CIVIL society organisations have slammed the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (Copac) for omitting what they consider to be critical issues in the final talking points for a new supreme law.

The talking points have been sent to the Constitutional Reform Management Committee for final approval. The committee comprises representatives of the three parties in the inclusive government.

Representatives of various non-governmental organisations ranging from youth, health and environment met in Harare on Tuesday to assess the progress that has been made so far in the contentious constitution-making process.

They expressed their unhappiness with the way the process is unfolding arguing that there was mistrust between civil society and politicians.

Civil society feels that politicians are sidelining them in making critical decisions and only use them to ratify such resolutions and create an impression that there is sufficient consultation.

A major concern is that the talking points that Copac has drafted were developed without widespread consultation and as s result a lot of critical issues were omitted.

Director of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango) Cephas Zinhumwe expressed concern that they were meant to come up with different talking points for the constitution-making process outreach programme, but Copac seemed to have already reached a final decision that awaited endorsement by the management committee.

Zinhumwe said: “There is already a finality of the talking points which means that all the issues we will be debating until Thursday might be of no use to them. Who did Copac engage? Why didn’t they call civil society representatives in making these final decisions? Consultation is lacking. Some of the issues we are told when they would have already made a conclusion.”

Zinhumwe also questioned why Copac had appointed Dr Hope Sadza and Professor Phineas Makhurane to represent civil society instead of giving them an opportunity to nominate their own representatives.

“Are they from civil society?” he asked. “We want a situation where we engage each other in a fair manner. However for us, civil society, we will continue pushing and we will send our ideas to Copac. We will make them worry,” he said.

Other civil society representatives expressed their disappointment with the sluggishness of the process.

Michael Mabwe, a youth representative from Nango, was of the view that Copac was showing “less commitment to the process”.

The role of the management committee also came under scrutiny as the civil society argued that it gives politicians excessive control over the constitution-making process.

Simbarashe Matoso, a civil society activist, queried the role of the management committee.

“You say the process is different from the 1999 one because it was executive-led. But I believe the management committee is like the executive of 1999 as it is always there to approve what people have to say,” Matoso said. “What is the essence of parliamentary debate, except for politicians to amend what the people want? We want to understand the presence of the management committee.”

The civic society representatives questioned both the phrasing and the content of the talking points.

A lawyer with the Zimbabwe Environmental Association, Shamiso Mutisi, said the talking points were silent on international law provisions.

Mutisi said: “There is no talking point to do with international law. Our current constitution provides for that. People should be asked how we can deal with international relations. For example people can be asked how they want the president to get into international deals. Does he have to do it alone or should it be discussed maybe in parliament?”

Mutisi also questioned the phrasing of the talking point on Land, Natural Resources and Empowerment, arguing that it was too general to generate any meaningful debate.

“This talking point is a composition of different issues. All the questions that are on the topic are on land and only one out of the 13 is on natural resources. We don’t have questions on environmental rights. For example, people need to be asked questions like should the constitution have a provision that it is the people’s rights to live in a clean and healthy environment that does not cause harm. In Harare residents get dirty water, the air is polluted and rubbish is not collected,” he said.

Mutisi said the issue related to empowerment was also too general and should have been tackled more extensively in the talking points.

“There should have been a question like in Chiadzwa should local villagers benefit from the diamonds and how and even those in Mutoko, should they benefit from the granite extracted in their area?”

However, a representative from Copac Peter Kunjeku defended the talking points arguing that they were developed by a team of experts who had to deal with many competing issues.

In describing the outreach process, Kunjeku said 5 805 consultative meetings will be held throughout the country. He also revealed that materials on the constitution will be available in 23 languages. Efforts are also being made to reach out to Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. However, he admitted that only a paltry $97 000 had been set aside for Diaspora consultation.

The constitutional process has been bogged down by inter-party conflicts and lack of funding. Last week, the EU announced that it had released $8 million for the process. Donors had insisted that the government must meet part of the cost.

Minister of Constitutional Affairs Advocate Eric Matinenga last week announced that $2,3 million will be released by the Finance ministry for this exercise.

Matinenga also told the media that the donors have agreed to release funds quarterly and that the consultative process will soon begin.

Prior to the release of funds by government and the EU, the process had virtually collapsed with the parliamentary select committee failing to pay its secretariat.

 

Wongai Zhangazha

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