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How we end up with laws we don’t want

By Joel Mandaza

Many a time, people complain about pieces of legislation they feel does not speak to their realities.

It appears there is a top-down approach in the way laws are formulated.
They look like they are mused upon in well-conditioned offices and are foisted upon the powerless public.

There is a bit of nuance on how things work though.

The law-making system in Zimbabwe is a very simple one.

When an idea which potentially can be a law moves from the point of inception, it is then gazetted into a Bill by Cabinet, after that it goes for its initial debate in Parliament.

From there, it goes for its first and second reading, it proceeds to the committee stage, and it is followed by the report stage then the third reading which is followed by the transmission to Senate.

If the Senate agrees, it is elevated to the President for assent and subsequent signing of the Bill into an Act of Parliament.

The above is a simplified process of how our laws in Zimbabwe come into being, under normal circumstances.

Of course, the past two years have seen an overuse of Statutory Instruments which is in itself questionable but that is a story for another day.

In all the listed processes, there is a role which can be played by ordinary Zimbabweans.

When the Bill is left in the hands of Parliamentary committees, they go to different constituencies asking for public input into the matters.

After the input processes through consultations, the committee reports back to Parliament laying out what Zimbabweans would have said they want to see in their law.

Unfortunately, this is when Zimbabweans who will eventually interact with the law let themselves down.

They shy away from these hearings, a scenario which sometimes leads to the omission of otherwise brilliant ideas which sometimes have the potential to improve our legislation.

Some do not believe it is important to take part, they leave running the country to politicians waiting to complain about the laws on social media.

Others are unaware of what is happening and are equally unbothered.

The apathy, however, is not entirely the citizens` fault as there are things which can be done better during consultations.

Most of these events usually happen during the day, this is when an average adult of economic activity will be trying to either work or make ends meet.

For some, the opportunity cost of attending a Parliamentary Committee hearing is hustling for a loaf of bread.

Maybe if Parliament could consider weekend consultations, there would be more uptake.

There are also concerns with the toxic political environment in which our Parliament and other arms of state exist.

Others choose to stay away from events manned by “politicians” a word in this case which can be used to describe Parliamentarians as well.

A deliberate campaign may be in order for Parliament to communicate more elaborately when seeking the public`s input.

We need to cleanse our politics, the hectic contestations which characterise campaign seasons are in these instances, counterproductive.

Parliamentary committees need to invest in messaging especially targeting women in rural areas, who are sometimes deterred from participating in political processes by a number of factors.

They have to go beyond mainstream media, utilise social media and other new platforms.

In this day and age of Google forms, even remote consultations should be made to allow even those in the diaspora to contribute to the legal discourse of their country.

The consultations have to be exhaustive and not become box-ticking exercises where only a few opinions are collated in an expedient manner.

Parliament should also seed confidence in the public by ensuring that the views collected from the committee hearings are not sieved out during the third reading and Senate debates up to the point of assent.

If that happens, people end up staying away arguing that their views are taken into account, only on a cosmetic basis.

As Zimbabwe works to harmonise its Acts of Parliament and there should be more effort put to make the informing processes more inclusive.
In the same vein, the people should occupy themselves with knowing how laws are formulated and that their opinions are valid.

If one fails to attend committee hearings, they can write to the clerk of Parliament with their detailed arguments or inform their Parliamentarian to make the submissions on their behalf.

An open contribution system coupled with public input will result in better laws.

Without that, we end up with laws we don’t like.

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is a male journalist in Zimbabwe and has been practising since September 2009. He used to the editor for The Business Connect (newspaper) in Harare, has his own news website Tourism Focus which is biased towards the tourism sector. Daniel is also working with Magamba Network on their project called Open Parliament where they do live coverage of Parliamentary activities on Twitter and Facebook. He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum, is a member of Zimbabwe Small Broadcasters Association and a board member of Digital Communication Network. He holds a Diploma in Communication and Journalism from the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA), a certificate in Youth leadership training from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a certificate in Citizen Journalism from Magamba Network and is currently a first-year student at Zimbabwe Open University studying for a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Ethics and Organisational Leadership.

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