LEGAL think-tank Veritas has accused the government of failure to respect the rule of law through unlawful suspension of standing statutes by Cabinet ministers.
In its latest Bill Watch publication, Veritas said the country’s Constitution did not give public officers inherent powers to suspend laws or to exempt people from complying with them.
Veritas raised a red flag on three recent government announcements, which contradicted the law.
These are the recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions by Cabinet, an announcement by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube on suspension of import duty and restrictions on basic commodities for six months, and the declaration by Cabinet that all existing carbon credit agreements were null and void.
Veritas said the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed by regulations and orders made under the Public Health Act, hence a Cabinet resolution alone could not exempt members of the public from adhering to the restrictions.
The legal think-tank also said Ncube‘s suspension of duty on basic commodities was in violation of the law as the Open General Import Licence had not yet been amended.
“Both the (Finance) minister’s announcement and the Permanent Secretary’s statement show a complete disregard for the rule of law. Customs duties are imposed by regulations and notices under the Customs and Excise Act, and they cannot be lifted or altered except by formal amendments to those regulations and notices, and moreover the amendments have to be confirmed by an Act of Parliament within six months according to section 225 of the Act.”
Veritas said the ministers’ pronouncements that were against the law would drive away investments as investors would not have confidence that their contracts would be respected by government and enforced by the courts.
“What is remarkable about these three is the blithe disregard for the rule of law with which they were carried out, the implicit assumption that ministers can change the law by decree or public announcement. The secretary for Finance (George Guvamatanga), for example, called on the Ministry of Industry and Commerce to “complement” his minister’s measures by amending the Open General Import Licence. He did not seem to understand that his minister’s measures would have no legal effect until the Open General Import Licence was amended. Compliance with the law was an afterthought apparently, a tidying-up exercise to be done at some future time rather than an essential step that should have been completed before, or at the same time as the minister made his announcement.”
Source – newsday