Opinion & Columnist

Amnesty to decongest prisons

Information, Publicity & Broadcasting Services. Minister Monica Mutsvangwa flanked by Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana (right) and Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Dr Misheck Sibanda during a post-Cabinet briefing in Harare yesterday. — Picture : Justin Mutenda

Cabinet received an update on the Covid-19 Outbreak, which was presented by the Minister of Defence and War Veterans Affairs as chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Task Force on the Covid-19 Outbreak.

Cabinet was informed that as of 12 March, 2021 Zimbabwe’s cumulative Covid-19 cases stood at 36 423, with 33 996 recoveries and 1 496 deaths. The recovery rate is 93 percent, with 34 722 cases attributed to local transmission. There are 931 active cases, and the cumulative number of infected Health Care Workers has rises from 4 008 to 4 210 with 18 deaths. Cabinet noted that preparations for the opening of schools have reached an advanced stage with examinations classes having as opened scheduled on 15 March 2021. Non-examination classes will open on March 22, 2021 as scheduled. Standard operating procedures are being emphasised, particularly regarding the availability of potable water at every school.

In order to utilise the existing capacity as agreed at the last meeting, Cabinet resolved that Stage Two of Phase One of the vaccination roll-out will include tobacco merchants and their workers, teachers and hospitality industry workers, and this should commence immediately. Cabinet also agreed that all sporting activities will now resume and observe standard operating procedures. Restaurants are now allowed to open for sit-ins at 50 percent sitting capacity, under strict adherence to Covid-19 guidelines.  Those found breaking the restrictions will be closed immediately.

The Health Services Amendment Bill

Cabinet considered and approved the Health Services Amendment Bill, which was presented by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs as chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Legislation.

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The key features of the Health Services Amendment Bill include the following:

(a) designation of the health service as an essential service in line with Section 65(3) of the Constitution,

(b) substitution of the Health Services  Board with the Health Services Commission and specifying the functions thereof;

(c) specification of the membership of the commission as comprising the chairperson who must be the chairman of the Civil Service Commission; a deputy chairperson and a minimum of two and maximum of five other members appointed by the President; and

(d) appointment of an executive secretary (who should be a medical doctor with at least 7 years of experience)and other staff members of the commission, who will be responsible for day to day administration and management of the commission.

Under the amended Bill, it shall be the responsibility of every member of the Health Service to ensure that emergency medical service and critical care service receive adequate coverage, even during times of job action.

Police Amendment Bill

Cabinet considered and approved the Police Amendment Bill, which was presented by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Legislation.

The Bill seeks to achieve the following objectives :

(a) to align the procedure for the appointment of the Commissioner General of Police in the Police Act (Chapter 11 :10) with the provisions of Section 22 (1) of the Constitution;

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(b) to align the tenure of the Office of the Commissioner General of Police with the provisions of Section 221 (2) of the Constitution;

(c) to align the Police Act with various provisions of the Constitution which seek to regulate the operations of the Commissioner General of Police to comply with written directives of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and the National Prosecuting Authority in line with Sections 243 (2), 255(2) and 259(11) of the Constitution; and

(d) to align the provisions relating to the appointment, promotion, discharge, retirement and conditions of service of members of Police Service with the provisions of the Constitution.

Update on the procurement and roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines

Cabinet received an update on the procurement and roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines which was presented by the Vice President and Minister of Health as Child Care Honourable CDGN Chiwenga. Cabinet was informed that His Excellency the President today March 16, 2021 received a second donation of 200 000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from the People’s Republic of China.  Government also took delivery of 200 000 doses of Sinovac vaccines it purchased from China today.

The balance of one million from the 1,2 million vaccines procured will be delivered by the end of March 2021 or in early April 2021.

Cabinet was informed that a total of 36 786 people have so far been vaccinated within the first 20 days of the programmes with all provinces receiving coverage. Efforts are underway to increase vaccination awareness in order to reach the minimum of 60 percent of the population vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. To gather momentum, the number of vaccinators will be increased by  involving the health worker in the uniformed forces, local authorities and health worker retiree. It is important for those who have been vaccinated to continue to practice the recommended World Health Organisation preventive measures such as physical distancing, wearing of masks, and washing of hands and sanitisation. Two documents i.e. the deployment vaccination plan and information on frequently asked questions have been translated into all official languages. The deployment vaccination plan is being disseminated as part of the awareness campaign and advocacy. It will help educate people that they will be vaccinated for free. Information on frequently asked questions which has also been translated into all official languages includes the following :

Different types of vaccines

How vaccines work

Benefit of being vaccinated

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Who can be vaccinated and who cannot be vaccinated

Safety of vaccines

What to do when there is suspected adverse reaction

Various vaccines myths against vaccine fact

Comments on the regularisation of Medical Aid Societies as proposed in the insurance and Pensions Commission Bill

Cabinet considered  the submissions made on the Regulation of Medical Aid Space Societies as proposed in the Insurance and Pensions Commission Bill, which were presented by Vice President as Minister of Health and Child Care, Hon CDGN Chiwenga.

Cabinet noted that since medical aid societies are not for profit enterprises and represent members’ efforts to pool funds to assist in covering health bills and expenses, it is best international practice for such entities to be regulated by independent authorities with expertise to deal with the complex and peculiar aspects of the medical industry and should be under the oversight of the Ministry of Health and Child Care.

Cabinet resolved to establish the Medical Aid Societies Regulatory Authority under Ministry of Health and Child Care. Accordingly, Cabinet approved that medical aid be separated from general insurance, that is, exclusion of medical aid societies from the Insurance and Pensions Commission Bill.

Proposed General Amnesty 2021

Cabinet considered and approved the proposed General Amnesty, which was presented by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

Section 112 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe empowers the President after consultation with Cabinet, to exercise the power of mercy to grant pardon to any person concerned in or  convicted of an offence against law.

The proposed general amnesty is targeted at all prisoners who have   served at least one third of their sentences, save for those convicted of specified offences such as the following: murder, treason, rape or any sexual offence, car-jacking, robbery, stock theft, and public violence.

There shall be full remission of sentence to be granted to all prisoners who would have served life imprisonment for at least 15 years commutation.

The amnesty will de-congest the prison institution whose population currently stands at 20 407 against the prison’s holding capacity of 17 000.

The overpopulation already poses a health hazard, especially considering the Covid-19 pandemic and the recommended measures to curtail the spread of the disease.

Provision of Housing and Road Rehabilitation Programme

Cabinet received an update on the programme to provide housing and rehabilitate the country’s roads which were damaged by the rains. Cabinet noted that following a countrywide assessment by joint Ministerial teams, the number of households facing displacement stands at a national total of 21 852. Harare Metropolitan Province tops the list at 15 713 households, followed by Mashonaland East (1 947), Manicaland (1 683), Mashonaland Central (622), Masvingo (575) Bulawayo (549), Matabeleland South (532), Matabeleland North and Midlands at 105 each, and Mashonaland West (21).

The provision of relief to distressed households, and identification of relocation areas, will continue across all the provinces in order for corrective action to be taken.

The production of appropriate housing plans and architectural designs which promote settlement densification through high-rise structures is a pre-requisite for the provision of housing to families faced with relocation. In this regard, Cabinet was informed that the plans and designs have now been produced through collaboration between the Ministries of National Housing and Social Amenities; and Local Government and Public Works.  They are mainly the H-type with two and three-bedroomed units, and target low income earners. Modifications can also be availed for middle income earners. Building brigades will be revived.

The designs will accommodate public facilities at the ground floor, and include WIFI centres, a community hall with ablutions, an amusement area, a play centre, and a pre-school. Other amenities will entail shops, a pharmacy, a surgery, and a hair salon. Liquor outlets and activities that require bulk storage and haulage are excluded.  Resources will be mobilised for the completion of all housing projects.

As the exercise to streamline the operation of cooperatives continued, Cabinet agreed that being a co-operative requires compliance with a legal process. This will assist in promoting policy consistency at all levels of Government.

On the Emergency Road Rehabilitation Programme, Cabinet noted that following extensive preparatory work, significant action is now evident on the implementation front. The respite from the incessant rains has allowed space for attending to the daunting task at hand. The planning team has now compiled a compendium of all road projects to be implemented by each Road Authority, province by province. Similarly, the selection of roads to be taken over from Local Authorities by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development has started. The selection of contractors for Harare and other cities and towns has also started.

Cabinet was informed that CMED (Pvt) Ltd will be funded by Treasury funding in order to use its state-of-the-art equipment on projects under the Emergency Road Rehabilitation Programme. The equipment includes three new graders, tippers, road reclaimers and heavy-duty flat-bed trucks. CMED’s Civil Construction Unit formed in 2020 has completed rehabilitation works spanning 42 kilometres. As soon as Treasury fulfils its pledge and releases the financial resources, CMED will soon deploy its teams, starting with Harare and Bulawayo Metropolitan provinces. The entity can also take up other roads across the provinces.

Immediate emergencies in Headlands in Manicaland, Musavezi Bridge along the Shurugwi-Mhandamabwe road in Midlands Province, and bridges in Siakobvu in Mashonaland West are being addressed through the necessary restorative works, and the contractors are already on site.

HERALD