Constitution: Parties divided on five issues

In separate interviews with the Zimbabwe Independent this week, Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC negotiators, who make up the management committee of the Parliamentary Constitution Select Committee (Copac), said they were still negotiating the contested issues.

The issues in dispute include:

lStructure of government;

lDevolution of power;

lDeath penalty;

lDual citizenship;

lIndependent Prosecuting Authority.

The three drafters of the new constitution, Justice Moses Chinhengo, former High Court Judge Priscilla Madzonga and Brian Crozier have presented 13 draft chapters which are yet to be completed after the management committee reaches a consensus on the five issues.

The management committee is expected to meet on Monday to try and resolve these outstanding issues.

MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti this week said there were issues which had been “parked” while negotiations on them continued.

“We have parked issues. I am shocked that we have parked them. There is the issue of dual citizenship, the issue of capital punishment, the issue of the structure of government — do we have a Prime Minister or do we have a president and the powers thereof?

“There is also the issue of devolution and decentralisation and the debate between whether we should have the AG’s Office and an independent prosecuting authority.”

Biti added: “Speaking as a negotiator, given some of the issues that we have had to reach an agreement on, I don’t see us failing to agree on any of these issues”.

MDC secretary-general Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said on devolution, the debate was now on the structure — whether there should be five or 10 provinces, whether people should be elected or appointed into those positions and what would be the relationship should be between the central government and provincial arrangements. The issue of devolution has caused a stir on provinces which feel marginalised by central government, mainly in Matabeleland where most people want devolution, which is just one form of decentralisation as opposed to federalism.

Devolution differs from federalism in that devolved powers to a sub-national authority ultimately reside in central government. Legislation creating devolved structures can be repealed or amended by central government, which is different from federalism.

Misihairabwi-Mushonga felt that the most contentious issue was going to be the death penalty. The three parties have to decide whether or not the death penalty should still form part of the law.

“The death penalty is very emotionally driven. It is driven not just by emotions but also by people’s experiences and not what makes sense. It’s either you are for or against it,” she said.  “We are divided on party lines on this issue,” but refused to state her party’s position on the matter.

She said if they were to reach a consensus at their Monday meeting, the draft constitution should be ready to go for a referendum by August this year.
Zanu PF chief negotiator Nicholas Goche said they were preparing a report for the principals on the draft chapters.

However, Copac sources said the three political parties are deeply divided on whether there should be a president and prime minister or an executive president, deputised by one or two vice presidents.

One Copac insider said: “People are saying with (President Robert) Mugabe, may be we can let him get away with it since he is a founding president. But can we trust another person to have the same powers?

“It is not only about abuse of power but also issues around competence. Whether you like Mugabe or not, he had a certain degree of understanding of issues, so the next guy who will come, the question is will that person have that kind of knowledge?”

Another source said: “These are the debates that informed people are asking themselves. Can we afford a situation where we have an individual coming in after Mugabe with the same powers that he had?”

On devolution, Zanu PF political gurus, mainly in Mashonaland provinces, are opposed to reducing provinces from 10 to five as they suspect the move is designed to deal with the Zezuru hegemony.

“Zanu PF is opposed to the five provinces. It means that provinces will merge and the political gurus in Mashonaland provinces will have to fight it out for supremacy in one region,” the official said. “They don’t want that”.

Zanu PF wants to retain the old system of a powerful executive president who has vast unchecked powers. In its position paper during outreach meetings in 2010, Zanu PF said: “We need an executive president who shares executive authority with the cabinet and not a prime minister as this results in an endless unproductive contest for power between the president and the prime minister that results in a weak state in which neo-colonialism can thrive.”

By contrast, the MDC-T preferred a system with an elected president who has limited powers and a prime minister with significant power as well, in what it calls a co-habitation system. It proposed an elected president who appoints a prime minister from a party which commands a majority in parliament and a cabinet chosen by the prime minister.

On devolution, MDC-T is proposing a three-tier government composed of national government, provincial councils and local authorities made up of urban councils and district councils. District councils would be mandated with the responsibility of managing the affairs of rural areas. While Zanu PF wanted governors to chair the country’s 10 provincial councils to be appointed by the president, elected rural and urban councils, MDC-T was pushing for elected provincial councils and local authorities with as much autonomy as is compatible with governance.

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