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Constitution-making under threat

SECURITY concerns and a dispute over  daily allowances threaten the constitutional outreach programme scheduled to start on Wednesday.

The Constitutional Select Committee (Copac) cut the number of meetings the outreach teams would conduct countrywide from the planned 5 803 to 3 868 after the police offered only 350 officers for the countrywide exercise.

Copac had initially planned to have three meetings in each ward but due to the unavailability of police officers, the constitutional body will now hold two meetings in each ward.
Copac, comprising parliamentarians and co-chaired by Paul Mangwana (Zanu PF), Douglas Mwonzora (MDC-T) and Edward Mkhosi (MDC-M) and the management committee, met last Thursday and resolved to cut the number of meetings due to security concerns.

Mwonzora confirmed that the number of meetings had been reduced due to security concerns and added that even the number of days of the outreach programme have been reduced from 88 to 65.
“The figure of police officers we have is not enough, the constitution-making process is a delicate process coming from a period of mistrust and political polarisation and the presence of the police is to give Zimbabweans confidence to contribute to the process without fear, but we have reduced the meetings due to security concerns as we only managed to get 350 police details for the entire process,” Mwonzora said.

Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena, however, said the police were ready for the outreach programme saying they had made necessary arrangements to provide security.

“As far as the police force is concerned, we are ready for the outreach programme,” Bvudzijena said. “I do not have the number of police officers who have been deployed but there are some officers who have been especially assigned (for the outreach programme). The other police officers would be on call and would be deployed if the need arises whether in Gutu, Harare or any other place.”

Parliamentary and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga who together with negotiators to the Global Political Agreement,  Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma from the MDC-T, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Welshman Ncube representing MDC-M, and Zanu PF’s Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche are all part of the management committee, said they expected five police officers to cover a single meeting.

“If they cannot provide security, then it is something else,” Matinenga said. “I do not really foresee a problem. The problem we have is the intimidation before the outreach and after.”

Mwonzora said the teams planned to have more than one meeting in each district to reduce incidents of human traffic from one meeting to the other.
“We wanted to reduce human traffic from one meeting to the other but with the unavailability of security details we will be forced to cut the number of meetings because we want the meetings to start at the same time,” Mwonzora said.

On the dispute over allowances, Matinenga said they had discussed at length at the management committee level before agreeing on the amount that was offered.

“The figure initially was US$15 per day but it was upped to US$25 and it is now surprising that the issue has been raised,” said Matinenga. “I am confident that any political party will in all fairness look at the agreements we made (on the issue of allowances) rather than stall the outreach programmes.”
Zanu PF MPs objected to the US$25 daily allowance, expected to cover food. Accommodation is catered for but the MPs want their food allowances increased to US$75 instead.

Donors have indicated that they will only fund expenses related to the actual constitution-making process and will not fund any peripheral costs.

Donors have provided the US$8 million required for the outreach programme.
Mwonzora said outreach teams composed of 10 outreach officers and five police details will be deployed countrywide to capture people’s views.

Meanwhile Copac has incurred a debt of US$900 000 after it conducted training programmes for outreach teams without any budgets.
The debt was incurred in accommodating and feeding hundreds of outreach programme officers who were undergoing training.

However, Copac co-chairperson Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana confirmed that Copac was in the red but said the debt has been taken over by the Ministry of Finance.

“The debt was incurred during the training of teams that were working on the talking points and those that will be working on the outreach programme and the debt we incurred is around US$900 000 but the Ministry of Finance has taken over the debt,” Mangwana said. The debt was incurred when Copac held two workshops, one for the outreach teams and the other for fine-tuning the constitution talking points.

Mangwana said Copac started training the teams without any budgets and said they were grateful now that the Ministry of Finance will pay off the debt.

Copac has also referred to cabinet and the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, bills that Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) intends to charge Copac during the constitution-making process in a bid to have the charges reduced.

ZBH is demanding to be paid US$600 per unit to cover programmes and advertisements flighted by Copac.

A unit in broadcasting translates to one minute.
Copac however says the amount being charged by ZBH is prohibitive and wants cabinet and the Ministry of Information to intervene and have the charges reduced.

The charges will mean that if Copac officials flight a programme on television and radio lasting 30 minutes, the constitution-making body will have to fork out a whopping US$18 000 for the programme.

Copac co-chairperson, Douglas Mwonzora, said the bills they received from ZBH were too high and said they engaged cabinet and the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity since the constitution-making process is a national event.

“While Copac appreciates that ZBH is a commercial enterprise and has to make a profit we are concerned that the bill we received from them was too commercial and we have referred the bill to cabinet and the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity and we expect them to intervene in the national interest,” Mwonzora said.

This is not the first time that Copac has queried billings they have received from public entities.
The police last month demanded to be paid US$3 million to provide security to the constitution-making outreach teams. Copac had requested 1 000 police officers to accompany the teams on the ground.
However, both parties finally settled for 350 police details after Copac had paid the police US$350 000.

Loughty Dube/Leonard Makombe

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