CONSTITUTION WATCH 10
[26th September 2009]
Proposed Changes in the Constitutional Process
PRESS RELEASE by Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs on Constitution-Making Process, 18th September
On September 10, 2009, I announced that the three Principals to the Interparty Agreement were due to meet to rationalise the constitution making process.
Pursuant to the announcement, the three Principals met at Zimbabwe House yesterday September 17, 2009. In attendance at the meeting was the Vice-President, Honourable Mujuru, Ministers Mnangagwa, Chinamasa, Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Ncube, Mangoma and myself (Matinenga).
The meeting defined the Parliamentary Select Committee described in Article VI of the Interparty Agreement as a special purpose vehicle set up to spearhead the constitution making process. This Committee is not an ordinary Parliamentary Select Committee. Consequently the strict Select Committee Rules do not apply to it.
The meeting addressed issues of efficiency, capacity and inclusivity of the Select Committee and decided that:
1: An Independent Secretariat be set up to provide administrative services to the Select Committee. Appropriate office space will be provided for the Select Committee and the Administrative Structure.
2: The current Management Committee of the Select Committee will be configured and will now be made up of the current three co-chairs of the Select Committee; a negotiator or a representative of the negotiator from each of the parties to the Interparty Agreement and the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs. This Committee provides leadership and policy direction to the constitution making process.
3: A Steering Committee made up of the current three co-chairs; the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs and the co-chairpersons of the 1st Stakeholders Conference, Drs H. Sadza and Makhurane (these two are still to be invited to participate in this role). The Steering Committee is responsible for managing the operations of the constitution making process.
4: Due to the unfortunate polarisation brought about by reference to the Kariba Draft neither party to the Interparty Agreement should seek to promote the draft at the expense of other constitutional material it being accepted that the draft will be open to study and scrutiny just like any other constitutional material available.
E.T. MATINENGA, MP Minister, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs. September 18, 2009.
Parliament – An aide to the Speaker said on Friday that Parliament had not yet been officially informed of this development. Parliament’s Presiding Officers [Speaker and President of Senate and their deputies] will be meeting this week to deliberate on the consequences of the changes decided on by the principals.
Select Committee - The chairpersons consider the establishment of an independent Secretariat is a positive development, as the committee will no longer have to rely on the services of the overstretched staff and resources of Parliament. It ties in with their resolution at a meeting a fortnight ago that a special Secretariat with an Executive Director should be set up to back its work on the Constitution. They also hope that this new set-up will enable funding to be secured.
ZANU-PF - spokesman Ephraim Masawi hotly challenged the clause in Minister Matinenga’s statement on the Kariba Draft and said that in the GPA all three parties had agreed to its use as the key reference document and it is nonsensical for anyone to suggest that that position has been reversed. .“ZANU PF made a decision on how the constitution-making process should proceed and as far as we are concerned that decision has not been changed. The Kariba draft remains.” He suggested that MDC-T’s downplaying of the Kariba draft was to appease its civic society allies who are opposed to the document.
MDC-T The Prime Minister’s newsletter states “Concerned by delays and disputes over the constitution-making process, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has re-organised the structure of the oversight process to ensure greater accountability and effectiveness.” It is not easy to see how putting in Ministers as part of the oversight mechanism chimes with the latest MDC National Council resolution that “The Party remains firm on the need and duty for a new Constitution in Zimbabwe and restates that the people of Zimbabwe should write a Constitution for themselves, by themselves”.
MDC-M – perceive the setting up of an Independent Secretariat as a step forward. They, however, maintain their position that the Kariba draft, having been drawn up by the key negotiators of the parties over a considerable period of time, represents a confluence of ideas on the Constitution between the parties, and was agreed to in the GPA as a starting point for the process of consultation and its clauses should be put to the people for acceptance, rejection or amendment.
NCA – have issued a statement that notwithstanding the purported addressing of issues by the inclusive government's principals, the constitution making process remains under the control of politicians. “As long as it remains under the stewardship of three political parties with vested and often conflicting interests, the GPA inspired constitution-making process will never be efficient and inclusive.” They maintain that it will always be difficult if not impossible to get a democratic and people-driven constitution from a process that is primarily motivated by the quest to promote party political interests.
These proposals raise a number of concerns:
- As the proposed Management Committee is to provide leadership and policy direction to the constitution-making process and will include, in addition to the current three co-chairs of the Select Committee, the chief negotiator from each of the parties to the Interparty Agreement [MDC-T secretary-general, Tendai Biti, Patrick Chinamasa from ZANU PF and Professor Welshman Ncube from MDC-M] there is a realistic fear that that this Committee will opt for the Kariba draft notwithstanding Minister Matinenga’s assurances to the contrary. The Kariba draft was the brainchild of these negotiators, and at least two of them have been adamant that it should be the document on which public consultation is based.
- As the Parliamentary Select Committee would come under a Management Committee including the negotiators, who are all three key Ministers and in close touch with the party principals, this may lead to new conflicts – arising from Parliament feeling its brief of driving the process is being interfered with by the Executive arm of Government.
- The legal basis of the statement that the Select Committee on the Constitution is not bound by strict Parliamentary rules applicable to select committees is not clear – Parliament could raise objections to one of its committees coming under a separate Management Committee and serviced by an Independent Secretariat.
- As it is envisioned that the Independent Secretariat would be housed outside Parliament there are likely to be more delays while offices are established and staff recruited.
- The new scheme is no guarantee that funds will come in a manner acceptable to ZANU-PF, who have insisted that the constitution-making process should not be funded “directly” by donors but through government.
- It is a pity that the inclusive government has not yet gazetted the powers of the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs – this omission makes his position vis-à-vis Parliament and the constitution-making process ambiguous.
Veritas makes every effort to ensure reliable information, but cannot take legal responsibility for information supplied