The good, the bad and those in between: A simple, non-legal analysis of the proposed constitutional amendment in Zimbabwe

Introduction

Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill gazzetted on the 31st of December 2019 proposes a myriad of changes to the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act, 2013. This has received mixed reactions from many interest groups expressing either displeasure and or gratitude. This brief aims at providing a simple, non legal understanding of the proposed constitutional changes, possible implications and opportunities, if any. Overall, the brief posits that the quantum of changes are ill-timed and rushed, thereby leaving a sense of possible “chickenery” and underhand intentions. However, its not as bad as some lobbyists will make you believe!

The Good

The proposed changes consist of some good proposals, particularly extension of the quota system and inclusion of youth representation, tying loose ends on devolution implementation and decoupling of delimitation from census. It is critical, from the onset, to state that there are obviously side effects to all good things and expressions of displeasure by different interest groups cannot be totally ignored. Some proposals, for example, from Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Empowerment (WALPE), arguing for complete introduction of 50/50 gender representation, have their merits.

The introduction of the Public Protector can be a good amendment allowing for citizens to complaint mechanisms and redress against public institutions abuse and failure to deliver. The possible conflation with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) mandate must however, be clearly delineated at law.

Lastly, the removal of possible duplication on devolution is welcome as it can open doors for full and meaningful devolution that has little influence from national institutions. The amendment to remove Mayors as automatic chairpersons is at first sight a direct attack at the opposition control of cities, but in reality was defeating the very proportional representation used to come up with provincial and metropolitan councils.

The Bad

On the negative is the proposed changes allowing the President to have powers to appoint judges and the Prosecutor General. These changes, at face value, smack of regression to democratic practice as enshrined in the present constitution and an attempt to consolidate state capture of the judiciary. This should be avoided at all costs.

However, the public interviews of judges had little “public” followership and at the end, the President still had the final say.

Those in between

The brief further posits that the removal of running mates, as was impending in 2023, has no real effect on our democracy. It was a conundrum faced on both sides of the political landscape. It, the running mate idea, is not local and has no real buy in. It was a law established with issues of succession during the Mugabe era but might have no real consequence in present day politics. Rather, it might serve to entrench factionalism ahead of elections which might result in a lot of purging and splits.

Effectively, the intended end to the law, is well covered under the sections addressing succession after the demise of present leader, that is, allowing the ruling political party to nominate replacement within three months. Further, the two term limits, if not tempered with, has the effect of forcing parties to have a succession plan. The idea of having a directly elected vice president, might not be as democratic as the first thought would make one believe!

The clause allowing the president to appoint seven ministers from outside parliament has both merits and demerits. In a normal, functioning and mature democracy, where technocracy is cherished, this is certainly a welcome move. Our parliament is populated by party zealots, ground operators who have experience in sloganeering and engineering local community coups. It is therefore only prudent that the president is allowed to have wider options. The challenge is when the party is supreme to government, conflation of power is rife and there is little room for technocrats to maneuver. Such is our crisis!

The proposed changes making the the Chief Secretary to the President the public service supreme, has little effect on their performance as permanent secretaries are presidential appointees anyway. Question is whether the Chief secretary takes over from the Public Service Commission chairman or if both are maintained, how do they relate?

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Source: Tutuma