Last steps toward a new constitution

Chapter 2 of the draft is titled: National objectives, which it describes as “objectives to guide all institutions of state and government”. It runs to six pages, but what it says could be summed up in one paragraph:

Government must do its best to ensure the freedoms, health, education, shelter, safety and human values of all its citizens. It must be even-handed, efficient and incorrupt in all its working.

The draft actually says a lot about avoiding corruption and treating everyone equally because we have seen such great abuses under our government since Independence. Going to this length is understandable – but not necessary. There is less excuse for including every current demand of NGOs interested in women’s and children’s rights, care for the environment and for traditional cultural wisdom. All these things are good, but a constitution should not bind us to today’s tactical details for obtaining them. Those details should appear in specific laws which apply in detail the principles I have tried to sum up in that short paragraph. Those details will need to develop and it is better to do that by Acts of Parliament, rather than making it necessary to amend the constitution.

The constitution should not attempt anything as impractical as to dictate foreign policy. It should not mandate equal representation of men and women in all public institutions, which is nearly impossible for many reasons, none of which are discriminatory. “Fair representation” is implied in recognising the rights of all citizens, whether it means that voters (52% of whom are women) don’t always elect a parliament balanced 50:50 between men and women, or that the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare is predominantly staffed by women.

Chapter 3 on citizenship defines the rights and duties of a citizen and who can be a citizen. Why not shorten this to:

A person can be a citizen of Zimbabwe by birth, descent or registration. Parliament will give detailed interpretation on descent or registration. No Zimbabwean law can make any person stateless (which would contravene international statements on human rights).

It outlines the functions of a Citizenship Board and parliament’s powers to legislate on citizenship.

Section 3.9(2) would restore citizenship to all those, descended from Malawian, Mozambican or Zambian citizens, who were denied Zimbabwe citizenship and rendered stateless in contravention of international law, but wouldn’t an Act of Parliament be good enough to do this?

Including demands for respect for the national symbols in 3.1.4.(c) sounds like a sop to Zanu (PF) and is not necessary.

Chapter 4: Rights

These 16 pages could be shortened. The three sentences on women’s rights are an example that should be followed elsewhere, e.g the section on children’s rights (16 headings) should be shortened and detailed application left to Parliament.

Although I myself would be eligible for social welfare assistance under 4.39, I wonder whether this is a practical aim that should be enshrined in the constitution. The same goes for section 4.41 on war veterans. The constitution should limit itself to saying government must do all it can to ensure the welfare of all citizens, and leave the details to Parliament.

4.41 sounds like another sop to Zanu (PF), defining “war veterans” so broadly yet vaguely that they might label anyone judged not to qualify as a “sellout”.

Chapter 5: The Executive – These 11 pages of the draft I received include part 5 on the Attorney General, although this has, I hear, been superseded by provision for a public Prosecutor’s Office, to which Zanu (PF) are now objecting.

This version does include the provisions for a presidential candidate to name his or her running vice-presidential mates so that the three stand together for election.

What are the implications of 5.26(3) a State of Emergency being approved by a new Parliament if the existing parliament is dissolved within the 14 day limit when it should lapse if they don’t approve? This allows 21 days before the new Parliament must approve the State of Emergency, but what if the declaration was made due to a disputed election result?

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