Constitutional Amendment Public Hearings (Gweru, Lupane, Mt Darwin and Chinhoyi)

Introduction

On the 31st of December 2019, Government of Zimbabwe gazetted the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.2) Bill (“the Bill”). The Bill was unprocedurally gazetted as the notice in the gazette was under the signature of the Clerk of Parliament, and made reference to the Standing Orders of Parliament as the basis of gazetting, instead of section 328 of the Constitution, which is the operative clause on amendments to the Constitution. The clause requires that a Bill amending the Constitution be gazetted under notice by the Speaker of Parliament. As such, the Bill was re-gazetted on the 17th of January 2020, presumably to correct the anomalies. The Bill seeks to make changes to 27 key provisions of the Constitution. Among the proposed amendments are changes to the election of Vice-Presidents, the appointment of the Prosecutor-General, terms of office of Judges and the appointment of a Public Protector, delimitation zones and increase of the women’s quota and introduction of the youth quota in Parliament.

Parliament invited citizens and civil society organisations to make written submissions on the Bill. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (‘the Forum’) and its members filed a petition to Parliament for it to turn down the proposed changes by government on the grounds that the Bill if passed would weaken democracy and cut back on checks and balances and separation of powers.

Nonetheless, Parliament published a notice announcing that public hearings would be held between 23 March 2020 and 9 April 2020. These hearings were postponed due to lockdown restrictions. Again Parliament announced that hearings for the Bill would now be heard commencing 15 June 2020 until 19 June 2020. This is in spite of numerous calls made by the Forum and its members and other civil society organisations calling upon Parliament to postpone the hearings until the lockdown was lifted. On 12 June 2020, President Mnangagwa announced several changes to the lockdown restrictions to open up the country and these changes were formalised through Statutory Instrument 136/2020 promulgated by the Minister of Health and Child Welfare. The statutory instrument also categorised Parliament hearings as an essential service.

Legal Matters

An application for an interdict filed by the Habakkuk Trust against the Clerk of Parliament and the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs from holding public hearings in Bulawayo concerning the proposed Constitutional Amendment No.2 Bill was heard on 15 June 2020. Justice Nokhutula Moyo, reserved judgment on the application.

In Harare, another application filed against the Speaker of Parliament, the President of the Senate and the Attorney General filed by Alice Kuvheya and the Chitungwiza and Manyame Residents Association is set down for hearing on Tuesday 16 June 2020 before Justice David Mangota.

On 15 June 2020 Parliament commenced public hearings on the Bill in Gweru, Mt Darwin, Lupane and Chinhoyi to solicit the views of the public, even though the two urgent applications filed in the Bulawayo High Court and in the Harare High Court were still pending.

Monitoring Report of public hearings on the Bill

This report contains information derived from the following Forum Members: Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP); Counselling Services Unit (CSU); Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights); Excerpts from reports generated by the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) and Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) have also been incorporated into this report.

Gweru

General Observations

Gweru public hearings took place at Chiwundura Business Centre, the Members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee present included Honorable Anele Ndebele, Honorable Tsitsi Ziymabi and Honorable Constance Charehwa. Over 180 people attended the public hearings (an estimated 50 men, 100 women and 30 youths). According to reports, the venue was not easily accessible to community members primarily due to the travel restrictions under the national lockdown. Four (4) uniformed ZRP officers were deployed to maintain order at the public hearings. Reports indicate that they did not interfere with participants.

The majority of participants demonstrated that they had an idea about the tenets of the proposed amendments as they were able to interrogate some of the provisions of the proposed amendments. The three (3) Members of the Parliament Portfolio Committee present at the public hearing did not give a briefing of the proposed amendments. They started by asking people’s views and did not explain the Amendment No. 2 Bill and its contents. Some participants also did not get the opportunity to air their views due to time constraints. Reports indicated that a group of over 25 individuals were bussed to the venue from an unknown source.

Matters arising

Section 180 – Selection of Judges through public interviews
2 participants opposed the amendment citing the need for transparency in the selection of judges. However, 3 other participants favoured the amendment though they did not indicate the reasons why the amendment should be done

Section 186 – Appointment of Constitutional Court judges after retirement
1 participant opposed the amendment. He cited that the national retirement age of 70 years should apply to everyone. He argued that there are younger judges who also deserve to be elevated to higher posts

Section 243 – Establishment of the office of the public protector
3 people supported the amendment of the establishment of the office of the public protector

Section 124 – extension of the women’s quota system
8 female participants opposed the extension of the women’s quota system. They argued that they would rather have the 50/50 gender equality provisions under sections 17, 56 and 80 of the Constitution be implemented; A war veteran indicated that there is need to recognise war veterans, therefore, there is need for a quota system that recognises war veterans so that they are also represented in Parliament; People with disabilities present opposed the proposed amendments and advised that there is need to empower people with disabilities rather than adding and amending the current provisions without implementation; A headman from Gweru suggested that a Bill which proposes to amend 27 clauses in the Constitution should go through a referendum not “mere public hearings”

Mt Darwin

General Observations

Members of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs chaired by Hon. P.Misihairabwi Mushonga attended the Mt Darwin public hearings. Due to the large turnout, the consultative meetings were divided into 3 groups of 50 people to observe social distancing. Participants reported that they had difficulties in accessing the venue due to the unavailability of transport emanating from the national lockdown restrictions.

Matters Arising

Section 186 – Appointment of Constitutional Court judges after retirement

One participant submitted that the retirement of judges should not be extended to allow youths to also be judges. He added that Judge’s retirement must be reduced to 65 years and should not be increased

Section 180 – Selection of Judges through public interviews
4 participants submitted that the President should not be given powers of appointing Judges as it will compromise the judiciary system. Another participant indicated that interviews for judges must be maintained as they promote democracy and accountability

People with Disabilities (PWDs) also asked for provisions that will give them a quota

Section 124 – extension of the women’s quota system
Participants felt that there is need to align the electoral act to enforce political parties to submit candidate list that have gender balance, 50% youth and also incorporate PWDs. One participant further noted that 3 sections in the Constitution speak to gender equality, the participant advised that the sections should be implemented first

Sections 91-97 – removal of the running mate clause
Participants rejected the removal of the running mate clause indicating that it promotes democracy. One participant indicated that Vice Presidents must be elected to allow for a clear succession plan

Section 124 – proportional representation of youths
Participants rejected the proposed 10 seats for youths

One of the participants requested that more public hearings be setup in Mashonaland Central to accommodate the views of everyone

Clause 23 – parliamentary oversight over agreements with foreign entities
One participant noted that Parliament must play an oversight role over agreements entered with foreign organisations in line with the Constitution as it ensures separation of powers.

Chinhoyi

General Observations

In Chinhoyi, 3 sessions of the public hearings consisting of 50 people in line with the Covid -19 regulations were conducted at Cooksey Hall. An estimated 250 people attended the public hearings. The venue was accessible and central to everyone. This was seen by the number of the people who attended. People with no secure masks were given masks upon entry.

Matters Arising

Section 124 – extension of the women’s quota system
The majority of participants opposed the extension of women’s quota. The participants indicated that the extension of the women’s quota system will further burden taxpayers. Instead, the 50/50 gender equality representation in all 210 seats should be implemented

Section 124 – proportional representation of youths
Participants rejected the youth quota indicating that it is insignificant and does not adequately address the plight of Zimbabwean youth

Other participants noted that generally, the amendments give too much power to the President, and should therefore not be implemented

Section 180 – Selection of Judges through public interviews
Participants said judges should not be appointed but they should be interviewed

Other participants noted that the Constitution has not been fully implemented and therefore should not be amended until full implementation.

Lupane

General Observations

In Lupane, the Public Hearings on the Constitution of Zimbabwe (Amendment No. 2) Bill took place at Lupane Community Hall. The hearing was attended by about 200 people. The meeting was split into 4 groups with 50 people each. Honourable Stephen Ngwenya chaired the meeting. The venue was accessible as it was done in an open space outside the Hall premises to cater for social distancing. No one was prevented from accessing the venue.

According to reports, the meeting was adequately publicized and police officers were deployed within and outside the venue. One member of the ruling party ZANU PF wore a face mask with a party symbol though there were no party slogans chanted. Few people had prior knowledge of the proposed amendments. The facilitator provided a brief background and context to the Bill though not all participants were given the chance to speak because of time limits.

Matters Arising

  • Generally, community members resoundingly rejected the amendments;
  • One participant submitted that the Constitution should not be tampered with;
  • Female participants further rejected the extension of the quota system citing the need for 50/50 gender equality.

Recommendations

In light of the reports received on the first batch of public hearings conducted on 15 June 2020, The Forum makes the following recommendations:

  • Citizens demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the proposed amendments. The Forum, therefore, recommends that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Members thoroughly explain the Bill, its contents and implications to citizens before soliciting their views;
  • The Forum recommends that law enforcement officers be on the lookout for entities bussing and coaching participants at public hearings;
  • In light of the recommendations by participants, the Forum reiterates the need for more public hearings given the importance of the proposed amendments;
  • The Forum also takes note that some of the proposed amendments were not discussed, neither was there any efforts from conveners to stimulate discussion on these amendments. The Forum, therefore, urges the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee to solicit the views from citizens on all proposed amendments to have a holistic view of the views of the public.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (HRForum)