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Statutory Instruments: examining their impact and influence on parliament and the constitution in Zimbabwe

…growing use of SIs a concern among citizens

Staff Writer

Statutory instruments (SIs) have become a subject of scrutiny in Zimbabwe, with questions arising about their impact on parliamentary processes and the country’s constitution. SIs are legal instruments issued by the executive branch that have the force of law but do not require parliamentary approval. Critics argue that the growing use of SIs may undermine democratic principles and legislative oversight.

The Zimbabwean Constitution vests the legislative authority in Parliament, allowing it to make laws that reflect the will of the people. However, SIs have increasingly been used by the government to implement policies and regulations without going through the traditional parliamentary process. While SIs play a crucial role in streamlining administrative functions and addressing urgent matters, concerns have been raised about potential abuse and lack of transparency.

“As a concerned Zimbabwean citizen, I am deeply troubled by the excessive use of Statutory Instruments in our country. It seems that these instruments are being used as a way to bypass the democratic process and undermine legislative oversight. Our democracy relies on the participation and representation of the people, and it is disheartening to see our voices being silenced. We need a stronger system of checks and balances to ensure accountability and to safeguard the rights and freedoms of every Zimbabwean. Let’s raise our voices and demand a more transparent and democratic governance!” remarked Robert Chasi in Mbizo.

“The growing reliance on Statutory Instruments is a worrying trend for our democracy in Zimbabwe. These instruments are being used to push through legislation without proper debate and scrutiny from our elected representatives. This undermines the principles of democracy and denies ordinary citizens the opportunity to have their concerns heard. We demand a more inclusive and participatory process that respects the rights and freedoms of every Zimbabwean. It is time for our government to prioritize transparency and accountability over convenience. Let us stand together to protect the democratic values that our nation was built upon,” added activist Clare Murambwi.

Another prominent issue is the limited scrutiny and public debate that surrounds the formulation and implementation of SIs. Unlike bills that go through a rigorous parliamentary process involving public hearings and additional scrutiny, SIs are often issued with minimal public input, leading to apprehension that they may bypass proper democratic checks and balances.

Critics argue that this unchecked power in issuing SIs allows the executive to make significant policy decisions without sufficient parliamentary oversight. It has been suggested that more rigorous mechanisms for parliamentary scrutiny and public consultation are necessary to ensure that SIs are compatible with the principles of democracy and constitutional governance.

Furthermore, concerns have been raised about the potential for SIs to infringe upon constitutional rights and freedoms. The Zimbabwean Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to its citizens, including the right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. However, there have been instances where SIs might have infringed upon these rights, leading to fears that they could be used as a means to stifle dissent or bypass constitutional safeguards. Social commentator Innocent Gunhe said there is a need for an inclusive process to allow public engagement and legislative oversight.

“I am deeply concerned about the lack of scrutiny and public debate surrounding the formulation and implementation of Statutory Instruments in our country. These instruments carry significant implications for our society, and it is disheartening to witness the limited transparency and participation in their development. It is crucial that our government promotes an open and inclusive process, allowing for thorough public engagement and legislative oversight. The voices of all stakeholders, including civil society organizations and the public, must be heard to ensure that the interests of the citizens are properly represented.

“Only through increased scrutiny and public debate can we foster a truly democratic and inclusive society where the rights and concerns of every Zimbabwean are respected. Let us work towards a more accountable and transparent system that contributes to the well-being and progress of our nation,” he said.

Amid the ongoing debates surrounding SIs, some experts have suggested the need for a comprehensive review of the legislative framework governing these instruments. They propose establishing clearer guidelines for the use of SIs, ensuring they are limited to urgent matters and subject to rigorous parliamentary oversight.

Speaking during a presentation on Accountability Lab Zimbabwe online platform, Valentine Maponga who is the Communications Officer at Veritas Zimbabwe explored the significance of SIs in relation to the role of parliament and the constitution of Zimbabwe.

“The significance of SIs on the legislature and the Constitution in Zimbabwe can be understood in several ways. Firstly, SIs provide flexibility and efficiency in implementing laws and regulations, as they can be used to quickly and easily modify and adapt legal frameworks to changing circumstances without going through the full legislative process.

“Secondly, SIs can potentially pose a challenge to constitutional principles that aim to protect the separation of powers. Zimbabwe’s constitution provides for a system of checks and balances, where executive power is balanced by legislative and judicial oversight. However, executive overreach through SIs can undermine this system, particularly if the executive uses SIs to bypass or nullify existing legislation passed by the legislature.

“Thirdly, SIs can sometimes be used to achieve political objectives rather than being driven by legal necessity. For example, in Zimbabwe, SIs have been used by the government to impose restrictions on protests and civic gatherings, which some argue violates the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

“Overall, while SIs play a useful role in facilitating the implementation of legislation, ensuring that they are consistent with constitutional principles is essential to prevent executive overreach and protect the rule of law. Parliament has to play its role in making sure that its primary role is to make laws. Section 130 of the Constitution clearly outlines the powers and functions of the Senate and the National Assembly,” he said.

He further stated that there is a need for the parliament to make sure that government is accountable for its actions. Maponga added that parliament must remember that they represent the interest of the people, thus the government should be accountable to the public.

“Parliament has a crucial role of oversight, and it must ensure that the government is accountable for its actions. To reclaim this role, Parliament can take various measures such as: Strengthening its oversight mechanisms. Parliament can increase the number and scope of parliamentary committees to scrutinize the government’s actions effectively. Secondly, in Enhancing public engagement, parliamentarians should engage more with the public to hear their concerns and gather insights into how policies may affect them.

“Third is increasing transparency. Parliament should promote transparency in government operations by enhancing access to information and ensuring that the public can hold the government accountable. fourthly, restricting the use of SIs. Parliament must restrict the government’s use of SIs to bypass parliamentary scrutiny and ensure adequate scrutiny is conducted before enacting new laws. Ultimately, Parliament must assert its authority as an independent institution that represents the interests of the people and ensures that the government is accountable to the public,” said Maponga.

When it comes to SIs they have a direct impact on the daily lives of people in Zimbabwe. therefore, it is vital that the government engages and consults with a broad range of stakeholders, including ordinary citizens, civil society organizations, and experts in relevant fields. this will promote transparency, accountability, and ultimately, greater trust in the decision-making process.

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