Law Society of Zimbabwe Statement on the Proposed Constitutional Amendments

On the 17th of December 2019, Cabinet at its 45th meeting approved several amendments to the Constitution. Some of the notable proposed amendments relate to the appointments of Vice Presidents, the Prosecutor General, Public Protector, promotion of judges and the terms of office of judges. The other notable proposed amendments relate to the composition of the provincial councils and the extension of the provision of the women’s quota which was scheduled to end in 2023.

The Constitution provides for its amendment. Although amendments to the Constitution are allowed these ought to be necessary for the promotion of the rule of law and protection of the principles of democracy. Our Constitution is a democratic document which came out f extensive consultations. It is a national document which should be enduring. Amendments to the Constitution should be necessary to the enhancement of enshrined rights, accountability and good governance. Amendments must not be retrogressive.

In terms of Section 92 of the Constitution a presidential candidate chooses running mates who upon election become the national Vice Presidents. The rationale for these provisions was to introduces non-disruptive succession planning whilst ensuring that in the event of a Vice President taking over the office of President he would be having the people’s mandate. The effect of the proposed amendment to Section 94 means that Vice Presidents will no longer be elected but appointed by the President. This removes the transparency and democratic process sought to be achieved by Section 92 in relation to the assumption of these important offices. In addition, the Vice President’s tenure will be at the pleasure of the President. An amendment is expected to cure a problem of mischief. This is not apparent in the present case. The proposed amendments further seek to change the procedures for the appointment of the Prosecutor General. The current procedure for the appointment the Prosecutor General is similar to that of the judges. This is a transparent way of appointing this important office, which like the judiciary ought to enjoy prosecutorial independence. The proposed amendment whereby the President appoints the Prosecutor General upon consultation of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) is reverting to the old constitution. The current provisions promote transparency in the appointment process. This will not be achieved under the proposed amendment. It is not clear what mischief the proposed amendment seeks to address. The fact of the matter though is that the amendment is retrogressive. It emasculates a position that is pivotal to our criminal justice. The amendment will remove the Prosecutor General’s independence. The appointment system also does not guarantee meritocracy as the basis for appointment. This cannot be achieved by simply consulting the JSC. In any case in terms of Section 339, such consultation may not be binding on the President.

Section 180 sets out the conditions that must be met in relation to the appointment of judges. The proposed amendment seeks to provide for the President to appoint a sitting judge to a higher court upon consultation with JSC. This approach seeks to reverse the elaborate, transparent system currently in place. It is not clear why we should depart from the current system. The proposed changes will take us back to the pre 2013 era where judicial appointments were shrouded in a veil of secrecy.

The proposed extension of the tenure of judges albeit on a contract basis and subject to medical certification on fitness, is not desirable in a country with a vibrant legal profession. There are many legal practitioners who are fit to hold the office of judges.  

The introduction of the office of the Public Protector should be based on a true desire to achieve administrative justice especially by public offices. The 2013 Constitution deliberately omitted this institution on the basis that the functions could be effectively undertaken by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. The Ministry of Justice was recently lamenting that this commission is under resourced. Instead of properly funding the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, the Cabinet is creating another institution which will have its own resource chewing bureaucracy. On the other hand, the present Constitution already provides for the establishment for an independent complaints mechanism to deal with misconduct by members of the security sector. This has not been instituted and yet Cabinet finds it necessary to create the public protector’s office. The Executive is failing to diligently and without delay perform all constitutional obligations as provided in Section 324.

The proposal to remove the MPs and Senators from provincial councils also appear ill conceived. The presence of these members was supposed t bring the nexus between national and local development. The proposed amendments will perpetuate the disconnect between the national Programmes and the local/Provincial Programmes thus creating development inertia.

The Law Society of Zimbabwe reiterates that the provisions to the Constitution ought to be guarded jealously. And proposed amendments to the Constitution should be for the people and by the people.

The Law Society of Zimbabwe further reiterates its position that the Constitution of Zimbabwe should be jealously guarded and protected in pursuance of the supremacy of the rule of law. The proposed amendments to the Constitution in the most, are unnecessary, retrogressive and are not in the interest of transparency, good governance and respect for the rule of law. Accordingly, the LSZ categorically denounces them.

Source: Law Society of Zimbabwe