As debate on the new draft constitution rages on, I am wondering to what extent our legislators understand that it is their primary responsibility to see to it that Zimbabwe finally has a supreme law that deepens our democracy, promotes good governance and not serve narrow political interests.
The Global Political Agreement (GPA) explicitly mandates Parliament with the responsibility to lead the process of constitution–making. I have not seen any provisions in the GPA which say the principals will have to make the final decision on this matter.
Article 6 of the GPA is the one that confers power to Parliament to lead the constitution–making process.
The establishment of Copac was the first stage in the process of writing a new constitution for Zimbabwe.
After a difficult outreach exercise and a protracted process of coming up with a draft, the next stage for Copac is to take the draft to the Second All–Stakeholders’ Conference.
This is what the GPA says. It does not say that the draft will be submitted to political parties for review and amendment. The submission to political parties should be for information purposes only.
This is because all these political parties are represented in Copac and the Management Committee. If these two organs endorse a draft, it basically means the political parties have endorsed it too.
The GPA enunciated the terms of reference of Copac as follows:
To set up such sub–committees chaired by a Member of Parliament and composed of Members of Parliament and representatives of civil society as may be necessary to assist the Select Committee in performing its mandate herein;
To hold such public hearings and such consultations as it may deem necessary in the process of public consultation over the making of a new constitution for Zimbabwe;
To convene an All–Stakeholders’ Conference to consult stakeholders on their representation in the sub-committees referred to above and such related matters as may assist the committee in its work;
To table its draft Constitution to a second All–Stakeholders’ Conference; and
To report to Parliament on its recommendations over the content of a new constitution for Zimbabwe.
The GPA makes it clear that the “draft constitution recommended by the Select Committee shall be submitted to a referendum”. So the current draft is the one that has to go to a referendum, according to the GPA.
Tabling of the draft to a Second
All–Stakeholders’ Conference is simply for public debate and information purposes.
This conference does not have power to amend the document. The GPA further says that in the event of the draft constitution being approved in the referendum, it shall be gazetted within one month of the date of the referendum.
It shall then be introduced in Parliament no later than one month after the expiration of the period of 30 days from the date of its gazetting.
It is important to clarify that introduction of the Constitutional Bill in Parliament is simply for the purposes of giving legal effect to the Constitution. It would be a mockery of good democratic practices for Parliament to change what the people would have approved.
Once we have the new constitution enacted into law, Parliament will have a major responsibility to ensure that the provisions of the supreme law are upheld and that all institutions and agencies of the State and Government act constitutionally and in the national interest.
For the purposes of ensuring that the provisions of the Constitution are upheld, all institutions and agencies of government at every level will be required to be accountable to Parliament.
This constitutional provision dilutes excessive executive powers currently enjoyed by the President. Government institutions and agencies are virtually accountable to the President in the current Constitution.
By transferring these powers to the representative arm of government which is Parliament, we have gone a significant step in strengthening the role that people play in deciding how they should be governed.
A constitution with adequate checks and balances on executive power is one that will entrench democratic values, principles and practices.
One of the main reasons that the country embarked on a constitution–making process was that the political parties agreed that the current constitution had serious flaws that militated against deepening the country’s democratic values and principles and the full enjoyment of civil, political, social and economic rights.
Anyone calling himself an advocate of democracy cannot criticise an empowered Parliament, which is the institution through which the will of the people is expressed, and through which popular self–government is realised in practice.
Parliament should be strengthened as it is central in the determination of the laws and policies for society and secure respect for the rule of law.
The importance of a democratic Parliament is best summed up by the Inter-Parliamentary Union which says at its best, “Parliament embodies the distinctive democratic attributes of discussion and compromise, as the means through which a public interest is realised that is more than the sum of individual or sectional interests.
Any attempts therefore to weaken the role of Parliament in the new Constitution must be resisted by all democratic forces in Zimbabwe.
We are not doing justice to the nation and future generations if we are to come up with a constitution intended to serve the interests of certain individuals.
John Makamure is the Executive Director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org