Constitution back on track as parties compromise

copacHARARE - The inclusive government has resumed the process of drafting a new constitution after sharp disagreements between the political parties over the methodology to use in sifting views gleaned during public hearings.

Legal watchdog Veritas remarked that it was “surprising that in the ample time available to it COPAC had not spelled out the methodology for the work of the thematic committees sufficiently clearly to exclude the sort of thing that happened” last week.

Problems emerged as Thematic Committees tasked with sifting information from public hearings began analysing data from Manicaland. Zanu (PF) all of a sudden began demanding a quantitative approach or to count up how many times an opinion had been expressed and the most frequently expressed views to go forward as what the people want. This would have enabled Zanu (PF) to smuggle into the Constitution trivial matters such as the death penalty for anyone advocating for sanctions or criticising the President, and capital punishment for gays.

“We have found some common ground, and the process is back on track,” said Zanu (PF) COPAC chairman Munyaradzi-Paul Mangwana said: “We hope we will not encounter more hiccups.”

Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC COPAC chairman, insisted that account must be taken of the quality of the data coming in, whether it was informed opinion or mere parroted repetition of a party political election slogan having little to do with constitutionalism.

Zanu (PF) curiously wanted the atmosphere of each consultative meeting to be factored into the analysis. They also wanted allowance to be made for the uneven rural/urban consultation. There were far more meetings in rural areas three per ward than in the more densely populated urban areas, where there was normally only one meeting per ward.

As the number of meetings held did not accurately reflect the very different rural/ urban population numbers a quantitative-only approach would mean rural opinions being unfairly weighted against urban opinions.

The parties declared a deadlock and the dispute was referred to the Management Committee, comprising three of the six negotiators who drafted the global political agreement, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Elton Mangoma and Nicholas Goche. The April 11 Management Committee meeting resolved that analysis of the results of the outreach meetings would be conducted on a qualitative basis, marking a victory for the MDC.

The Management Committee also resolved that the analysis of the rural data would be done separately from the urban; frequencies or preponderance will not be the absolute determinant of popularity or importance of an agreed concept; both quantitative and qualitative approaches will be applied in data analysis and where both methods are used none shall take precedence over the other.

The entire process has experienced frequent delays which have necessitated more and more funding. Article 6 of the GPA states the draft constitution should be ready within three months of the completion of the public consultation process before the end of February.

Another delaying factor was the incarceration of Mwonzora on trumped up charges of causing violence, from February 15 to March 12. The case is still pending.

Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Eric Matinenga, insists he has been consulting widely over the new document.

It is people-driven,” insists Matinenga. “We spoke to everyone and held several stakeholder meetings.We have solicited peoples views on the new constitution, we are not imposing a constitution on the people.

But leading civil society organisations (CSOs) are unconvinced. The Zimbabwe Students Union, Zinasu, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, CZC, and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, ZCTU, powerful allies of Tsvangirai, are among those who have condemned the process.

The proposed constitution-making process is fundamentally flawed, said Lovemore Madhuku, the chairman of the NCA. We are not compromising, we reject it outright. Parliamentarians have no right to write a constitution on behalf of the people. The NCA will thus continue with its grassroots education campaign in a push for a new, democratic and people-driven constitution. In the meantime we are mobilising for a NO vote under the ‘Take Charge’ campaign.

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