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Comment: Govt Must Walk Rule-of-law Talk

WELCOME remarks this week from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa suggest that progress is being made in regards to governance, an area that cannot be separated from economic recovery where the focus has mainly been.

Speaking at the Victoria Falls government retreat last weekend, Tsvangirai made the point that human rights were not some foreign-imposed concoction.

“Human rights are neither culturally specific nor are they to be imposed upon one society by another,” he said. Zimbabweans will have an opportunity through the constitution-building process to define those rights, he said.

“These political and civil rights serve not only as guarantees of the people’s freedoms but as the essential foundation of the nation’s economic development, he said. Therefore, if we as leaders are committed to economic growth and development, we must in turn be committed to entrenching and upholding political and civil rights.”

He made another pertinent point in this regard.

“In addition, while this government understands the need for the removal of restrictive measures that have been applied to individuals, success in this area is also tied to the restoration of the rule of law.

“This means that the police must be empowered to protect those protected by the law, to enforce all court orders, and that the courts must process cases brought before them timeously and impartially. These are measures that can and must be implemented immediately.”

Investors, who we saw this week testing the waters, will want to see evidence, the prime minister said, that parties in Zimbabwe are adhering to the Global Political Agreement and that there is no faction-driven parallel process that serves to perpetuate a culture of entitlement and impunity.

This needs to be said. There is a view in government that Tsvangirai’s job is to remove sanctions and encourage investment while Zanu PF goes on behaving badly as before.

As Tsvangirai was giving his address at the Falls, ruling-party followers were invading farms in Mashonaland West using violence to displace the current occupants who include farm workers and their employers.

The farmers say the police have done little or nothing to assist the victims of violence. Detailed reports of the assaults on law-abiding citizens by local thugs are appearing in the foreign press.

Nothing could have served more eloquently to illustrate the lawlessness that stalks our land despite the GPA.

A flickering light at the end of this long dark tunnel is that of media reform. Tsvangirai suggested it was a matter in hand in his Victoria Falls address and Chinamasa, speaking to journalists later, said there was a need to review media policy so as to create a political climate where divergent voices can be heard.

That is the right attitude. Voters cannot make an informed choice at the polls if they have not been exposed to a diversity of views.

But what surprises us is that  despite Tsvangirai’s remarks on the importance of good governance, the MDC’s parliamentary caucus appears to have no agenda. So let’s provide them with one. The following laws must go: Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Aippa, Posa, the BSA, Official Secrets Act, Miscellaneous Offences Act, and the Land Reform (Consequential Provisions) Act.

That’s just a start. None of these measures have a place in a democratic society. They were passed by a totalitarian regime seeking to punish opponents and consolidate power in its own hands. They all “sailed through” parliament with little scrutiny. Why, a year after the election, are they still on the statute books? People voted for change, not more of the same.

The first step we want to see is the media reform conference which was designed to provide a way forward for media law reform. It was inexplicably postponed at the last minute, no doubt after intervention by the reactionary clique that is doing its best to block change across the board.

They are making it difficult for Tsvangirai and his ministers to convince development partners that Zimbabwe is a safe destination for aid and investment. How for instance can Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti claim they are in charge when farmers are under siege, the press is muzzled, and law enforcement suborned?

This is not democracy by any definition. Tsvangirai was right on the ball with his remarks at the Victoria Falls last weekend. Now he must walk the talk.

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