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Dismantling the law-making process in Zimbabwe: step by step

DStv

It seems that fake news travels faster, especially on social media.

That was the case with the trending news a few weeks ago that the Government had made a radio license mandatory for motorists. The truth of the matter is that these were proposals made in Cabinet for amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act, the Media Practitioners Bill and the Zimbabwe Media Commission Act.

For many, what was said in the cabinet is valid. For some issues, that might be true. However, when it comes to amendments to laws and bills, the legal process from a cabinet proposal to a law involves several stages.

In an era where misinformation and misinformation are rampant, it is essential to address misconceptions surrounding the legal process in Zimbabwe, particularly with regards to the journey from a cabinet proposal to the enactment of a bill. By examining the stages of this process, we can dispel myths and shed light on the precise procedures involved.

The legislative process in Zimbabwe is a complex and multifaceted system designed to ensure transparency, accountability and democratic decision-making. Unfortunately, this complexity also opens the door for misinformation and misunderstandings to take hold.

Proposal and Writing

The first stage involves the development of a proposal by the Cabinet, which addresses a specific issue or policy area. The cabinet identifies a specific issue or policy area that requires legislative action and formulates a proposal to address it.

Contrary to some misconceptions, this proposal is not an immediate enactment but rather a starting point for the subsequent process. The drafters, usually government departments or ministries, then meticulously craft the bill, taking into account legal considerations, constitutional requirements, and political objectives.

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Cabinet approval

Once the bill is drafted, it undergoes rigorous review and scrutiny within the Cabinet. Cabinet ministers discuss and review the bill to ensure it aligns with government policies, legal frameworks and constitutional requirements.

This stage is often misunderstood and some wrongly assume that Cabinet approval automatically results in the bill becoming law. In reality, Cabinet approval means endorsement and support for the proposal, but does not confer legal status on it. The bill must advance further through the legislative process.

Introduction to Parliament

The bill is then introduced first to the House of Assembly and then to the Senate. The bill is introduced by a government minister or designated representative who provides an overview and rationale for the proposed legislation. This stage marks the formal presentation of the bill to parliamentarians, who will subsequently engage in detailed deliberation and examination.

Parliamentary readings and scrutiny

The bill advances through three readings: the first reading, which serves as a formal introduction; the second reading, which involves debates and in-depth discussions; and the third reading, which concludes the parliamentary deliberation.

During the first reading, the title and objectives of the bill are read, but there is no debate or discussion about its content. This stage serves as the formal presentation of the bill to parliamentarians.

The second reading involves a detailed debate on the provisions and objectives of the bill. Members of Parliament (MPs) have the opportunity to express their views, ask questions and raise concerns. The Bill is carefully scrutinized and amendments may be proposed at this stage.

Throughout these stages, parliamentarians carry out rigorous scrutiny, ask questions, propose amendments and express their perspectives. This thorough review ensures that the bill is thoroughly reviewed and refined before proceeding.

Committee and Report Stages

After the second reading, the bill moves to the committee stage. A designated committee, such as the Portfolio Committee or the Subject Committee, reviews the bill clause by clause. They examine its provisions, gather expert opinions, and may make modifications or recommendations for changes.

The report stage follows, allowing parliamentarians to further debate and vote on proposed amendments or changes. MPs have the opportunity to debate and vote on any proposed amendment or change to the bill. This stage allows for greater scrutiny and refinement of the legislation. These stages demonstrate a commitment to thorough scrutiny and democratic decision-making within the legislative process.

Consideration by the Other Chamber

Once the bill completes all stages in one House, it moves to the Senate for consideration. Here the entire process of readings, committee scrutiny and voting is repeated. This further ensures that the bill is subject to comprehensive evaluation and that various perspectives are carefully considered.

Public hearings

In some cases, particularly for important or controversial bills, parliamentary committees may hold public hearings. These hearings provide an opportunity for citizens, civil society organizations, experts and other interested parties to present their views, concerns and suggestions on the proposed legislation. Public hearings allow citizens to participate directly in the lawmaking process by offering perspectives and recommendations to legislators.

Amendment and vote

Based on input received during parliamentary review and public hearings, amendments to the bill may be proposed. Parliamentarians debate and vote on amendments during parliamentary sessions. The final version of the bill, incorporating the approved amendments, is then put to a vote in both the National Assembly and the Senate. If the bill is approved by both chambers, it moves to the next stage.

Presidential assent

Once both Houses approve the bill, it is presented to the President for approval. The President reviews the bill taking into account its constitutional validity, its alignment with national policies and its possible implications. Contrary to misinformation, the role of the president is not merely ceremonial but an essential constitutional responsibility.

The bill becomes law when the President grants his approval, which means its enactment.

The legal process in Zimbabwe, from a cabinet proposal to the promulgation of a bill, is a meticulous, transparent and democratic journey. Misinformation around this process can undermine public trust and hinder accurate understanding.

By dispelling these misconceptions, we can foster informed debates, promote transparency and reinforce the importance of upholding the integrity of Zimbabwe’s legal system.

FCB

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