Parliament sidelined in Constitutional reforms

HARARE – Robert Mugabe and his two coalition partners have effectively taken control of Zimbabwe’s troubled constitutional reforms after modifying the constitution making process and packing the executive of a committee managing the reforms with trusted loyalists.

Parliament is supposed to oversee the drafting of the new governance charter through a 25-member select committee established for the purpose.

But pro-democracy activists, legal experts and senior parliamentary officials said the changes — particularly re-configuration of the management committee of the parliamentary select committee established to oversee the constitutional reforms –virtually demoted Parliament to a peripheral role.

“It is clear that the leaders of political parties are positioning themselves to takeover the process …. Parliament has bee relegated to a secondary role,” said Lovemore Madhuku, a constitutional law expert and chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) pressure group. 

The NCA has long opposed the current constitutional reform process saying it was open to abuse and manipulation by politicians.

Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Premier Arthur Mutambara while leading the three political parties in Parliament do not have a direct role in the process of writing the new constitution, with Mugabe only expected to sign the new charter once it has been approved in a referendum and passed by Parliament.

But the three leaders last Thursday agreed to appoint their representatives during power-sharing negotiations last year to join the three chairmen of the parliamentary select committee in a new management committee to run the constitutional reforms.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa from Mugabe’s ZANU PF party, Finance Minister Tendai Biti and Industry Minister Welshman Ncube from Tsvangirai and Mutambara’s MDC parties respectively will now join the executive of the parliamentary select committee.

Chinamasa, Biti and Ncube are the authors of the controversial the Kariba draft that Mugabe has insisted must be the basis of the new constitution but which the NCA, the labour and student movements have opposed saying it leaves the veteran leader’s overwhelming powers untouched.

Tsvangirai’s MDC party has also opposed the Kariba draft.

Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara — who did not consult parliamentary Speaker Lovemore Moyo before making the changes — also agreed to set up an independent body or secretariat to provide administrative services to the constitutional making process.

A senior official in the legal department at Parliament said the appointments and changes made by Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara meant that they had virtually taken direct control of the reforms, especially because the parliamentary select committee would now report to the management committee set up by the leaders.   

“Parliament has been demoted …. the parliamentary select committee will have to report to a management committee constituted by the principals,” said the official who did not want to be named.

“To cut a long story short, the principals should have constituted a Constitutional Commission instead of pretending that Parliament will be in charge of the process,” he said.

Speaker of Parliament Lovemore Moyo said he will meet President of Senate Edna Madzongwe, her deputy Naison Ndlovu and deputy Speaker Nomalanga Khumalo next Monday to discuss the implication of the changes announced by the Executive.

He said: “The presiding officers (of Parliament) are meeting next week on Monday to look at the implications. We want to see what impact these changes have on the doctrine of the separation of powers.”

But Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga said there was nothing sinister about the changes to the constitution-making process.

He said: “All this has been done to help the select committee which is made of parliamentarians to do their work effectively. It is not true that the Executive has taken over the powers of the legislature.”

Meanwhile Madhuku’s NCA in a statement earlier on Wednesday said it deplored the altering of the constitution making process by politicians, describing the setting up of an independent secretariat as “a desperate window-dressing act.”

The NCA dismissed claims by Matinenga that the changes made by Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara were meant to rationalise the process and ensure efficiency as “hypocritical and inadequate.”

The group said: “If anything, the so-called rationalisation of the constitution-making process is an attempt to hoodwink unsuspecting Zimbabweans into believing that the inclusive government has taken into consideration concerns raised over the inclusive, undemocratic and unworkable nature of the GPA (global political agreement)  prescribed constitution-making process.

“Notwithstanding the purported addressing of issues by the inclusive government’s principals, the constitution making process remains under the control of politicians. The people are still out of the equation.” – ZimOnline.