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‘Parties should co-chair constitutional committee’

A 25-MEMBER parliamentary select committee to spearhead the crafting of a new constitution will be in place by Wednesday amid suggestions that it should be co-chaired by the three parties to the inclusive government.

The appointment of the constitutional committee by parliament’s Standing Rules and Orders Committee is a requirement of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by President Robert Mugabe and the leaders of the two MDC formations —— Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara —— which culminated in the formation of the inclusive government in February.

Parliamentary sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that the Standing Rules and Orders Committee met last Monday to deliberate on the appointment of the constitutional committee and agreed that it should be made up of legislators drawn from Zanu PF, the two MDC formations, independent MP Jonathan Moyo and representatives of traditional chiefs.

During the meeting, the sources said, the Tsvangirai-led MDC suggested that the constitutional committee should be chaired by a representative of civil society in order to properly manage the politics around the constitutional issue and ensure a people-driven process.

The sources said Zanu PF countered the suggestion arguing that the GPA would have to be mandated to accommodate the inclusion of civil society in the select committee.

“It should be a parliamentary committee, hence its members should be lawmakers,” one of the sources said.

As a compromise, the sources added, the Standing Rules and Orders Committee members then suggested that three political parties should co-chair the committee.

The members agreed to sell the suggestion to their parties before adopting it.

The MDC-T parliamentary caucus met two days later and resolved that the constitutional committee should be co-chaired.

Nyanga North legislator Douglas Mwonzora was nominated to co-chair the committee with MPs from Zanu PF and the MDC-M.

Zanu PF’s parliamentary caucus will meet today to discuss, among other things, whether or not the constitutional commission should be co-chaired by the three parties.

Joram Gumbo, Zanu PF chief whip, yesterday confirmed the meeting.

“We are having our caucus tomorrow to discuss a wide range of issues,” Gumbo said. “We will look into the appointment of the select committee. As a party we will nominate our representatives and forward their names to the Speaker of the House of Assembly who chairs the Standing Rules and Orders Committee.”

Gumbo said the constitutional committee must be appointed by April 15 in terms of the GPA.

Efforts to get a comment from Speaker of the House Lovemore Moyo and clerk of parliament Austin Zvoma were in vain yesterday as they were overseas on business.

Yesterday, the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Advocate Eric Matinenga, met with stakeholders, including civil society in Harare, to chart the way forward in crafting the new supreme law.

The meeting was a build-up to an all-stakeholders conference scheduled for June.

The minister said he was going to hold similar meetings with people from across the country and from various social stations to create consensus on this important national issue.  

The drafting of the new constitution would lead to a referendum. If people endorse the new constitution, free and fair elections would be held thereafter.

Civic organisations led by the National Constitutional Assembly have since declared war against the constitutional-making process outlined in the GPA saying it was not people-driven.

Lovemore Madhuku, NCA chairperson, said Zimbabweans should write their own constitution directly, not through politicians, parliamentarians or government.

“The surest way to make sure that a constitution is respected is if it is written by the people themselves and carries their word,” Madhuku said after the signing of the GPA on September 15 2008. “Article 6 of the agreement is a direct insult to the need for a people-driven constitution. It is an arrogant approach to the whole constitution-making process.”

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president Lovemore Matombo also denounced the process as flawed.
“It is merely an act of consolidation of power taking us back to the era of one-party states. Constitution-making processes are algebraic in nature. If you don’t get the formulae right, then you won’t get the answer right,” he said.

Yesterday a group of lawyers, Veritas, said the constitution-making process and time-frame outlined in the GPA was “essentially a parliament-driven process, albeit with some consultation” with stakeholders and the public.  

“The question is whether this will satisfy the aspirations of Zimbabweans to have a ‘people-driven’ constitution-making process,” the lawyers said. “As Article 6 of the GPA is not written in stone, perhaps the political parties can agree to revisit the constitution-making process … to satisfy all those who have been working on a new constitution for the last 12 years.”

According to Article 6 of the GPA, a parliamentary select committee will be composed of legislators and representatives of civil society, but the committee will have a final say in the crafting of the draft constitution.

The agreement states that the select committee should be in place two months after the formation of the inclusive government and should convene an “all-stakeholders” conference within three months after its appointment. The inclusive government was formed on February 13.

The public consultation process, the pact reads, should be completed no later than four months after the stakeholders’ conference.

“The draft constitution shall be tabled within three months of completion of the public consultation process to a second all-stakeholders conference,” reads the GPA.

“The draft constitution and the accompanying report shall be tabled before parliament within one month of the second all-stakeholders conference.”

The draft and the accompanying report would then be debated and if necessary amended in parliament within one month, before it is gazetted and a referendum conducted within three months.

In the event that the draft is approved in the referendum, it shall be gazetted within a month of the date of the plebiscite and should be introduced in parliament not later than a month after the expiration of a period of 30 days from the date of the gazetting.

Zimbabwe is currently governed under the 1979 constitution agreed at the Lancaster House talks in London. The constitution has been amended 19 times since the country’s Independence in 1980.

An attempt to introduce a new constitution between 1999 and 2000 failed after the NCA and other civil society organisations, backed by a nascent MDC, successfully campaigned against a government-sponsored draft.

A fierce political battle is expected when the draft goes to a referendum.


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