Alliance of Community Based Organisations (ACBOs) Press Statement on the proposed Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill No. 2 of 2019

The Alliance of Community Based Organisations (ACBOs) notes with grave concern, the proposed Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill No. 2 of 2019, published in the Government Gazette Extraordinary, dated 31 December 2019. The proposal follows Constitutional Amendment (No. 1) Act of 2017, whose import was to which stifled citizen’s participation and transparency by centralising the power and authority to appoint some judges, that is, the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President of the High Court to the President, as opposed to the previous provision which required a public interview process to be conducted by the Judicial Services Commission.

The proposed constitutional amendment seeks to make changes to the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 20 of 2013 which has been in existence for only six years, following its coming into effect on 22 August 2013. Among other things, the changes that the bill seeks to make regarding appointment of judges are aimed at centralising decision making and hence further curtail citizen’s involvement in public processes whilst compromising the principles of separation of powers between the executive and judiciary which are key tenets of democratic governance. In addition, the proposal to deal away with a constitutional provision that allows for the Vice President of the country to be voted for as a running mate of a Presidential candidates in elections and allowing the President to appoint on their own authority, further consolidates power in the hands of an individual and limits public participation thus compromising accountability of serving public officials.

Moreso, the proposed provisions of the bill are entrenching the idea of and provides room for a President using his or her power of patronage to create and make political appointments to public institutions which in turn undermines the principles of citizen participation, accountability, transparency and rule of law. The proposed amendments further eliminate all remnants of judicial independence by immunizing exceptional legislation while constitutionalizing the president’s unilateral authority to appoint judicial leadership, notably the Prosecutor General, Public Protector and judges of the Supreme Court and Constitutional court.

The executive’s disingenuous attempt to sugarcoat its authoritarian power-grab by concurrently proposing amendments designating 10 parliamentary seats to the youth and an extension of the current quota system for women, which in its current format and nature does not show a genuine interest to advance gender equality and promote vulnerable groups. Such proposals are not genuine attempts at inclusivity but rather ploys to promote the amendments by misappropriating the most vulnerable segments of society, whose rights are regularly and openly violated with the knowledge and complicity of the president and state institutions.

As ACBOs, we unequivocally reject the proposed Constitutional of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 2 Bill of 2019 in its entirety and totality. These amendments effectively serve to destroy the constitutional separation of powers, concentrating all authority into the President’s hands. Current efforts to secure amendments are an assault on constitutional legitimacy and an intentional undermining of the rule of law, which state institutions should be the first to uphold.

We are of the view that these amendments were drafted specifically to enable a sitting President to exercise unprecedented unilateral authority on key state institutions, a move that is likely to create powerful individuals as opposed to strengthening institutions and systems of governance.

Not only do these politically-tailored provisions flout fundamental legal precepts, they also overturn the protection of civil liberties and rights championed by the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 20 of 2013, which reflects the aspirations of 94,99% of the population which voted for it to be in effect.

We urge Zimbabweans to be cautious about accepting any form of political actors attempting to shape the behaviour of public administration servants. If it becomes acceptable to allow the entrenchment of power into an individual through Constitutional amendments, what will happen to our civil liberties and rights? The ACBOs believes that by protecting the Constitution from being selfishly amended, we are protecting ourselves and guaranteeing the future of the country. This move by the government is a betrayal as it comes when they are yet to fulfill the alignment agenda. Sixty-three bills listed on the bill tracker for alignment, remain outstanding. We, therefore, urge the government to be seized with the alignment of various laws to the 2013 Constitution that were on the legislative agenda and ensure full implementation of the constitution, as opposed to amending the constitution.

Source: Alliance of Community Based Organisations (ACBOs)