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PARLIAMENT WITHDRAWS DRUGS BILL AMENDMENT

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LOBAMBA - It’s back to square one! Members of Parliament have withdrawn the controversial amendment of the Opium and Habit-Forming Drugs (Amendment) Bill No.06 of 2020 during a sitting at the House of Assembly yesterday.


This means that the whole process of the amendment will have to be started afresh and this includes the processes of piloting it, presenting it to Cabinet and eventual tabling it in Parliament. Before the motion to withdraw the Bill, there was drama which was characterised by a back and forth of two factions of the members of the House, one made up of those who wanted the Bill passed and the other who had come prepared to throw it out.


As a result, the House had to be locked in caucus sessions twice and this happened in the presence of the Prime Minister, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini. After the first caucus, the PM was seen being escorted into the Parliament boardroom and was followed by the speaker and the select committee which was tasked with compiling the report for the amendment of the Bill.
The parties spent almost an hour inside the boardroom after which they returned to the House.


Caucus


Again, instead of Parliament proceedings continuing, it was announced that another caucus would be held.
Information gathered was that during the first caucus, the speaker informed the House that the PM and the Minister of Health, Lizzie Nkosi, had something to say.


It was also gathered that some of the MPs made it known that they were against the caucus because it touched on an issue that was already in the Order Paper.
The speaker is alleged to have pleaded with the MPs to give the PM and the minister of Health a chance to talk. Information gathered was that the MPs were to be encouraged to speed up the process of passing the Bill, something which most of them were not prepared to do.


After the second caucus, the sitting resumed and Hosea MP Bacede Mabuza moved a motion of privilege.
The motion was to move that the House halt the debate of the report on the Bill.
Furthermore, it was to move that the minister of Health withdraws the Bill to allow for further consultations for a period of not more than six months.
“Subsequently, the minister of Health may re-pilot the Bill,” the motion read.


In his motivation, the Hosea MP said the motion touched on a lot of emaSwati and therefore, there was a need for thorough consultations before such a Bill could be passed in Parliament.


“There are a lot of major stakeholders who did not get a chance to have their say. There are people who deal in the dagga business, they are not the type that will come into offices for meetings. They do not even sit at the Parliament gallery. They also have an input to make so we need to give them a chance,” he said.


Mabuza was seconded by Maphalaleni MP Mabulala Maseko, who stated that a wise man always consulted before taking a decision.
“It is important to involve all stakeholders in consultations. These include chiefs, traditional healers, churches and dagga farmers.

They need to be consulted so that in the end, we come up with a legislation that will benefit all emaSwati. Let us not be seen like we take our own decisions,” he submitted.
Deputy Speaker Phila Buthelezi submitted that he was against the withdrawal of the Bill because it had gone through all the stages and that delaying it would be a blow.


However, he clarified that he fully supported the need for proper consultations to be done but that there was a need to state clearly how they were going to be structured.


Structured


“I have no problem with the consultations but we must know how they will be structured. Which model will be used in these consultations? The clarity should be given,” he submitted. Next to make a submission was the minister of Health, who also said she was in support of the call to have more consultations but was against the withdrawal of the Bill itself.
The minister said the need to speed up the process of passing such a Bill was necessitated by many factors, one of which was the current situation the country was in due to the coronavirus pandemic.


“We are at a stage where the coronavirus has worsened the country’s economic situation. All processes that were vital in this Bill were followed last year so I am not sure if withdrawing it will help the country and its economy,” she said.


Despite the fact that there was a significant number of MPs who had risen up signalling their interest to debate the motion, Kubuta MP Musa Mabuza moved for the adjournment of the debate. As the members were preparing to second him on the adjournment of the debate and automatic passing of the motion to withdraw the Bill, there was a drawback with some, especially the members of the select committee, decrying the need to start afresh the whole process.
MP Khumalo (chairperson) asked if the MPs were aware that if the minister withdrew the Bill, the whole process would have to be started afresh.
“The consultations will be done when the Bill will no longer be in the House. It will then have to be re-piloted,” he said.


The AG entered the fray to give more clarity and explained that the MPs needed to understand the effect that the withdrawal of the Bill would have.
“The legislative process stipulates that if the minister withdraws the Bill, there is a need for it to go back to the ministry as the Executive where preliminaries will have to be done. Then it will have to be taken to Cabinet before it is actually gazetted. After that it will then have to be tabled in the House,” he said.
The AG also mentioned that if the House voted for the withdrawal, it should be cognisant of the fact that the legislative process will have to be started afresh.


Fight


In the end, it seemed like the MPs had come prepared to win the fight of withdrawing the Bill as they unanimously voted for it.
Last week, the public gallery was packed with spectators and tempers flared as MPs debated the controversial Bill.
The main issue was none other than the issuance of licences or permits for the production of cannabis for medicinal purposes and scientific use.
During the debate, it was stated that companies seeking to get licences for the production of cannabis for medicinal and scientific use in the country should at least have 33 per cent of emaSwati representation.


During the debate, it was stated that the need to amend the Act had been necessitated by the fact that when it was amended in 2016, an Authority to grant licences had been provided for, but it had never existed and was just there on paper. 
It was stated that a Cannabis authority should be created with a majority health personnel, who would include the director of health services, chief pharmacist and other players in the industry.


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