By CiZC Information Department
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) has engaged the media to amplify issues around Constitutional Amendment Bill No.2 in an effort to allow citizens to contribute effectively during public hearings. The Coalition undertook a capacity strengthening exercise for media personnel yesterday in Harare.
Members of the media were addressed by civil society organisations that include the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Veritas, Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence, National Association of Youth Organisations, Election Resource Centre, Heal Zimbabwe Trust and the Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum among others.
The Bill, which has already raised dust due to the manner it was developed is already under public scrutiny with public hearings set between March 29 and April 4, 2020.
Contributions on the Bill directly to the Clerk of Parliament will remain open until April 17.
Already, the coalition, together with likeminded organisations dismissed the amendments and is calling for the withdrawal of the Bill.
If the proposed amendments sail through, the number of ministers to be appointed outside parliament will be increased from 5-7, while parliament powers in the adoption of international treaties will be limited. Through this amendment, the president will also have the sole powers to appoint judicial officers such as judges and the prosecutor-general.
CiZC Spokesperson Marvelous Kumalo said the media play two key roles of informing and educating the public about the process while also playing the traditional “watchdog” function, whereby they investigate and assess whether there is sufficient reason for the constitution to be amended.
He emphasised that while these two functions can cause tensions between those pushing for constitutional amendments and the media, there is need to ensure that the media captures the views of many other stakeholders interested in constitutional amendments.
He said: “The press, thus provides the information, adopts its own point of view, and thus works as a direction giving force to the public debate.
“It stands as a permanent means of communication and control between the people and their elected representatives in Parliament and Government.”
Civil society organisations under the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition banner and other like-minded organisations have already rejected the amendments for what they are, a threat to democracy and a recipe for disaster.
Veritas Communications Manager Valentine Maponga took the media through all the 27 proposed amendment and highlighted that they will result in limiting Parliament’s power to approve international treaties, abolishing provisions for electing Vice-Presidents; extending and expanding provision for Party-list Members of the National Assembly; de-linking delimitation of electoral boundaries from censuses; allowing the appointment of additional non-parliamentary Ministers; altering the membership of provincial and metropolitan councils; altering provisions for the promotion and tenure of Judges; altering the way in which the Prosecutor-General is appointed and dismissed; changing the name of the Civil Service; making the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, and his deputies, constitutional appointments and creating the office of Public Protector and transfer functions to him/her from Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.
He also underlined that the amendments will be debated as a bill not independently.
“There are 27 amendments which constitute Constitutional Amendment Bill No.2. It is important for media practitioners to note that these will be debated as a bill and not independently.
“I emphasise on this as this will help media personnel understand why a number of stakeholders have rejected these amendments in totality and vice-versa,” he said.
Presenting at the meeting, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Director Blessing Gorejena highlighted to the media major reasons why several stakeholders have rejected in totality the constitutional amendments.
“These amendments are undesirable; we have observed that there were no public consultations conducted before coming up with proposed amendments.
“There is also the question of necessity, we have asked ourselves if these amendments are really necessary and unfortunately we do not see the necessity.
“For us the sanctity of the constitution should be respected and unfortunately that has not been done.
“Amendments should be the last resort after weighing all the other options.
“It is not clear which options have been weighed, where are the amendments coming from and clearly there are no compelling reasons for the constitution to be amended.
“Our position is that we have to promote and defend the constitution and not to undermine it as what others seek to do through the proposed amendments.
“The elite, by proposing these amendments, have shown that they are not sincere as they wish to abuse their 75 percent majority in parliament.
“Once these amendments are allowed, we do not know when they will stop,” said Gorejena.
Women’s Academy for Leadership and Politics ( WALPE) Programs Manager Batanai Mapinde indicated that her organisation is rejecting the proposed amendments.
“As WALPE, we reject in totality the proposed amendments and we are in the process of finalising a court challenge to seek the intervention of the Constitutional court to order the Government to implement the 2013 constitution in letter and spirit especially gender parity provisions.
“This proposed amendment means that the system will continue for a further 10 years in its current format. According to our research published in October 2019 titled ‘The Efficacy of the Women’s Parliamentary Proportional Representation Quota System’, 64% of the participants preferred that the gender balance provided for in Sections 17, 56 and 80 of the constitution be fulfilled.”
Addressing the same meeting, Rawlings Magede, Communications Officer for Heal Zimbabwe Trust pointed out that the number of people who voted for the constitution in 2013 are testament to the fact that the current Constitution is a solid document that needs to be implemented first.
“We are calling for the withdrawal of the bill, it must never be entertained. The voice of the citizens is silent in these amendments.
“As an organisation we are saying to mutilation of the constitution,” he said.
Representatives of the youth led by the National Association of Youth organisations also stressed that the proposed amendments are designed in similar fashion to the Lancastire House agreement where power was centralised on one individual while the citizens’ right to choose and participate in democratic processes was not guaranteed.
The Elections Resource Centre pointed out that there is no sufficient evidence to justify the amendments hence their total rejection. The ERC emphasised that the appointment of judges and the prosecutor general compromises the integrity of elections as these appointees will preside over electoral disputes. They become conflicted and the independence and security of the judiciary becomes questionable.
“It is unfortunate that the proposed changes have a direct bearing on future elections particularly on issues of inclusion and election dispute resolution given the disputed nature of previous ones.
“The ERC would have hoped that any constitutional changes, once deemed to be necessary and priority seek to strengthen the credibility of future election processes rather than weaken them.”
The meeting was attended by members of the Young Journalists Association, members of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and other like-minded organisations.