Jacob Mudenda, the speaker of the Zimbabwe’s National Assembly, has refused to accept a petition by civil society organisations urging parliamentarians to reject the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) Debt Assumption Bill.
The petition, undersigned by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) and its affiliate members including African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (Afrodad) and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, called for an official audit of the $1,3 billion debt to increase democratic accountability over the country’s finances and help give Zimbabwe’s citizens control over their economy.
The organisations had mandated MDC chief whip Innocent Gonese to move the motion in Parliament on their behalf in terms of section 149 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Mudenda dismissed Gonese’s attempt to present the petition as ill-advised.
Mudenda said in terms of Standing Order 176, the petition was supposed to indicate the persons petitioning the august house by appending signatures and listing their names on the petition.
The petition by the civil society organisations had only one signature for each of the organisations.
“This was not complied with in respect to the petition under review and there is no indication that the organisations authorised honourable Gonese to act on their behalf,” Mudenda said.
“It is apparent that the petition does not meet the legal requirements.”
The bill proposes that government takes over the apex bank’s $1,3 billion debt — owed to banks, the private sector and non-governmental organisations — to remove the encumbrance and allow it to play its role as the lender of last resort.
In terms of the bill, the State would assume debts incurred by the RBZ before December 31, 2008.
The Speaker dismissed the petition on the basis that it sought to challenge a Money Bill. According to paragraph 1 (b) of the fifth schedule of the constitution, a petition challenging money bills cannot be brought to Parliament unless approved by the vice president or a Cabinet minister.
“It is patently clear that Parliament duly involved the public through the portfolio committee on Finance in line with the provisions of Section 141 of the constitution by conducting public hearings to gather their views,” Mudenda said.
“The attempt therefore by honourable Gonese to submit the petition is ill-advised as the members are aware debate was concluded at the second reading stage.
“In any case, the member and others who have reservations have the opportunity to present their proposed amendments at the committee stage.”
In their petition, the civil society organisations expressed concern that the parliamentary debates did not focus on substantive issues and further accused the legislature of debating the matter in a partisan manner.
The legislature was accused of proceeding to consider the bill without carrying out a “public, transparent and participatory audit of the debt as well as disclosing the beneficiaries”.
“Now therefore, the petitioners beseech the National Assembly of the Parliament of Zimbabwe to urge Members of Parliament to reject the bill as the economy and taxpayers cannot afford to take-over of such a huge debt,” reads the petition.
The civic society groups called on the august House to set up a Public Debt Commission bringing together representatives from various stakeholders to conduct the debt audit.
Through a parliamentary Debt Audit Commission, Zimbabweans will get to know what loans the government of Zimbabwe acquired; for what purpose, and whether or not the borrowed money was actually used for its intended purpose.
They also recommended that the RBZ first liquidate its non-core assets to pay off the debt.
The apex bank has interests in Astra Holdings, Cairns Holdings, Homelink and Carslone Enterprise.
The civil society groups called for transparency in the handling of all transactions involving the national debt.
“We are worried about the devastating effects on the economy arising from the debt take-over; and extremely concerned about the glaring conflict of interest arising from the MPs voting on the Bill when they are beneficiaries,” the petition says.