MDC report maps security reforms

A recent report commissioned by MDC-T treasurer, Roy Bennett, emphasises the need for the Zimbabwean security and defence apparatus to have constitutionally-defined limits on power.

Roy Bennet
Roy Bennet

The drafters hope the report will prompt Zimbabweans to debate the proper role of the defence, police, and intelligence services coming out of three decades of single party rule in which the security services were often used as the ruling party’s militia.

Speaking to The Zimbabwean, Bennett said security sector reform was at the centre of the struggle. “I’m trying to put something on the table that will encourage discussion of what the security sector could look like in the future. I want people to ask the question: What is the best way to professionalise the armed forces?” Bennett said.

The report stresses that a new constitution must delineate a clear hierarchy in each security service, and that the civilian executive must be supreme.

“In determining the respective functions of the civilian heads and military commanders, a fundamental democratic principle is in view: elected civilians formulate defence and security policy within the bounds of the constitution and relevant legislation – and appointed civilian and military personnel implement this policy,” the report says.

Significant powers should be granted to Parliament in order to assert democratic control over the security services, including legislative powers, the power to set the budget, and powers of recall and review. The specifics will be decided by an official review that will take place once a new, democratic government is elected. “I’m certainly not an expert in defence finance or the technicalities of security sector reform, so the ‘new look’ Parliament in the future will be charged with putting together the official review committee – and these experts will do a democratic review on behalf of the people,” said Bennett.

The constitution will also provide for a Defence and Security Inspectorate, headed by an Inspector-General, giving Parliament indirect powers of prosecution. The head will be an independent official who is appointed, and can be dismissed at any time, by a two-thirds majority of Parliament.

“As members and servants of society, security services personnel cannot operate above the law; they are to be subject to it,” the report says. “Such control is vital because the security services have a substantial history of, and capacity for, organised violence.”

The Inspectorate can withhold information from the public if they deem it “in the national security interest” subject to judicial appeal. The report also outlines plans to inculcate an apolitical security ethic, based on international standards of officership, among security service personnel.

It advises the Cabinet to seek advice from Zimbabwean and international experts to oversee the design and implementation of an education programme aimed at depoliticising the security services and teaching respect for human rights.

Security services personnel will be allowed to vote, but cannot be card-carrying members of political parties, join trade unions, or attend political meetings in uniform unless on official duty.

The report recognises that the programme “will have no value if misconduct is in any way sanctioned or tolerated by the military or civilian authorities,” and personnel shall be entitled to refuse to execute any order that constitutes an offence under law.

Bennett was clear that professional soldiers – those unaligned with political parties – from the current services would be part of the reforms.

“We’re only going to include professional people and career soldiers who haven’t taken on a political objective, or who haven’t used their position in the military to protect themselves. If you’re doing that sort of thing you’re not a professional soldier,” Bennett said.

Zimbabwe is urged to cooperate with the SADC and adhere to all international treaties it is a signatory to.

Although the report focuses on the security services, the writers argue that “a democratic government will recognise that the greatest threats to the Zimbabwean people are not external but internal: socio-economic problems like poverty, unemployment, poor education, the lack of housing and the absence of adequate social services, as well as growing levels of crime and violence.”

The committee for the official review will be formed within 30 days of a new government taking office, and will not be arbitrarily vindictive – past political affiliations, tribe, or race will not disqualify members of the security services from serving a new Zimbabwe.

As Bennett put it: “those who are using repression, force, and fear to suppress the population will not take part in the reforms.”

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