Constitution Watch 13-2009


[27th November 2009]

Ministry of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Advocacy Programme

Next week Minister Eric Matinenga will commence a countrywide series of “advocacy meetings” at provincial level.  The Minister’s aim is to reassure the public that the inclusive government remains committed to the making of a new constitution, and to prepare the ground for the Parliamentary Select Committee’s outreach programme, the start of which has been repeatedly delayed.  In each province the Minister plans to address a meeting to which senior provincial officials, community leaders and area NGOs will be invited, but all interested persons will be welcome.  The schedule for the Minister’s meetings in Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and South and Midlands is as follows:

Bulawayo:   Thursday 3rd December in the large city hall

Lupane:       Friday 4th December at the provincial offices

Gwanda:      Thursday 10th December at the district offices

Gweru:         Friday 11th December in the Senga Hall

All meetings are from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm.  The Minister will use the meetings to explain what is happening about the new Constitution:

  • the need for a new people-driven constitution in accordance with the GPA
  • progress made to date
  • the challenges facing the process
  • the time-frame laid out in the GPA
  • the need for all Zimbabweans to participate in the process.

An hour will be set aside at each meeting for the Minister to answer questions from the floor.

The schedule for other provinces is not yet finalised.

New Time Frame for Next Stage in Constitutional Process Not Finalised

The constitution-making-process, like the establishment of the inclusive government, has been characterised by delays, frustrations and lack of communication.  The whole country was geared up and excited about getting involved in drafting a new constitution which was agreed to in the GPA [Inter-party agreement signed on 15th September 2008].  Then there was an agonising 5-month wait until the terms of the agreement translated into an inclusive government being set up on 13th February 2009.  After a delayed start, the first two GPA deadlines were met [only just – see below], but for the last few months, instead of good regular official communication about what was happening over the next stage – the outreach for public consultation – in spite of GPA deadlines having come and gone [see below], all we have had are random and sometimes contradictory press leaks.  Civil society has been largely kept in the dark, just as they were over years of “secret” inter-party negotiations. 

In Parliament on 4th November the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, was asked to comment on the Select Committee’s failure to keep to the time frame laid down by the GPA.  He replied “Mr Speaker, when the time frames were set out in the GPA, it was in order to give the parameters in which the constitution making process is going to be made.  With all other political issues those issues are not cast in stone.  It is difficult to indicate that we are going to able to write chapter one tomorrow and finish it because when we visit chapter one it is quite possible that there are a lot of other issues which arise out of writing chapter one.  Roughly, what I can say with some confidence is that when we look at the global time which was made available, in case of the GPA, we are going to endeavour to meet that global time.”  By global time, presumably, the Minister meant the final date for the process to be completed.  But if this is so, obviously some stages laid down by the GPA will have to be compressed. 

Since the Minister’s statement there have been several contradictory statements [which points the need for one official spokesperson]:

  • Mr Mangwana, the ZANU-PF co-chairperson of the Select Committee, has been quoted in the press as saying that the public consultation would not start until next year 
  • Mr Mwonzora, the MDC-T co-chairperson, said last week he is optimistic that the public consultation will start this month
  • Mr Mkhosi, the MDC-M alternate co-chairperson, has said it will start immediately after Christmas and before the new year.
  • An unofficial report said that the delay would be even longer because of the onset of the rainy season
  • The Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs said It is true that the problems caused by the commencement of the rainy season have been raised, but this does not mean that the outreach proper will be delayed until after the Christmas/New Year break.  It must start before then.  But there will almost certainly have to be a break to accommodate the ZANU- PF Congress [which will probably be in the second half of December for about a week and will mean about one third of the outreach personnel are unavailable for that period].

Action so Far

Select Committee:  Article 6 of the GPA specified that the constitution-making process would be driven by a Parliamentary Select Committee.  This was set up on the 13th April [the GPA deadline].  It consists of 25 Parliamentarians and has 3 co-chairpersons, one from each of the political parties that signed the GPA [see Constitution Watch of 2 of 14th April 2009 for names of Select Committee members].

First All Stakeholders Conference [12th to 14th July]:  the Select Committee just squeezed in this conference to meet the GPA deadline of 13th July, but unfortunately because of the preceding inter-party disputes and last minute organisation the conference proved a disaster.  There was much mayhem, some speeches and lectures, but little actual consultation with stakeholders.

Public Consultation:  this stage of the constitution-making process should have been completed by 13th November [4 months after the First All Stakeholders Conference], but has still not started, although it is an extremely important stage, bearing in mind the GPA’s insistence that the new constitution must be written by the people for themselves.

Many Meetings:  In the months both before and since the First All Stakeholders Conference in July, the Select Committee and/or its co-chairpersons have held many meetings.  As disagreements between the three parties represented could not be satisfactorily resolved they were eventually referred to the principals for resolution.  This resulted in giving the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs more say in the process and in the setting-up of more structures – a management committee, steering committee and independent secretariat.

Management Committee – this has met several times but, as it consists of the 6 GPA negotiators as well as the Minister and the Select Committee chairs, it will probably not be meeting while the present GPA negotiations are proceeding.  This should not cause more delays, as this committee was to set policy and actual management of the work is in the hands of the steering committee and secretariat.

Steering Committee which consists of the chairs of the Select Committee, the Minister and two civil society persons chosen by the Select Committee; it is in charge of operations and has now had several meetings.

[Note: it is very disappointing that there have been no press releases after any of these meetings]

Independent Secretariat, with separate premises outside Parliament to handle administration and finance.  Premises have been identified and staff interviewed, but it the secretariat is not yet up and running.

Preparations for public consultation:

Thematic committees [17] were identified and chairing of these committees at last finalised [although names have not yet been released]. 

Outreach team numbers have been worked out to cover all wards and membership finalised [again. names not yet released]

A work plan was prepared [see Constitution Watch 3 of 15th June 2009] but it is now unlikely that its schedule can be adhered to, as the whole exercise will be compressed into a shorter timeframe. 

Questionnaires are being prepared and will be finalised during the training exercise

Training of outreach teams:  trainers have been selected and have met to draw up a training programme.  Training will hopefully start this coming week.

Funding:  Because of the many delays, the chaos of the First All Stakeholders Conference, apparent disagreements between party representatives driving the process and the monies already spent on meetings, this has been a constant difficulty, but is now said to have been resolved.

Reminder of GPA Timetable

The GPA gives the inclusive government a maximum of 20 months in which to complete the various stages of the process.  Article 6 specifies the time-limits for each stage, starting from the date of inception of the inclusive government [see below].  As article 6 was not incorporated into the Constitution by Constitution Amendment No 19, it is just an agreement between the parties and, as the Minister has said, the timeframe “is not cast in stone” and can be renegotiated.

13 April 2009 - Select Committee of Parliament to be set up [must be done within two months of inception of a new Government]

13 July - First All Stakeholders Conference [must be held within 3 months of the date of the appointment of the select committee]

13 November - Public consultation process complete [must be completed no later than 4 months after the date of the first All Stakeholders Conference]

13 February 2010 - The draft of the Constitution must be tabled before a Second All Stakeholders Conference [must be done within 3 months after the public consultation process is completed]

13 March - The Select Committee’s draft Constitution and its accompanying report must be tabled before Parliament [the draft and report must be tabled within 1 month of the second All-Stakeholders Conference].  Parliament has a month to debate the draft and report [presumably both Houses]

13 April - Parliament [i.e. both Houses] must conclude its debate on the committee’s draft Constitution and report [within one month].  The draft must be gazetted before the holding of a referendum [but timeframe not specified].

13 July - A referendum on the new draft Constitution must be held [within 3 months of the conclusion of Parliament’s debate]

13 August - Gazetting of the draft Constitution as a Bill, if it is approved in the referendum [it must be gazetted within 1 month of the date of the date of the referendum].  What is to happen if the Bill is rejected in the referendum is not stated.

13 October - The Constitution Bill must be introduced in Parliament [presumably either the House of Assembly or the Senate] [this must be done no later than 1 month after the expiration of the period of 30 days from the date of its gazetting]

No time limits are given for what happens after the Constitution Bill is introduced in Parliament – probably because, if Parliament passes the Bill, the procedure for bringing the new Constitution into operation will be laid down in the Bill itself.

The GPA does not say what is to happen if Parliament rejects or amends the Constitution Bill – although it is unlikely to do so if the Bill has been approved at a referendum.


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