"New draft constitution, a triumvirate of the good, the bad and the ugly."

"The New Draft Constitution is a triumverate of the The good, The Bad and the ugly," These were the opening sentiments by the Minister of Finance Tendai Biti addressing Civic Society Organisations on the 1st of August 2012, at a Civil Society Briefing meeting facilitated by the   Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition at their at their Offices.

Minister Biti was invited in his capacity as member of the management committee and as Secretary General of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) following the MDC-T support of the draft constitution at a press conference held on 28 July 2012. The briefing meeting was attended by 76 people representing 68 organisations.

Mr Biti qualified his opening remarks by stating that a perfect document was not possible to attain and that a coagulation of the good, the bad and the ugly is actually the whole mark of any constitution as it cannot be all good. He highlighted to the meeting that their reading of the draft indicated that the 'good' far outweighed the 'bad' and the 'ugly' and dismissed critics of the draft as people using political sound bites' without having studied the constitution. Minister Biti accepted the existence of some bad elements in the COPAC draft and further explained that any constitution is a "balance sheet of political forces at play in the country € and also admited that negotiation had been the hallmark of the process. Minister Biti added that negotiation is the process through which most constitutions are born and that the COPAC draft had been negotiated at two levels, with the people through the outreach process (where some issues that do not adhere to international standards were insisted on) and between political parties represented in Parliament as representative of sufficient consensus representing Zimbabweans.

The Secretary General of the MDC-T highlighted the following as part of the GOOD ASPECTS of the constitution:

·                 Sound constitutional supremacy.

·                 A preamble that captures the diversity in the country.

·                 A clear announcement that the source of legitimacy for any governing authority is the people not any other source.

·                 Aspirational National Objectives that are centred on the creation of a just, free and democratic society, where citizens can pursue " prosperous, happy and fulfiled lives €

·                 Gender parity beyond platitudes as seen through the constitutionalisation of the Zebra principle in a manner that makes this in most situation perempotry and mandatory rather than aspirational.

·                 The constitutionalisation of the regional representation in government institutions and state institutions.

·                 Automatic domestication of international covenants that Zimbabwe accedes to.

·                 Clear provisions on Citizenship that are based on allocating citizenship through birth, descent(beyond parents to grandparents as well) and registration - in equal measure where rights are concerned.

·                 Inline with Citizenship, giving citizens the justiciable right to national documents like passports, ID's and birth certificates.

·                 An elaborate but justiciable bill of rights encompassing civil and political rights, socio-economic and group rights- making it a formidable defense mechanism for citizens against the state.

·                 A strong and relatively independent parliament-stronger than the current one, including an empowered parliamentary legal committee.

·                 Affirmative action through a provision of 60 women members of the lower house in addition to the 210 constituency seats available for both sexes, and the Zebra process to allocating seats in senate.

·                 Sound separation of powers, checking excessive powers of the Presidency that have been there in the past.

·                 Constitutionalisation of freedom of the media as separate from and in addition to freedoms of expressions.

·                 Rights to full employment and to strike as part labour rights and socio-economic rights enshrined in the onstitution.

·                 Devolution of power to provincial assemblies.

·                 Introduction of meritocracy and curbing long tenures in public boards and parastatals, with term caps.

·                 Institution of term linits on the Presidency.

·                 Subjugation of security and intelligence services to civillian cntrol, rule of law and democratic principles, including term caps on generals as well.

·                 The constitutional provision of the National Peace and Reconcialliation Commission to look into attrocties fofrom the past and facilitate transitional justice and National Healing.

·                 Clear transitional Provisions for the constitution which are staggered main into 3 sections- provisions that will fallinto effect as soon as the constitution is accepted by the people, provisions that will take effect after elections, while the 3rd element relates to comissions that will have to see through their terms.

Minister Biti shared that in their opinion the best aspects of the draft constitution was its failsafe mechanisms against amendments and against abuse of power. These two aspects are:

1.             That to amend the bill of rights, one would need a 2/3rd majority from both houses of Parliament, plus a Referendum.

2.             The second was what he termed the anti-Wade Provision, which guards against tempering with term limits, and has the same prescriptions as above, a 2/3rd majority from both houses of parliament, plus a referendum plus the addition that if the above is successful, it cannot benefit incumbants.

The " Bad and the Ugly € were highlighted as the constitutions provisions on :

1.             Capital punishment (Death Penalty)- which it allowed in aggravated circumstances but outlaws on women.

2.             Provions on land and property rights.

3.             Provisions on two Vice Presidents as opposed to 1 Vice President or a Prime Minister.

In plenary, Minister Biti was asked to address issues around when the referendum would occur and what voting system will be used. To which he responded by stating that he could not be definitive about the timing because there were many factors at play including already planned processes like the census, in addition to fiscal and logistical; requirements for the process to take place. He estimated that the All Stakeholders Conference may take place in September 2012 with a Referendum taking place this year but from October on wards. He also postulated that the Referendum is likely to allow people to vote using the National ID rather than using the voters' roll system.

Minister Biti was also asked about whether the draft was final since ZANU PF was suggesting that they were happy with 97% of the document and may want to negotiate the unspecified 3%. He retorted that political parties and COPAC had done their bit, and if reservations remained they could be discussed at the "All Stakeholders Conference € and that the people should decide at the Referendum. He added that as far they were concerned the circulating draft was the final draft, and that people should access it from COPAC, or online, 'Read it' and make informed decisions on it.

The MDC-T Secretary General concluded by stating that in their opinion, the New Draft was miles ahead in its progressive nature, of the current Lanchaster House Constitution, The Kariba Draft and the Chidyausiku draft of the year 2000.

Civics who attended the meeting appreciated the Secretary Generals interventions but also made it clear that as sectors they were still study the document for their own analysis and further engage with COPAC and political parties as well as have an informed national debate on the issues.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition is in the process of transcribing the interventions of Minister Biti and will be releasing a transcript and podcasts in the shortest possible time. It will also facilitate briefing meetings with COPAC and other Political parties with regards to their take and positions on the draft, in addition to facilitating platforms for Civic Society engagement on the same.

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