Of misplaced priorities and clueless politicians

SO Zimbabwean parliamentarians were recalled from their constitutional break from parliament to come and railroad the Labour Amendment Bill following a wave of job dismissals in the wake of the July 17 Supreme Court ruling which gave employers the nod to terminate employees’ contracts on three months’ notice.By Malcom Shararamnangagwa\r\n\r\nListening to the debate in parliament on Tuesday, I could feel the passion with which MPs from across the political divide argued for and against passing the bill. The deliberations were all healthy as most MPs put across their points so eloquently. The bill was eventually passed.\r\n\r\nOutside parliament, robust debate raged for and against the July 17 Supreme Court ruling. Those for the ruling believed it had given struggling businesses a new lease on life as it made laying off workers affordable. Those against argued that it was not fair as it allowed for workers, some of whom have worked for decades, to be laid off “empty-handed”.\r\n\r\nThere was also new debate on the Labour Amendment Bill itself, with some saying it (the new bill) violates the constitution. The contentious issue for some, including the Parliament Legal Committee, was Clause 18, which provided for the retrospective application of Section 12 of the act to every employee whose services were terminated on three months’ notice on or after July 17.\r\n\r\nAnother point of concern raised by some analysts was the fact that Zimbabwe as a country was in the process of changing a law “willy-nilly” to protect the interest of employees, while at the same time infringing on the rights of the employer.\r\n\r\nQuestions are already being asked as to who would invest in a country where the laws could just be changed at a whim. The argument was that if the law could be applied in retrospect, what would stop ownership laws being changed from the controversial 51/49 ratio to a more adverse 99/1 ratio overnight?\r\n\r\nMy writing is, however, not about the rights and wrongs of the July 17 Supreme Court ruling or the merits or demerits of the new Labour Amendment Bill. I am more interested in the manner in which government and parliament has dealt with the issue of workers facing a wave of job dismissals.\r\n\r\nTo me the passing of the Labour Amendment Bill by parliament highlighted two key issues: that Zimbabwe’s failings as a nation are based on 1) misplaced priorities and 2) lack of political willpower.\r\n\r\nI just feel that if we were to approach our well-documented challenges with the same vigour and verve as we have approached this Labour Amendment Bill, our country will not be where it is today.\r\n\r\nFor instance, we passed a new constitution in 2013 but up to now most of the old laws are still to be aligned with the new constitution. The question is, where is the vigour and verve in such an important matter?\r\n\r\nIn another important matter, we were told as far back as June 2014 that cabinet had endorsed discussions around amendments to the Indigenisation and Empowerment Act and also directed the then responsible minister to align the law with the policy. However, up to now nothing to that effect has been done. Now the question is, where are our priorities?\r\n\r\nDo we really have the political willpower to amend such an important law, a law that has reportedly forced potential investors to open shop in the country?\r\n\r\nThe second-highest office holder in the country, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, told the nation as far back as December 2014 that government would pronounce new business policies aimed at relaxing indigenisation laws and promoting foreign direct investment early in the next year (2015).\r\n\r\nHowever, eight months into the promised year we are still to see any tangible traction on the matter. Where is government and parliament on this matter? Isn’t this issue as urgent as the job dismissals one? Why are we not asking parliament to work overtime and railroad important matters such as these?\r\n\r\nWe have important issues that were planned and pronounced on as far back as 2010, but up to now they are still to see the light of day. A good example is the transformation of the Zimbabwe Investment Authority into a one-stop shop that would limit the time to secure approval to invest in the country, which up to now is still a pipe dream.\r\n\r\nIf we could railroad this Labour Amendment Bill, what is really stopping us from doing the same for more important issues affecting the investment climate in the country? Why is the cost of doing business still so high more than five years after we were told that Zimbabwe was ranked 171st out of 183 countries?\r\n\r\nTo me it is clear that two of the challenges we face as a country is lack of political willpower and misplaced priorities.\r\n* Malcom Sharara is Fin24’s correspondent in Zimbabwe. Views expressed are his own.\r\n