Committee System

INTRODUCTION

 Under a parliamentary democracy, Parliament oversees Government administration and subjects its activities to detailed scrutiny on behalf of the electorate.

 To carry out this important function, Parliament has established parliamentary committees that conduct surveillance on defined areas of Government administration.  A parliamentary committee system ensures that the Executive is accountable to Parliament.  It enables Parliament to probe into any maladministration and make recommendations for improvement.  Parliamentary committees have been in existence in Zambia as far back as the pre-independence era.  The committees have undergone growth and procedural changes over the years due to a number of factors such as increased governmental responsibilities and activities.

 This system brings the legislature face to face with bureaucrats, thus increasing the information available to Parliament on governmental problems.

 TYPES OF COMMITTEES
 

Standing Orders make provision for sessional committees, which are reconstituted at the beginning of each session, to submit reports to the House.

 Parliamentary sessional committees are classified into three distinct categories as follows:

 Housekeeping, General Purpose and Portfolio Committees.

 (a)            HOUSEKEEPING COMMITTEES
             Standing Orders Committee
 

(i)    The Standing Orders Committee consists of the Speaker and seven members appointed by the Speaker at the commencement of every session.  The Speaker is the Chairperson of the Committee. The quorum of the Committee is four.

 

(ii)    In addition to any other duties placed upon it by any standing or other order of the National Assembly, it is the duty of the Committee to consider all proposals for the amendments of Standing Orders and any petition or recommendations received regarding salaries, allowances, pensions or gratuities of officers and Members of the National Assembly and their dependants, such matters connected with the staff of the National Assembly and any such other matter as the Speaker may refer to it.

(iii)   The Committee may circulate the reports and recommendations of the Committee to Members of the National Assembly and, if within the prescribed period no objection in writing signed by a member has been received by the Clerk, the reports or recommendations are deemed to have been approved by the National Assembly.  The prescribed period is not less than four sitting days, if the House is in session, and twenty-one days if the House stands adjourned.

Provided that on representation from the Speaker that the matter is urgent, the Standing Orders Committee may prescribe a shorter period.

Provided further that if objection is received from any member of the National Assembly within the prescribed period, the Committee may consider the validity of such objection and may either cause the report or recommendation to be brought up for consideration by the House or resolve that the report or the recommendation be deemed approved by the National Assembly, in which case the report or recommendation is so deemed.

(iv)      The Committee examines and approves the estimates of the National Assembly.

(v)       The Committee examines matters pertaining to the variation of parliamentary procedure, customs and traditions and any matters connected therewith.

Committee on Privileges, Absences and Support Services
 

(i)                 The Committee on Privileges, Absences and Support consists of eight members appointed by the Speaker at the commencement of every session.  The Chairperson shall be the Deputy Speaker.  The quorum of the Committee is four.

 

(ii)               The Committee examines every case where a member has been absent for any period from the sittings of the House or any sessional committee without the permission of the Speaker or the Chief Whip and reports whether the absence should by resolution, either direct the Speaker to reprimand such a member or suspend him from the services of the National Assembly for such a period as it may determine.

 

(iii)   Whenever a member is absent for a period of eight days or more from the sittings of the House or for a period of five days or more from the sittings of any sessional committee without obtaining permission, a letter shall be addressed to him/her by the Chairperson of the Committee with a copy sent to appropriate Whips ordering the member to appear before the Committee.

(iv)    The Committee considers all matters connected with the comfort and convenience of members around and within the precincts of Parliament.

(v)   The Committee assists the Speaker with its advice on matters connected with the policy and administration of the Library

(vi)    The Committee is the privileges committee of the House and considers all matters relating to privileges of members.

Parliamentary Reforms and Modernisation Committee

(i)     The Parliamentary Reforms and Modernisation Committee consists of ten members appointed by the Speaker at the commencement of every session.  The quorum of the Committee is four.

(ii)     In addition to any other duties placed upon it by any Standing or  other Orders of the Assembly, the duties of the Parliamentary Reforms and Modernisation Committee are to examine and propose reforms to the powers, procedures, practices, organisation and facilities of the National Assembly, provided that in proposing such reforms, the Committee shall bear in mind the balance of power between the respective constitutional responsibilities, roles of the National Assembly and the Government and the duties of other House-keeping Committees.  The Committee has power, when considered necessary, to adjourn and travel from place to place inside and outside Zambia to solicit information and seek evidence on the matters under examination, and enjoys the powers, rights privileges and immunities provided to the Committees of the House by the Standing Orders and, in its report to the House, the Committee is empowered to include recommendations as to the implementation of any reforms proposed in such reports.

(b)   GENERAL PURPOSE COMMITTEES

Public Accounts Committee
 

(i)   The Public Accounts Committee consists of nine members appointed by the National Assembly at the commencement of every session.  The quorum of the Committee is four.

(ii)   The Committee examines the accounts showing the appropriation of sums granted by the National Assembly to meet the public expenditure, the Report of the Auditor-General on these accounts and such other accounts.  The Committee also exercises the powers conferred on it under article 117(5) of the Constitution of the Republic of Zambia.

Committee on Government Assurances
 

(i)   The Committee on Government Assurances consists of eight members other than the Vice-President, Ministers, Deputy Ministers or any members holding or acting in any office prescribed by or under an Act of Parliament, appointed by the Speaker at the commencement of every session.  The Committee, whose quorum is four, elects its own Chairperson.

(ii)   The Committee:

(a)     scrutinises the assurances, promises and undertakings and other matters related to the foregoing given by Ministers from time to time on the floor of the House;

(b)   comments on delays in implementation and also the adequacy of the action taken;

(c)     examines annual reports of all Government ministries and departments in the context of the autonomy and efficiency of Government ministries and departments and determines whether the affairs of the said bodies are being managed according to relevant Acts of  Parliament, established regulations, rules and general orders;

(d)    exercises such other functions that are not covered by paragraphs (a), (b) and (c)) above as may be allotted to the Committee by the Speaker from time; and reports on:

 i.       the extent to which such assurances, promises, undertaking and any      other matter related to the foregoing have been implemented; and

 ii.       where implemented, whether such implementation has taken place  within the minimum time necessary for the purpose.

Committee on Delegated Legislation

(i)    The Committee on Delegated Legislation consists of eight members other than the Vice-President, Ministers, Deputy Minister or any members holding or acting in any office prescribed by or under an Act of Parliament, appointed by the Speaker at the commencement of every session.  The quorum of the Committee is four.

(ii)    In appointing the members of the Committee, one of whom shall be the chairperson, the Speaker gives preference to those who have a legal background and experience.

(iii)     The Committee scrutinises and reports to the House, through the Speaker, whether the powers to make orders, regulations, rules, sub-rules and by-laws delegated by Parliament are being properly exercised by any person or authority within such delegation.  As the machinery of delegated legislation is dealt with under the heading “Statutory Instruments”, these instruments must:

(a)     be in accordance with the Constitution or statute under which they are made;

(b)     not trespass unduly on personal rights and liberties;

(c)      not make the rights and liberties of citizens depend upon administrative decisions; and

(d)      be concerned only with administrative detail and not amount to substantive legislation, which is a matter for parliamentary enactment.

Committee on Estimates

(i)    The Committee on Estimates consists of nine members other than the Vice-President, Ministers, Deputy Ministers or any members holding or acting in any office prescribed by or under an Act of Parliament appointed by the Speaker at the commencement of every session.  The quorum of the Committee is four.

(ii)    The Committee is mandated to examine the estimates, the Excess Expenditure  Appropriation Bill and the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by the National Assembly to Government ministries and departments: to report on the economies, improvement in organisations, efficiency or administrative reform consistent with the policy underlying the estimates, and examine whether the money is well laid out within the limits of the policy implied in the estimates, to suggest alternative policies in order to bring about efficiency and economy in administration; and to make recommendations in a report to the House for consideration and implementation in future budgets.

(c)    PORTFOLIO COMMITTEES

(i)    Committees and their Portfolios

The following portfolio committees set out below, relate to as far as possible to the structure of Government, consisting of eight members other than the Vice-President, Ministers, Deputy Ministers, or any other member holding or acting in any office prescribed by or under an Act of Parliament, appointed by the Speaker at the commencement of each session:

Committee on Agriculture and Lands

This Committee is responsible for the following Ministries:

-    Agriculture and Cooperatives

-    Lands

Committee on Economic Affairs and Labour

This Committee is responsible for the following Ministries:

-      Finance and National Planning

-     Commerce, Trade and Industry

-      Mines and Minerals Development

-      Labour and Social Security

Committee on Communications, Transport Works and Supply
 

This Committee is responsible for the following Ministries:

-      Communications and Transport

-     Works and Supply

Committee on Energy Environment and Tourism

This Committee is responsible for the following Ministries:

-     Tourism, Environment, and Natural Resources

-     Energy and Water Development

Committee on Health, Community Development and Social Welfare

This Committee is responsible for the following Ministries:

-      Health

-     Community Development and Social Services

Committee on Information and Broadcasting Services
 

This Committee is responsible for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services.

Committee on National Security and Foreign Affairs

This Committee is responsible for the following Ministries:

-       Defence

-       Home Affairs

-       Foreign Affairs

Committee on Education, Science and Technology
 

This Committee is responsible for the following Ministries:

-        Education

-       Science, Technology and Vocational Training

Committee on Local Governance, Housing and Chiefs’ Affairs
 

This Committee is responsible for the Ministry of Local Government and Housing.

Committee on Legal Affairs, Governance, Human Rights and Gender Matters
 

This Committee is responsible for the following Ministries:

-         Legal Affairs

-        Gender in Development Division

Committee on Sport, Youth and Child Affairs
 

This Committee is responsible for the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Child Development

(ii)    Functions of Portfolio Committees

     The Committees have the following mandate:

(a)     to study and report on the mandate, management and operation of ministries, departments and agencies assigned to them by the Standing Orders Committee or the House;

(b)    to initiate investigations on specific policy or subject matter;

(c)    to examine and make recommendations on Bills referred to them the House; and

(d)    the provisions of standing orders governing the proceedings of the committee in their consideration of committee stages of Bills with necessary modifications.

A committee may sit whilst the House is sitting provided that, on a division being called in the House, the Chairperson of the committee shall suspended the proceedings in the committee for such time as will, in his/her opinion, enable the members to vote in a division.

APPOINTMENT OF MEMBERS TO COMMITTEES
 

According to the provisions of Standing Order No.131 (2005 revised edition), the Standing Orders Committee in selecting members of committees, must ensure political party/group and gender representation and also take into consideration the experience and qualifications of individual members.

OPERATIONS OF COMMITTEES
 

In carrying out their functions, all Portfolio Committees adopt the following procedure of operations:

(a)    Programme of Work

After being constituted by the Speaker and subsequently electing their own chairpersons, all Portfolio Committees will begin their annual sessional assignments by drawing up a comprehensive programme of work which will define the activities to be undertaken in each year/session.

(b)   Summoning of Witnesses

When the Portfolio Committees begin to meet as per their programme of work, they are at liberty to call any person and/or document that they feel will assist then in their work.

It is contemptuous for any witness to fail to appear before any parliamentary committee without giving good and acceptable reasons.  It is equally contemptuous for any witness to give false information to a parliamentary committee.

In addition to reasonable expenses for transport actually incurred, witnesses summoned to give evidence before the Assembly or a committee thereof are paid expenses on such conditions and at such rates as the Speaker determines.

Payment at the discretion of any committee may be made to any professional or other witnesses or to persons whom the committee may deem necessary to employ in furtherance of the inquiry with which the committee is charged; and the committee’s resolution shall be sufficient authority for its payment by the Clerk of the National Assembly.

(c)      Public Participation in the Deliberations of Committees

The proceedings of committees are open to the public.  Committees may also decide to conduct their business in camera.

Whenever necessary, respective committees inform the public through the media about issues under consideration.  Those interested and with the necessary information, submit their written comments to the respective committees for consideration.  Thereafter, the committees are at liberty to invite any members of the public to their meetings as witnesses.

Committees should take Parliament to the people through inquiries.  Public input is important and committees should, as much as possible, promote public awareness and debate on matters such as Government policies and Bills being considered by Parliament.  Committees should provide a forum for the presentation of the various views of individual citizens and interest groups.

Committees are allowed to conduct public inquiries and the press can comment and report on their activities during their proceedings and after they have presented their reports to the House.  Public inquiries by committees enhance the effectiveness of the committee’s recommendations.  To avoid potential for character assassinations or publicity seeking, the Parliamentary Procedures contained in the National Assembly (Powers and privileges) Act and the Standing Orders will need to be enforced.

(d)    Committee Reports

Upon completion of their deliberations as per their respective programmes of work, all the Portfolio Committees compile their reports which are tabled in the House for consideration and subsequent adoption.  Where the House does not adopt a committee report, all its contents become null and void and cannot, therefore, be used as reference material.

(e)    Confidentiality of Committee Reports

Although proceedings of committees are open to the public, the final outcome of those proceedings, which culminate into committee reports, still remain guarded property of the National Assembly.  Committee reports are, therefore, treated as confidential until after being tabled in the House.

(f)     Action-Taken Reports

After committee reports have been adopted by the House, copies of the same, with covering letters, are sent to the respective ministries to take action on the observations and recommendations made by the committees on the various issues considered.

According to established Parliamentary Practice and Procedure, and the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, Action-Taken Reports or Treasury Minutes should be submitted to the National Assembly and tabled in the House not more than sixty days from the date on which a particular committee report was adopted.

(g)     Nature and Scope of the Action to be taken

Parliaments and their committees do not govern nor do they seek to govern.  Rather, parliaments and their committees have the mandate to enforce accountability by those that govern to those that they govern.  The observations and recommendations that committees make are, therefore, meant to enforce this accountability.

However, where the Executive feels very strongly that a particular recommendation cannot be adhered to, it is required to give a convincing reason why such recommendation cannot be accepted.  In order words, it is not obligatory for the Executive to implement all the recommendations made by committees of Parliament, provided that where differences of opinion occur, explicit and satisfactory reasons should be given.

(h)     Consideration of Bills

All Portfolio Committees have the mandate to consider Bills that are referred to them by the House.  Bills are referred to relevant Committees after the First Reading.