Thursday 18 July 2013

My Perspective On The Second Session Of The 11th National Assembly

By Paul Shalala

It is the first session of parliament in the recent past which has presided over major policy changes in the governance of the nation.

The second session of the Eleventh National Assembly which convened on 21st September 2012, is expected to adjourn on Friday 19th July 2013.

A parliamentary session is usually organised in three phases which include the budget phase, the legislation phase and the committee phase

During the budget phase held between September and December last year, the 2013 National Budget was presented and adopted.

In the legislation phase held between February and March 2013, several bills were presented and adopted.

And in the current committee phase which is likely to adjourn tomorrow, 20 parliamentary committees have reported to the house and questions for oral answer sessions have also been a daily feature.

By the time it adjourns, this session of parliament would have overseen a transition period for policies from the previous ones initiated by the MMD to those proposed and implemented  by the Patriotic Front.

Among the 17 Bills passed by this session of parliament include five controversial and radical ones that steered huge debate and reactions from stakeholders.

One of these is the Re-Denomination of Currency Bill of 2012 which changed the kwacha notes and re-introduced coins.

Another is the Bank of Zambia Amendment Bill of 2013 which prompts investors to bring back proceeds from mineral sales abroad.

For decades, Zambians had complained that proceeds from mineral sales were being kept abroad and never benefited the nation.

Another thorny issue that brought emotions in Parliament was the issue of subsidies.

Despite not having been tabled in the house, the removal of fuel and maize subsidies was a hotly contested for issue on the floor of the house.

On most Fridays during the Vice President's Question Time, the issue of subsidies was being raised by opposition members of parliament who argued that the move would worsen hunger in the nation.

This debate later moved a step further when MMD Solwezi Central Member of Parliament Lucky Mulusa moved a private members motion to re-instate the subsidies last week.

The motion was heavily debated and took long to conclude but when the vote was cast, the ruling party polled 70 votes against the 52 votes for the opposition.

And that is how the motion on re-introducing subsidies was lost.

Despite this loss by the opposition, the second session of the Eleventh National Assembly is also credited for having passed two opposition motions.

Lubansenshi Independent Member of Parliament Patrick Mucheleka successfully moved a motion to refocus the Rural Development Policy in October last year.

The policy was to refocus government's approach towards poverty alleviation and the house approved it.

Another opposition motion which was passed by the house was one on accelerating the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals which was moved by UPND Bweengwa Member of Parliament Highvie Hamududu last week.

In total, parliament in the current session received 20 committee reports which include the two highly contested ones from the Public Accounts Committee.

However, this session of parliament did not discuss the hugely anticipated Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) which the Patriotic front government promised to bring back to the house in June this year.

FOI has since been renamed as the Access to Information Bill (ATI).

A week ago, Vice President Dr Guy Scott informed the house that the Bill is expected to be presented in parliament in its next sitting as it was still undergoing scrutiny in the committee on legislation.

Another important feature that was observed in the current sitting of parliament was the increase in the resignation of opposition lawmakers to join the ruling Patriotic Front.

These resignations have caused numerous by-elections which have mostly been won by the PF which has a slim majority in the house.

In the last one year, Parliament has also seen a new trend where UPND members of parliament have for the first time in history joined government and crossed from the left side of the Speaker to the right side which hosts the executive.

This has to some extent changed the balance of power in the house in favour of PF in as far as voting is concerned.

As parliament adjourns tomorrow, eight seats remain vacant following resignations by the incumbent and nullifications of seats by the courts of law.

These include Chipata Central, Kafulafuta, Mkushi North, Solwezi East, Mkaika, Mulobezi, Malambo and Petauke Central.

Eight new members of parliament from these constituencies are expected to be elected and sworn in in the next sitting of parliament which is expected to convene in September.