BULAWAYO – The MDC Alliance accused the Zanu PF government of fast-tracking a constitutional amendment bill during the coronavirus lockdown in order to deny the public an opportunity to make submissions.
The opposition party says the Constitutional Amendment No. 2 Bill “entrenches more power in the executive and removes necessary checks and balances that are integral for the independence of the judiciary and separation of powers.”
Parliament’s Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee began public hearings on Monday, and they will run until June 19. They were originally slated for March 29 to April 4 but were postponed after the government announced a lockdown from March 30 to slow down the spread of the virus.
“The lockdown remains at Level 2. It is yet to be lifted. This means that freedom of assembly is greatly curtailed. The decision to fast track the public hearings process means that most people will not be able to attend the public hearings and make their voices heard due to restrictions on movement as well as restrictions on those who can attend,” MDC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said Tuesday.
She said the decision to go ahead with the hearings was “unreasonable as it violates the citizens’ right to be heard and consulted.”
“The MDC Alliance maintains that government’s focus should be on aligning laws with the Constitution as opposed to amending it. The attempt to amend over 22 clauses in the constitution in such a fast track manner confirms that if the government has the political will to align laws to the constitution, it would have done so,” Mahere added.
Zimbabwe adopted the new constitution in 2013 following a public referendum. But the government has been criticised for failing to amend legislation to bring it into compliance with the new constitution.
The amendments which the Bill proposes to make include the limitation of Parliament’s power to approve international treaties; abolition of provisions for electing vice presidents as running mates; extension of party-list Members of the National Assembly; decoupling delimitation of electoral boundaries from the national census; appointment of additional non-parliamentary ministers and the creation of the office of Public Protector and transfer of functions from Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.
The Bill also gives power to the president to promote judges without public interviews and extend their tenure of office past their current retirement age of 70; reduce the size of provincial councils by providing that Members of Parliament will no longer be council members; vest all power in the president to appoint or dismiss the Prosecutor General; make the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet a constitutional officer holder and change the name of the Civil Service to Public Service while rewording its functions.
At least two urgent court applications have been filed to stop the government going ahead with the public hearings, which are both still pending.
In the meantime, the MDC Alliance says its supporters should attend the hearings and “continue to speak out ad register their dissatisfaction with this clear violation of their rights.”