Parly Must Assert Itself in Constitution-making Process

IT is disheartening to see that the much-needed constitution-making process has stalled, with political parties bickering on issues that can be described as self-serving and not in the interests of the majority suffering Zimbabweans.


Lack of progress in coming up with a people-driven constitution is a serious violation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
The agreement has a clear road map and timelines for the constitution-making process that must be adhered to. What our political leadership seem to forget is that we are trying to come up with a sound and democratic constitution for the future of our children and generations to come. If we all accept that this is the ultimate objective, then narrow and partisan interests should not be allowed to cloud the process of writing a new constitution for Zimbabwe.   
The GPA, signed by the three political formations in September 2008, says that a select committee of parliament — comprised of representatives of the parties — shall be set up to drive constitution-making. This is very clear and no other interpretation must be sought. The constitutional select committee is a sub-committee of parliament and reports to the Standing Rules and Orders Committee, the supreme decision-making organ of parliament.
Talk about referring differences over constitution-making to the principals is a sure sign of parliament abdicating on its responsibility. Parliament should simply assert itself and deliver on what it has been mandated to do. Decisions made by the select committee are binding even if some of the members decide not to attend meetings. Personal views by individual members must be treated as such and not be allowed to derail the process. Any differences must be resolved during meetings of the select committee and the Standing Rules and Orders Committee.      
Among its terms of reference, the select committee shall:
Set up such subcommittees chaired by an MP and composed of members of parliament and representatives of civil society as may be necessary to assist the select committee in performing its mandate herein;
Hold such public hearings and such consultations as it may deem necessary in the process of public consultation over the making of a new constitution for Zimbabwe and
Convene an all-stakeholders conference to consult stakeholders on their representation in the sub-committees referred to above and such related matters as may assist the committee in its work.
According to the time frames spelt out in the GPA, the public consultation process shall be completed no later than four months of the date of the all-stakeholders conference. We all know that the chaotic all-stakeholders conference was held on July 13 and 14. Almost two months down the line, the setting up of 17 sub-committees is yet to be finalised. Why there has been such a delay boggles the mind especially after the select committee agreed on a formula for setting up the committees. I am told that in addition to the sub-committees, there will be 70 outreach teams, each comprised of 12 members tasked with gathering public views and submitting the data to the sub-committees. These teams have to be set up and members trained in the methodologies of data collection and analysis. This training will not be an overnight event. Without sufficiently trained outreach teams, we should forget about a meaningful public outreach programme and ultimately a people-driven constitution-making process. These delays mean the select committee has only two months left to carry out public outreach and comply with GPA time frames. I am saying two months assuming that the setting up of sub-committees and outreach teams is finalised now. Indications however are that the process of setting up these important structures is way off from being realised.
I would also want to highlight that the process of selecting civic society representatives to sit on the various sub-committees must fully involve the civic society groups themselves. It does not appear to be the case at the moment. The GPA says an all-stakeholders conference shall be convened “to consult stakeholders on their representation in the sub-committees… and such related matters as may assist the committee in its work”. The all-stakeholders conference in July dismally failed to do this. What is needed now is for civic groups supporting the parliamentary-driven process to organise themselves and come up with names for each sub-committee. The select committee has no authority whatsoever to reject the list from civic society.  The ratio of 70% civic society and 30% MPs for each sub-committee must be adhered to.  
The other issue of major concern are the conflicting statements emanating from the constitutional select committee itself regarding the process of writing a new constitution. Co-chairpersons are issuing different statements at different times, leaving people confused. Why the select committee cannot agree on a common statement to be issued to the nation is mind-boggling. The correct practice is for the select committee to agree on the statement and have a spokesperson communicate the correct message to the nation. A couple of months back there was an advertisement in the press for a professional media and information firm to handle communication business for the select committee. Sadly, it would appear the matter is no longer being pursued. Engagement of a professional outfit to handle communication and publicity would have made a huge difference to the process. Surely, we cannot continue with this unprofessional and haphazard handling of the crucial communication and publicity function.        
One of the major reasons being cited for the slow progress is limited financial resources. My view is that Finance minister Tendai Biti must prioritise constitution-making in his budgetary allocations. This is such a critical issue whose bulk funding must come from Treasury. Donor funding should only complement the resources made available by Treasury. The constitutional select committee must seriously engage Biti on the matter without further delay. I am surprised why parliament recently approved the supplementary budget without making sure that there were adequate resources allocated for constitution-making.    
There have also been statements to the effect that constitution-making should only happen when sanctions have been removed. Call them sanctions, restrictive measures or whatever name, Article IV of the GPA is very clear on this issue. It says that “all forms of measures and sanctions against Zimbabwe be lifted in order to facilitate a sustainable solution to the challenges that are currently facing Zimbabwe”; and that the parties “commit themselves to working together in re-engaging the international community with a view to bringing to an end the country’s international isolation”.
Implementation of the GPA is therefore a collective effort and that no provisions take precedence over others. All must be implemented concurrently and it is the duty of all political formations to implement the GPA in letter and spirit.
Zimbabweans have suffered a lot over the years. The GPA brought hope for the suffering to end. A new constitution is a key element of the GPA that is required to contribute to the creation of a conducive environment for free and fair elections and the emergence of a democratically elected government with a clear mandate to govern. The current arrangement is temporary and cannot be a long-term solution to the political crisis. So those who have been given the responsibility to lead the process of writing a new constitution must not let the nation down.
In line with the principle of separation of powers, parliament must forge ahead with constitution-making without interference from the executive. Yes, the executive can be consulted, but they should not be allowed to control the process. In any case, several executive members sit on the Standing Rules and Orders Committee. These include Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and ministers Patrick Chinamasa (Justice), Advocate Eric Matinenga (Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs), Welshman Ncube (Industry and Commerce), Emmerson Mnangagwa (Defence) and Biti. Even the Chiefs Council is represented through its president, Senator Fortune Charumbira. So there is absolutely no need to refer matters to the executive or principals because their voice is already adequately represented in the highest decision-making organ of Parliament.
Politicians must remember that they are voted into office by the people. Zimbabweans are tired of endless squabbles among political parties.  
 

 

John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust based in Harare.


By John Makamure