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Editor’s memo: Select committee must have autonomy

THE decision by the 25-member parliamentary select committee on the constitution-making process to demand autonomy over the running and managing of the process should be commended and the principals to the global political agreement (GPA) must grant the request as a matter of urgency.

Co-chairperson of the committee, Paul Mangwana, this week said they had written to President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his deputy Arthur Mutambara asking for autonomy after “revelations” that its secretariat — the administration of parliament — had received money from an obscure non-governmental organisation, Non State Actors Forum, and paid allowances to 500 of the 4 000 delegates who attended last week’s first stakeholders conference.
What is striking and instructive about the matter was that parliament’s administration did not bother to inform the committee prompting it to demand autonomy in its work as envisaged in the GPA.
“We should only report to parliament when we are through. We do have our budget and finance committee but we are not holding any money, it is coming through the administration of parliament,” Mangwana was quoted as lamenting in the state-controlled media. “We do not have our own secretariat, we are relying on staff of parliament. This means we are not autonomous. We need to run our affairs and not the present setup where the administration of parliament is running the show.”
It is important for the committee to be autonomous. This enables the committee to determine its process without the handicap of being overly dependent on the political principals.
Financial independence is also one of the key areas that facilitate the overall independence of such bodies. It is imperative to see that even the leaders of the committee realise that their position and process will be severely hampered for as long as they are dependent on funding which is not within their control. The old adage in relation to justice rings true in this case, namely that independence must not only be there, it must be seen to be there.
An argument has been raging concerning the funding of the constitution-making process given the common knowledge that the country has little by way of liquid resources at present.
But the constitution-making process is probably one of the most important tasks that this government must accomplish. If the government can allocate US$8 million for procurement of vehicles for ministers and MPs, then surely it can put aside money for this very important process. It is the platform upon which a new Zimbabwe is being reconstructed and apart from poverty alleviation and building capacity for production, the process needs the government’s utmost support as it should be a top priority.
Zimbabwe can rely on donors for all other things but constitution making must be locally funded. It is our process and we cannot let others determine how it will be done through the conditions that come with financial aid for this process.
He who has money has power and there is no free lunch in this world. If donors give their money, which is essentially taxpayers’ funds from their home countries, there will likely be some conditions. This means that interference will inevitably be there one way or another. They can easily withdraw their funds at any time if their conditions are not being met and this would be disastrous. If there is anything that we must do with our own resources, albeit limited, it is the constitution-making process.
From the process, let me move to an issue that has been troubling a lot of people since the formation of the inclusive government — hosting of several conferences and workshops by the administration.
Since March, government has hosted several conferences and workshops — Health Summit, Tourism Summit, Investor Conference, Private-Public Partnership Conference, Rebranding Conference and National Vision conference. Just next Thursday, the Office of President and Cabinet will host a National Alcohol Policy Workshop!
While it is important for people to talk and for the government to be open and transparent when it makes policies, what we have to question though is the amount of resources being spent on these events.
It would be useful if they publish records of the budget — showing who is earning what for hosting the conferences, supplying materials, etc. It is these types of events, noble though they may be, where corruption festers — friends get contracts, kickbacks are paid and some of the stuff finds its way to private homes and businesses. There must be financial transparency.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti in his fiscal policy review last week showed that vast amounts of money have been spent on travel — internal and external. It would be interesting to see how much subsistence fees are paid to those travelling in the entourages.
Whilst dialogue and transparency in policy-making is good, the cost may end up outweighing the benefits.

By Constantine Chimakure

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