MPs Divided on Constitution-making Programme

LEGISLATORS are divided on how the constitution-making outreach programme should be carried out, especially on the role government departments perceived to be partisan will play in the process.

MPs also feel that the process would be discriminatory and excludes ordinary citizens.

The lawmakers voiced their concerns in the capital on Tuesday at a training workshop held by the Constitution Parliament Committee (Copac), a parliamentary select committee, in preparation for the outreach programme scheduled to start next week.

During a heated question and answer session, some MPs objected to the planned use of government departments such as district and provincial administration  offices, councils and traditional leaders during the outreach programme meant to gather the views of the people on the new supreme law.

MDC-T MP for Magwegwe in Bulawayo, Felix Sibanda, said it was difficult to trust government departments given that in the past they were inclined to support Zanu PF. He said the structures could be biased in the views-gathering process.

“My concern is with the involvement of government officials. How reconciled are they to facilitate this and see that they have been trained without bias because there have been a lot of misunderstandings with them?” questioned Sibanda.

Just before the June 2008 presidential election run-off, government recruited over 13 000 youths who were deployed nationwide at provincial and district levels as ward officers.

The MDC-T alleged that the youths, war veterans and Zanu PF militia were responsible for the orgy of violence before the run-off which resulted in the death of at least 200 of its supporters.

The MPs also said they were afraid that sponsored violence could emerge during the outreach programme to derail the constitution-making process.

But Copac co-chairperson Douglas Mwonzora said it would be difficult to carry out the process without the support of government departments. He said the police would be deployed to ensure peace.

“We picked headmen, district administrators, provincial administrators and councillors because these are people we find at local government level. These are certain government officials to assist us in the outreach programmes,” Mwonzora said.

“There are certain roles we want them to play and this has been agreed to by all political parties. They are opinion- makers so they have to be involved. They will be trained and we made a deal with the police to make sure that they will respond to any disorder quickly.”

Zanu PF MP for Mwenezi East, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, asked the committee what measures were in place to ensure that people’s views would be properly captured in the 65-day outreach programme.

Bhasikiti also wanted to know how the committee was going to reach areas that were not accessible by road due to bad weather conditions Paul Mangwana, co-chairperson of Copac, said logistics were in place to ensure that every ward in the country would be consulted.

Mangwana said: “If any area is not accessible we will provide time for it. That is why we said our period is plus or minus 65 days. We will make sure that no single ward making part of Zimbabwe will not be accessible. If it means hiring helicopters we will do so. We have employed mechanisms and video recorders for back up.”

Zanu PF MP for Mhondoro Ngezi, Bright Matonga, was of the view that some of the thematic committees members were too academic and could give people an “academic constitution” and complained that there was discrimination against the ordinary person.

He cited the religion thematic committee as an example where those who would lead the committee are a doctor, a professor and a pastor and did not constitute ordinary people like members of the apostolic church.

Mwonzora said the list of those on the thematic committees was still going through “adjustments”.

He said no reference constitution would be used during the outreach programme, putting paid to Zanu PF’s insistence that only the Kariba draft should be used as a basis for the new constitution.

Mwonzora said: “These constitutions (Kariba and National Constitutional Assembly drafts) were divisive and threatened the programme. Instead the committee will be using talking points which will come from the people of Zimbabwe. For example, when they answer questions like in whom they think most executive powers should be invested, how this person can be chosen and for how long should be his or her term of office.

“The constitution-making process will be issue-based and not document-based. We are in a very unique process. This process has not been undertaken anywhere. It is almost superior to the South African process.”

Social scientist and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission member Joyce Kazembe said during the outreach the MPs should strive to capture the desires of the people.

Kazembe said: “You will probably get a situation where people are not addressing what the thematic committees like, for example, I want my children to go to school or some will come and say I don’t have fertiliser.

“Where will those issues fall? It is important that whatever the people say will fit into one or the other thematic committees. It is important when you go out there to listen to what people will say.”

Meanwhile, the NCA this week said it would continue to intensify its campaign for a “genuine people-driven constitution-making process” guided by the position of the people who attended their second convention in July last year.

The NCA is opposed to the current constitution-making process saying it was not people-driven.

 

Wongai Zhangazha

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