Chinamasa the stumbling block


Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa was said to be the stumbling block to the parliamentary reform programme that was funded by the United States government to bring about a more transparent and inclusive approach to law making, through the establishment of Parliamentary Committees.

According to the United States embassy the results of all this laborious process, based upon a re-engineered legislative process as recommended by the Parliamentary Reform Committee in 1998, were disappointing.

The reports provided to Parliament by the committees were delivered, but debate was limited on the House floor by the Leader of the House, Patrick Chinamasa.


Full cable:


If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Reference ID






2003-01-27 14:53

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.









E.O. 12958: N/A










1. This year represents the second time in Parliament’s

20 year history that the budget bill has been

disaggregated and subjected to a serious review by

Parliament’s newly (2000) created portfolio committees-

consisting of Members of the ruling and opposition

political parties. This new, more transparent and

inclusive approach to law making has seen the addition

of outside experts, civil society organizations and

interest groups participating in a critique of

government’s public policy objectives. The unique

innovation this year was the early engagement of

portfolio committees with the ministries they shadow to

discuss the 2003 budget requests. Inclusive public

hearings that discussed those requests were held in

April, well in advance of the official submission of the

2003 budget bill in late November. In a number of

instances, agreements made between committees and their

ministries were reflected in the final budget bill.

Particularly effective were the Health and Child Welfare

Committee, and the Agriculture and Lands Committee,

which demonstrated significant influence over the



2. Despite this encouraging process, the disappointment

of the year centered on the official review of the

budget bill in November. The budget bill was delivered

very late in the year which limited the amount of time

for the committees to do a final review. Its

assumptions were widely criticized as unrealistic and it

did not address any of the underlying economic problems

plaguing Zimbabwe. The notice given to civil society

and interest groups was insufficient to ensure their

full participation. And the House, through the

duplicitous action of the Minister of Justice, managed

to pass the budget with virtually no debate and no

amendments, marginalizing the portfolio committees’

November recommendations for change and improvement.

The result is that the Parliament did not follow through

on an otherwise promising process of early engagement

with the executive and civil society to ensure that the

additional changes called for in the review of the

Budget Bill were enacted into law. Although the

Executive Branch will ignore or marginalize Parliament

when necessary, strengthening an institution that will

play a crucial role in a future democratic Zimbabwe and

which currently provides a rare opportunity for regular

interaction between ZANU-PF and MDC politicians is an

objective worth supporting. End summary.






3. Based upon lessons learned last year with the budget

bill, parliament’s portfolio committees began their work

in preparation for the 2003 budget request in April,

seven months prior to its submission to Parliament.

These reviews with senior ministry representatives and a

broad range of stakeholders focused on government

spending compared against previously agreed upon

objectives, policies and program targets. The

committees were aided by locally hired consultants drawn

from the private sector and university community (with

expertise in each sector). The hearings received some

media attention and were well attended. Civil society

organizations offered their views, shared their

expertise, and provided the useful scrutiny. Five

committees in particular led the way in a proactive

approach to law making and establishing a firm basis for

effective executive oversight and improved

accountability: the Agriculture and Lands Committee;

the Health and Child Welfare Committee; the Local

Government Committee; the Education Committee; and the

Mines, Energy and Tourism Committees (two chaired by

ZANU-PF and three chaired by MDC).


4. The 2003 budget bill was presented by the Minister of

Finance against a backdrop of economic turmoil, driven

largely by political instability and crisis economic

mismanagement. The budget presented a cogent

description of the problems facing the economy as well

as a reasonable set of explanations for many of the

causes. What it failed to do, however, was offer any

practical or effective solutions. The budget speech

proposed some controversial and unpopular measures

reported reftel but offered very little in the way of

economic stimulus to increase investment and

productivity, encourage exports, create jobs or to

effectively curb a rising rate of inflation.


5. Parliamentary Committees went to work on this budget

bill, breaking it apart by sector or “Vote” while the

Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee

looked carefully at the macro economics and public

finance aspects of government’s proposed spending plans.

A team of four practicing economists, hired by USAID’s

Parliamentary Strengthening Program, assisted the

committee in its review of the budget and held a

briefing for all Members of Parliament (MPs) to raise

pertinent issues before the portfolio committees got

down to work. Among other things, the Budget and

Finance Committee raised concerns about inter-sectoral

allocations and how they track with pronounced

government policy, about the preference for consumption

as opposed to investment expenditures, and about how

these expenditure proposals fair in light of inflation

or in real terms compared to previous years. Portfolio

committees looked at overall spending proposals compared

to ministry budget requests, examined what the proposed

reductions would mean in practical terms and queried

intra-vote allocations against stated objectives,

priorities and likely outcomes. All this was done in

full public view, with stakeholder representatives,

government officials, consultants, advisors and

journalists present and reports were tabled in the House

on the findings and recommendations for change and






6. The results of all this laborious process, based upon

a re-engineered legislative process as recommended by

the Parliamentary Reform Committee in 1998, were

disappointing. The reports provided to Parliament by

the committees were delivered, but debate was limited on

the House floor by the Leader of the House, Patrick

Chinamasa. Moreover, most Ministers failed to show up

in the House during the tabling of committee reports,

opting for the Minister of Finance to answer questions

that the reports raised in general terms. The Minister

of Finance’s frequent refrain was that there was no

money to do the things that committees and government

departments favored. There was virtually no response to

suggestions to rethink priorities and rearrange planned

expenditures based upon the committees’ discussions and

reports. This marginalizing of committee work in the

House undermined the authority of both the ZANU-PF and

MDC portfolio committee chairs.


7. More disturbing was a maneuver by the Leader of the

House in which resulted in no debate taking place on the

individual votes. An agreement was made between the

Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition

that they would each consult their party caucuses before

debating the budget bill, had been made, but the Leader

of the House defaulted on his word. He literally

rearranged the order of items for review to deal with

the budget bill when Members from both the opposition

and ruling party were out of the chamber for the tea

break. With only 18 out of 150 members present, he fast

tracked the 2003 budget and passed it without any real

debate on the House floor.







8. The 2000 Parliamentary Reforms from the 4th

Parliament set out an ambitious set of reform objectives

intended to strengthen Parliament as an institution.

The introduction of a multi-party legislature and the

reaction by the ruling party to this challenge has made

the reforms more difficult, and at the same time all the

more necessary. The changes in the legislative process,

as illustrated by the 2003 budget bill, show that some

important tenets of democratic governance have been

incorporated and are in the process f being

institutionalized. The establishment of portfolio

committees to shadow the ministries, the use of outside

expertise in reviewing bills, and the inclusion of civil

society, interest groups and journalists are all new

ways of doing business. As a result, the MPs have

gained expertise and understanding of government

programs, identified with key constituencies, and

improved their ability to offer constructive suggestions

for change and improvement. The fact that government

spares no effort to marginalize these contributions when

legislation reaches the House floor suggests how

insecure and defensive the government is in the face of

perceived threats, both real and imaginary.


9. Despite the final disappointment of the budget

process, we anticipate that Parliament’s committees will

continue to monitor government performance. Both the

ZANU-PF and MDC chairpersons take their roles seriously.

As USAID’s Parliamentary Strengthening Program continues

to support the Portfolio Committee system, it helps to

operationalize the reform program and bring a new way of

doing business in Parliament. USAID also supports and

trains a core group of 16 civil society organizations

that advocate to the portfolio committees in order to

create more valid engagement and more constructive

dialogue between the two sides. This two-sided equation

of the USAID democracy and governance program has

ensured that Parliament offers a venue for bringing

together civil society and ministry departments to

debate issues and make recommendations that heretofore

where outside their realm of influence. The long-term

challenge for these reforms will be to enact change on

the floor of the House and to produce final legislation

that meets the litmus test of democratic reform. In the

meantime, however, institutional change at the committee

level continues to create a space that will hopefully

permit the parliament at some future point to

effectively address the enormous political obstacles

present in Zimbabwe today. WHITEHEAD



Don't be shellfish... Please SHARETweet about this on Twitter
Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
Email this to someone
Print this page

Like it? Share with your friends!

Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *