Clerk of Zimbabwe Parliament tries to manipulate the Constitution to extend his term of office

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Clerk of Parliament Mr Austin Zvoma is trying to manipulate provisions of the new Constitution to extend his term of office, it has emerged.
Information gathered by The Sunday Mail shows that Mr Zvoma will soon reach retirement age (65 years) and is duly scheduled to retire on November 30.

The Salary Service Bureau (SSB) has since told him to expect his last pay cheque next month.

However, the Clerk, who has served in that capacity for 25 years, wants to remain at Parliament Building under disputable constitutional cover.

Section 154 of the new Constitution states that the Clerk of Parliament is appointed for a six-year term and may be appointed for one more term.

Austin Zvoma
Austin Zvoma

Parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders Committee (SROC) is the appointing authority.

And Part 4 (Existing Officers) of the Sixth Schedule provides that individuals who held office before the new Constitution’s effective date will continue to do so under service conditions prescribed in the former Constitution.

Reports say Mr Zvoma has misinterpreted these two provisions to mean he will automatically serve six more years with the prospect of an additional term.

Reaching retirement age, nonetheless, means his fate now rests with the SROC, legal experts say.

In fact, the only person whose tenure transitioned automatically is former Attorney-General Mr Johannes Tomana who has continued in office as Prosecutor-General in terms of Paragraph 19 (2) Part 4 of the Sixth Schedule.

Paragraph 13 (Part 4) of the Sixth Schedule reads: “Any person who, immediately before the former Constitution continues to hold or act in that office, or the equivalent office under this Constitution, on the same conditions of service until the expiry of his or her term of office under those conditions of service or until he or she resigns, retires or is removed from office in terms of this Constitution or those conditions of service, as the case may be.”

In correspondence seen by The Sunday Mail, Mr Zvoma declares that Section 154 (2) “does away with the retirement age”, and purports to be serving his “first six-year term”.

He also requests the SROC to concur with his interpretation and draft his “first term” contract.

“I have noted that the Salary Advice from the Salary Service Bureau (SSB) reflects that my retirement date is 30 November 2014.

It is apparent that SSB is not aware of a change in the term of office of the Clerk of Parliament pursuant to the enactment of the new Constitution of Zimbabwe on 23 May 2013.

“As you are aware, the Clerk of Parliament is now appointed in terms of Section 154 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe for a six-year term, and may be reappointed for one such further term.

The age of retirement, 65 years, in the Officers of Parliament (Terms of Service) Regulations, 1977, which the SSB is relying on, is no longer applicable to the Clerk of Parliament.”

He continues: “ . . . As Clerk of Parliament ‘immediately before the effective date’, it is my reading that I am already serving my first term of six years. In terms of Section 154 of the Constitution, as read together with Paragraph 13 Part 4 of the Sixth Schedule, there is neither need for my fresh appointment or confirmation of my first six-year term of office nor the approval of the National Assembly.

“. . .What remains is for the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders (SROC), the employer, to come up with my contract for the first six-year term reflecting the ‘same conditions of service’ referred to in Paragraph 13 Part 4 of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution”.

Harare lawyer Mr Jonathan Samukange said the 12 years that the Clerk of Parliament is entitled to serve under the new Constitution do not apply retrospectively.

He said a Clerk nearing retirement and seeking an extended office tenure could only apply to the SROC.

“What he can do is apply to the SROC for them to extend (his tenure) by a further five years, which will then take him to the Ninth Parliament.

The Ninth Parliament can also extend (his tenure) by another five years, depending on its decision,” said Mr Samukange.

“The problem is that he is now 65. His survival now rests with the SROC, and even Members of Parliament.”

Sources in Parliament said the matter is likely to be tabled before the SROC this week. “The SROC is going to meet next week (this week) to discuss the matter, but frankly, this will be a waste of the SROC’s time because it is a Constitutional matter which is very clear. It is an open-and-shut case,” said a source familiar with the matter.

“Zvoma’s term as Clerk ends on November 30 and a new Clerk needs to be appointed. If Zvoma wants the job, he should prepare his CV and apply. That is the only legal route available to him. The rest is political, not legal.”

The source added: “It is surprising for him to think that he is the only one who knows the law. The SB is being good to him.

“They are reminding him. These guys, more than anyone else, are legalistic and aware that he has reached 65 years.

“Some MPs, who have been threatening to petition the First Lady, have been going around campaigning for Zvoma, saying even if the law is like that, he should be allowed to stay . . . he has been working well with the party.”

Source: Sunday News

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