The Principals set up a constitution committee to break the Zimbabwe Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) deadlock but this took away the process from Parliament, which legally holds the mandate to deal with the constitution making process.
“There are several things that boggle the mind with regards to the setting up of the new Constitution committee,” said Machisa. “Firstly, it has been set up as a Cabinet committee, and not an Inter-Party committee – though some are referring to it that way.”
“What this does is to transport the whole constitution making process to the executive. Secondly the committee is a recreation or duplication of the existing COPAC Management committee, with the only difference being the dropping of two or three people. So what has necessitated it? What it only does is to delay the constitution making process and allow scope for executive editing, which was one of the reasons why the draft Constitution of 2000 was rejected.”
Machisa said the set up of the committee had added to the blurring of lines between the party and the state, because of the confusion around whether President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara, the three principals, were acting as party leaders or in their government hats.
He said whatever the case, the move made the drafting of a new constitution more prone to “executive editing” and blurred the lines between the executive and the legislature.
The Cabinet committee which has ostensibly been set up to deal with the deadlock on the constitution is not only a corruption of the management committee but also a variation of the negotiating team that the parties had set up to engage on GPA issues.
The issues that the committee had been tasked to deal with emanate from the Second All Stakeholders Conference report, produced by COPAC, which revealed that there are still areas of disagreement especially between the political parties.
However, prior to the formation of the new committee, President Mugabe had controversially asserted in his official opening speech at the Second All Stakeholder Conference that the Principals, and not Copac, had a final say on the constitution making process.
The position was immediately condemned by civil society, and initially rejected by Tsvangirai, Minister Welshman Ncube and Mutambara.
The committee will be chaired by minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Eric Matinenga. It is also comprised of Patrick Chinamasa (Zanu-PF),Tendai Biti (MDC-T) and Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC-N) as well as the three COPAC Co-Chairs, Paul Mangwana (Zanu PF), Douglas Mwonzora (MDC-T) and Edward Mkhosi (MDC-N).
“Our position has been that parliament should have been allowed to complete the process as soon as possible. The formation of the new committee in unclear circumstances for unclear reasons by the executive is not only ultra virus the GPA and the principle of separation of powers between the executive and the legislature but it also abates delays in the people’s rendezvous with the Referendum and Elections, whose timing the executive has been unclear on,” said Machisa.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Director, McDonald Lewanika, said it seemed like the executive was using the new committee, as a way of dealing with internal discords in political partie.
He also cautioned that the move could easily render itself useful to other political actors who do not want to see the process succeed in a bid to go to the next election under the current Lancaster House constitution or a mirror of it.
“Our argument is not necessarily that the executive has no role to play. They do. Our argument is that while they have some prescribed roles in the constitution and the GPA, completing the writing of a new constitution is clearly not one of them.
“Rather their focus should be on ensuring that we have clear timelines and parameters for a free and fair referendum and forthcoming elections rather than interfering and delaying the constitution making process.
This loiter-and-linger strategy by the executive, wittingly or unwittingly aids those who want to go for elections without any meaningful reforms.”
“There is a real possibility as could be seen from the reactions and action of the MDC led by Professor Ncube, that the new committee could worsen the disease that it was mean to cure.
“Instead of creating immediate alignment and beginning the process of dealing with points of disagreement, already we have seen that the MDC led by Ncube disagreed with the process of coming up with the committee and seems to have been arm twisted into finally joining it. Itself, a situation that is still unclear and would need to be verified if and when the committee starts working,” Lewanika said.
Lewanika reiterated that after 44 months the constitution making process needed to come to some closure through a referendum.
“We have always been clear that the process of writing a new constitution that the GPA effected was defective and driven by Political parties. What we need now is closure on the matter, through clear pronouncements by the countries leadership on the timing of these critical national processes and the conditions under which they will take place.
“Given our proximity to 2013, and the appalling state of the nation’s readiness for elections, time is of the essence. Our leaders need to embrace the fierce urgency of now, on 3 critical matters: The Constitution making process and Referendum, the Elections, and reforms that are necessary for the first two to be held in a free and fair manner.”