Constitution process speeds up

Pressure from SADC following its recent meeting has had an impact on both the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee and the Management Committee, who seem to be making a determined effort to expedite their work.

On June 1 COPAC had successfully completed its “audit” of the first draft of the constitution for compliance with the instructions given to the three lead drafters, but had been unable to reach consensus on new demands for substantial changes to the draft made by ZANU-PF. The draft was “totally rejected” by MDC-T.

On June 6 the Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Eric Matinenga, told the Parliament the Select Committee had been meeting to consider the comments submitted by the political parties and that two documents were being prepared for the Management Committee: “a document of agreed issues and a document of disputes”.

Last week the full Select Committee finalised its documents for the Management Committee. However, the final draft is not almost complete. The Select Committee did not during its meeting resolve all the issues. They managed to agree to compromise on some of ZANU-PF demands but there are still major disagreements between the parties in the process. A major sticking-point is still devolution. The Management Committee on Sunday went into a “retreat” at a venue outside Harare, during which it is intended to resolve the outstanding issues. The three lead drafters have been summoned to attend.

They will be expected to modify the first revised draft, using the COPAC document of agreed revisions. Simultaneously, the Management Committee will be meeting to iron out the disputed issues. As each issue is ironed they will give instructions to the drafters. It is hoped by the end of the retreat to come up with a second draft. If issues are still unresolved they will be taken to the party principals.

If a final draft does emerge after the retreat, the next stage is the Second All Stakeholders Conference.

Important pre-Conference actions include:

• translation of the draft into all vernacular languages and Braille – a considerable undertaking in itself

• printing of the draft in large numbers for distribution to participants in advance

• a “mini-outreach” to explain the draft and help people familiarise themselves with it.

In March COPAC announced that the Second All Stakeholders’ Conference would be limited to 2,500 delegates – less than the 4 000 that attended the chaotic First All Stakeholders’ Conference in July 2009.

Civil society organisations have been meeting to strategise for the conference. But it is difficult for them to finalise their submissions until the draft is out. It is hoped that, as numbers are limited, Parliament and political parties will not swamp the process. Civil society draws on a large constituency of educated and informed Zimbabweans, some of whom have been considering constitutional issues for 20 years or more. But they need adequate time, and will be reluctant to participate in the sort of disorganised scrimmage that occurred at the first conference.

For a process that is supposed to be for the people, the people have been kept in very much in the dark. It is understandable that there are behind-the-scenes disagreements with three disparate political parties at the helm, and no doubt COPAC wanted to maintain confidence that the process was proceeding smoothly, but in the face of a four-year delay COPAC’s overly optimistic and bland press reports have resulted in a certain cynicism. It would have been more encouraging to keep the public accurately informed all the way. A big problem for the public has been the contradictory interviews given by COPAC members to explain the delays.

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