Constitutional amendments: The good, bad and those in-between

THE Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill gazetted on December 31, 2019 proposes a myriad of changes to the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act, 2013. This has received mixed reactions from many interest groups expressing either displeasure and or gratitude. This brief aims at providing a simple, non-legal understanding of the proposed constitutional changes, possible implications and opportunities, if any. Overall, the brief posits that the quantum of changes are ill-timed and rushed, thereby leaving a sense of possible “chicanery” and underhand intentions. However, it is not as bad as some lobbyists will have you believe.

The good

The proposed changes consist of some good proposals, particularly extension of the quota system and inclusion of youth representation, tying loose ends on devolution implementation and decoupling of delimitation from census.

It is critical, from the onset, to state that there are obviously side effects to all good things and expressions of displeasure by different interest groups cannot be totally ignored. Some proposals, for example from the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Empowerment (WALPE), arguing for complete introduction of 50/50 gender representation, have their merits.

The introduction of the Public Protector can be a good amendment allowing for citizens to have a complaint mechanism against public institutions’ abuse and failure to deliver. The possible conflation with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) mandate must, however, be clearly delineated at law.

Lastly, the removal of possible duplication on devolution is welcome as it can open doors for full and meaningful devolution that has little influence from national institutions. The amendment to remove mayors as automatic chairpersons is at first sight a direct attack on the opposition’s control of cities, but, in reality, was defeating the very proportional representation used to come up with provincial and metropolitan councils.

The bad

On the negative, is the proposed changes allowing the President to have powers to appoint judges and the Prosecutor-General. These changes, at face value, smack of regression in democratic practice as enshrined in the present constitution and an attempt to consolidate state capture of the judiciary. This should be avoided at all cost.

However, the public interviews for judges had little “public” followership and, at the end, the President still had the final say.

Those in-between

The brief further posits that the removal of running mates, as was impending in 2023, has no real effect on our democracy. It was a conundrum faced on both sides of the political landscape. It, the running mate idea, is not local and has no real buy-in. It was a law established with issues of succession during the Mugabe era, but might have no real consequence in present-day politics. Rather, it might serve to entrench factionalism ahead of elections which might result in a lot of purging and splits.

Effectively, the intended end to the law is well-covered under the sections addressing succession after the demise of present leader, that is, allowing the ruling political party to nominate replacement within three months.

Further, the two-term limit, if not tampered with, has the effect of forcing parties to have a succession plan. The idea of having a directly elected vice-president might not be as democratic as the first thought would make one believe!

The clause allowing the President to appoint seven ministers from outside parliament has both merits and demerits. In a normal, functioning and mature democracy, where meritocracy and technocrats are cherished, this is certainly a welcome move.

Our parliament is populated by party zealots, ground operators who have experience in sloganeering and engineering local community coups. It is therefore only prudent that the President be allowed wider options. The challenge is when the party is supreme to government, conflation of power is rife and there is little room for technocrats to manoeuvre. Such is our crisis.

The proposed changes making the Chief Secretary to the President the public service supremo has little effect on that official’s performance as permanent secretaries are presidential appointees anyway. The question is whether the Chief Secretary takes over from the Public Service Commission chairperson and, if both are maintained, how do they relate?

Conclusion
The proposed changes would have done better as separated entities to allow for effective and meaningful public input during the public hearings. As a quantum, they serve to confuse the general population as they will be bombardments with piecemeal information aimed at discrediting sections of the amendment number two, but effectively discrediting the whole document.
Collen Chibango.

Senior research fellow and public policy analyst at Tutuma Zimbabwe.

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