Parliament of Zimbabwe Portfolio Commitee maps way forward on access to documentation

Parliament of Zimbabwe currently consists of 19 fully operational Parliamentary Portfolio Committees and one post-audit Public Accounts Committee which examines audited reports of various state institutions. These committees undertake specialised functions which the House as a whole sitting in session may not be able to undertake and execute. Principally they are responsible for reviewing and monitoring the operations and activities of government programs and policies to ensure efficient use and allocation of national resources. Oversight inquiries by the committees range from specialised investigations to annual hearings with various government departments. Portfolio Committees perform both a pre-audit and post-audit function on government departments to assess whether the project outcomes are as were expected.

In carrying out and fulfilling their mandates the committees meet on a regular basis and this week, (22 – 26 November) a number of meetings some of which were open to members of the public were conducted. The Portfolio committees which met include Budget, Finance and Economic Development; Environment; Women Affairs, Community and Small and Medium Enterprises; Local Government; Health and Child Care; Mines and Mining Development; Primary and Secondary; Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services amongst others.

Below is a summary of the Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services Portfolio Committee meeting where there were discussions on a planned nationwide exercise on access to documentation.


Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services Portfolio Committee Meeting

The Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services Portfolio Committee met on Tuesday 23 November through a hybrid meeting with some participants attending physically and some attending virtually via ZOOM. The meeting created a platform for the presentation of oral evidence from the Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage on measures put in place to ensure that all eligible citizens have access to primary national identity documents ahead of the 2023 general elections.

The meeting was chaired by Honourable Levi Mayihlome, the Portfolio Committee chairperson. He presented the background on access to documentation and highlighted that there has been nationwide outcry as citizens are failing to access primary identity documents such as birth certificates and IDs which is hampering voter registration.  He highlighted that it has been brought to the attention of the Portfolio Committee that the Ministry of Home Affairs will be undertaking a mobile nationwide documentation exercise. He further highlighted that the Committee has received communication to the effect that the documentation exercise will run concurrently with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) mobile voter registration. Honourable Mayihlome called upon the representatives from the Ministry of Home Affairs in attendance and these were the Permanent Secretary and the Deputy Registrar General to report on the state of preparedness of the Ministry with regards to this exercise.

In his presentation, Mr Aaron Nhepera, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs highlighted that plans are in place for a country wide mobile documentation exercise scheduled for April to September 2022. He explained that this is being done primarily to clear the backlog created by the COVID-19 restrictions on issuing of primary national identity documents. He further highlighted that before every election, the Registrar General’s department works with ZEC to facilitate access to documentation so as to ensure that eligible citizens have the requisite documents for voter registration.

Delivering his presentation, the Deputy Registrar General Mr Ben Mpala highlighted that the Civil Registry department will be conducting a mobile documentation exercise will be held over a period of 6 months in all districts of the country from April 2020. Mr Mpala informed the meeting delegates that currently the budgets for this exercise have been submitted to National Treasury for consideration. Mr Mpala went on to say that the department has also submitted a request to Treasury for the funds to be disbursed three months in advance so that all the requisite material is purchased on time and staff trainings are rolled out in advance.

With regards to personnel and staff who will be undertaking the exercise, Mr Mpala highlighted that the department is looking to recruit a total of 3792 personnel who are members of staff with the civil service. Mr Mpala highlighted that this increase in numbers is meant to ensure that the department clears the backlog that had accumulated due the COVID-19 restrictions which saw a closure of registry offices countrywide. Mr Mpala highlighted that during the mobile exercise more teams will be deployed to areas which have more need and those which are marginalised.

Following up on the presentation, Honourable Albert Nguluvhe of Beitbridge East constituency raised a question on what strategies are in place to ensure that school children who are preparing to write exams obtain the requisite documents. In response Mr Mpala said that some of the registry offices are issuing the documentation but most are not issuing due to limited capacity. He highlighted that lack of office consumables are hampering the issuance of IDs and the Ministry is working on acquiring resources so that issuance of documents can be done on a full scale.

Hon Joseph Chinotimba highlighted that in most rural offices there is no electricity and computers which usually slows down the process of issuance of documents. He then posed a question on what the Ministry is doing to modernise these offices.  In response, Mr Nhepera said that in registry offices where there are no computers and electricity, the Ministry is undertaking a project to ensure every sub office is computerised and has internet access by end of 2025.

Honourable Joseph Chinotimba further probed on what is being done with regards to the issue of construction of sub registry offices nationwide as currently people are traveling long distances to obtain documentation especially in rural areas. In response Mr Nhepera highlighted that there are plans to construct sub offices as close to people as possible however due to financial constraints, this will be done gradually.

The meeting came to a close with Honourable Levi Mayihlome encouraging the Ministry representatives to give regular updates on the mobile documentation exercise so that stakeholders are kept abreast of progress being made in this regard.

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