Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.2) Bill: Not Now!

In 2013, Zimbabweans were faced with a referendum to determine whether to adopt the proposed Constitution or not. The resounding result was 94.49% (3.3 million) citizens voting YES. As such, the present Constitution of the land is a very popular one. On the 31st December 2019, Parliament gazetted Constitutional Amendment (No.2) Bill. The bill was received differently by Civil Society, the Media and public. A few concerns arise from the bill with the primary discontent being with the supposed increase in Executive power over the Judiciary.

Constitutional Amendment Bill No. 2 proposes that the President is given power to appoint judges and the prosecutor general without the former provision of public interviews. This suggested change removes the ability of the public to weigh in on the selection of judges which is a key aspect of transparency and participatory governance. Furthermore, this introduces capture of the judiciary by the executive, principally removing the separation of powers in the three arms of government. An executive that captures the judiciary is an affront to democracy.

Constitutional Amendment Bill (No.2) also proposes allowing government to engage in foreign agreements without the approval of parliament. This again weakens the legislature and limits the power of Members of Parliament to scrutinize agreements such as external loans. Zimbabwe is already struggling with an unsustainable debt burden which will grow further if Parliamentary oversight is compromised.

While these points of discontent (and others) are being raised, Public hearings into the bill were disrupted by the novel coronavirus and resultant lockdown restrictions. What has drawn the frustration of the public now is the decision by Parliament to hold hearings whilst the threat of the virus and lockdown measures remain (Hearings started 15 June 2020). Social distancing restrictions dictate that a maximum of 50 people can attend public gatherings thereby limiting the number of people who are attending hearings. Furthermore, citizens are being requested to present travel exemption letters by police, a hindrance that has curtailed access to venues. In this light, can the consultation process be considered to be satisfied for Constitutional Amendment Bill (No.2)?

The answer is no! It seems that Parliament was ill-advised to continue the hearings in the current state. The situation is worsened by the fact that the Bill itself does not seem to answer the burning questions that need attention now. The urgency shown in holding Public Hearings should be directed to the implementation of overdue electoral reforms.
At present, the only recourse available to citizens is to register their thoughts through their MP’s, submit written opinion to Parliament through email or (if possible) attend on-going hearings.

Constitutional Amendment (No.2) has got the displeasure of the public due to the changes it proposes and the context within which Parliament has decided to hold consultations. Without sufficient consultation there will be no uptake and ownership hence hearings should be postponed to a later time when the public will be able offer input!
Parliament has shown that this process

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