Mthuli Ncube: King of the Last Minute – Fin Minister’s bad habit of leaving legislation to the final moment may prove costly

By Mike Murenzvi

“If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done” ~ Rita Mae Brown

On 22 February 2019, President Emmerson Mnangagwa issued the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) (Amendment of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Act and Issue of Real Time Gross Settlement Electronic Dollars (RTGS Dollars)) Regulations, 2019, commonly known as SI 33 of 2019. These widely felt regulations officially brought into force the RTGS Dollar and ended the contentious 1:1 foreign currency exchange peg with the US dollar. The regulations are effective for a period of 180 days, ending on 21 August 2019. As it stands, a major legal problem is looming because of this impending deadline.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube has had more than five months to draft and gazette a bill to amend the RBZ Act with all the changes brought about by SI 33/2019 and present it to Parliament for debate and enactment.

A question of time

In an Extraordinary Government Gazette published on 23 July 2019, the RBZ Amendment Bill, 2019 was finally published. At the time of its publishing, the bill had exactly one month to beat the deadline but it still has to follow the normal procedure for bills in Parliament.

From the time that a bill is gazetted, it takes a minimum of three weeks before it can be debated robustly in the National Assembly. The process of debate, and possible amendment, takes at least two days depending on the length of the bill, the mood of the MPs, and whether or not the Minister has applied and been granted for an extension in sitting hours.

After final agreement on the bill, whether amended or not, the debate process is repeated again in the Senate for another couple of days.

Under normal expedited circumstances, this whole process takes just over a month before it goes to the President for signing and enrolment as an act of Parliament. But, and it’s a big one, Mthuli doesn’t have a month. He has less than three weeks.

In the meantime, Parliament is scheduled to end its first session on the 1st of August and only open the second session mid-September with a State of the Nation Address by the President.

This means, the period in which this bill is meant to be passed and signed into law, Parliament will be on its annual break.

A question of urgency

The Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act (PPTMA) is designed to allow the President to issue a statutory instrument to enact, suspend, or amend laws on an urgent basis for a maximum of 180 days, until either the conditions that warrant the emergency no longer exist, or a substantive law covering the terms of the regulations has been enacted.

Arguably, the state of the economy as at 22 February warranted the urgent enactment of the law creating the RTGS dollar. From that point, it became evidently pressing upon Ncube to have his Ministry’s legal team and the Attorney-General’s office to draft the substantiating RBZ Amendment Act. In previous financial uses of the PPTMA, such as the Bond Note Regulations, the RBZ Act was amended by almost identical wording. In essence, nothing fancy was required, beyond copy and paste.

Now Mthuli is faced with the daunting task of urgently rushing a bill through Parliament. To do this, he will have to get the President and the Speaker to agree on a special sitting. This will most likely be under the powers of section 146(a) of the Constitution, which states: “The President may summon Parliament at any time to conduct special business”.

This will not go down well with MPs, especially those from the opposition, who have just rejected a fast-track process for the Marriages Bill proposed by the Justice Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi.

A history of delay?

This is not the first time that Ncube has delayed bringing a ratifying bill to Parliament. Last year, he did a similar move with the Intermediated Money Transfer (2%) Tax.

Despite having gazetted a ratifying bill within a week of the SI in October 2018. The measures were finally ratified as part of the budget bills for 2019 on 20 December, just in time for the 21 sitting days deadline.

One wonders whether the Minister is getting proper legal advice, if any, from within his Ministry as well as the Attorney-General. Without the legal instruments supporting his initiatives, any work done by Mthuli may be rendered moot, therefore he must always keep that in mind.

Potential disaster

The major tenets of SI 33/2019 being the RTGS dollar, the end of 1:1, and the inception of the multi-currency regime run deep within the Zimbabwean economy and can’t be reversed at a whim such as the expiry of their enabling instrument.

Section 7 of the PPTMA says, “…when any regulations made in terms of section two expire or are repealed, any law that was suspended, amended or modified by such regulations shall, with effect from the date of such expiry or repeal, have force in all respects as it existed before being suspended, amended or modified by the regulations concerned.”

The effects of the economy having traded using the RTGS dollar for six months and then suddenly reverting to US dollars, while at the same time invalidating SI 142/2019 that ended the multi-currency environment, is unfathomable. No investor would risk putting their money in an environment where the law swings with the wind. Who’s to say what will happen to our savings and other balances.

The procrastination and the laziness must stop. Running an economy requires proactive leadership, not reactive. The last minute, in this case spells out anarchy and not a last-ditch opportunity to get things done.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal opinions and should in no way be interpreted to represent the views of any organisations that the he is associated or connected with.