatened when human dignity is violated as the cornerstone of the inalienability of human rights.”
Mudenda said Parliament must seek to foster a vibrant but loyal civil society and work closely with it in finding solutions to challenges facing the region as well as in improving the quality and relevance of legislation.
“Civil society encompasses not just non-governmental organisations but the body of active citizens working together in many different ways to solve their common challenges and to promote and defend their interests.
“Civil society provides a critical link between the State and citizens; to that end, I must commend the civil society in Zimbabwe for sensitising the public and co-ordinating public input into the realignment of legislation to the new Constitution.
“Owing to the individual and collective efforts of civil society organisations, Parliament has been inundated with input from the public on legislation, some of which has led to the amendment of various laws.”
He called on organised groupings, individually and severally, to actively take part in the business of Parliament, either through written and oral submissions as well as petitioning Parliament on any matter of public interest.
“As Parliament, we shall remain proactive in reaching out to the electorate. It is in this context that I am elated to inform you that three weeks ago, we had committees of Parliament traversing the length and breadth of Zimbabwe soliciting citizen’s views on the National Peace and Reconciliation Bill, the Special Economic Zones Bill and the Public Finance Management Amendment Bill.
“The views so captured will influence amendments to the said Bills. Experience has shown that the Executive is now taking submissions from Parliament very seriously. For instance, after having engaged stakeholders, Parliament managed to cause amendments to the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill, the General Laws Amendment Bill and other laws such as the Gender Commission Act, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (Debt Assumption) Act, Joint Ventures Act, The Labour Amendment Act, and the Electoral Act, to name just a few.”
He said Parliament, as an institution, plays an important and indispensable role in entrenching democracy, normative, transparent and accountable governance.
“While the African Democracy Forum network rightly comprises civil society organisations, media institutions, community based organisations, academic institutions and donor entities which are critical institutions in the drive for democracy and democratic governance, Parliament appears to be the obvious missing link.
“Parliament is thus a key institution of representative and accountable governance. Consequently, it is an indispensable driver in the advancement of democracy.”
He added that at the level of the modern State, democracy can only be realised through complex State institutions and practices which have evolved over time.
“These include a guaranteed framework of citizen rights embodied in a Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, institutions of representative and accountable governance of which Parliament is an integral part, proactive civil society which must be the barometer of measuring the protection, promotion and fulfilment of human rights, and a number of robust mediating institutions between government and citizens, among which the media being the most critical as the Fourth Estate that mirrors the normative values of society without fear or favour.
“It is the ability of these institutions to complement each other in separate, distinctive and yet co-ordinate roles which guarantee that the ideal of democracy and democratic governance is fulfilled in practice.”