DRAMATIC U-TURN ON CONSTITUTION

Maybe it is the Tunisian/Egyptian/Libyan effect but there are signs in several parts of the world that it is not a good idea to propose new legislation, without proper consultation and to which most people object. Britain has had to make a number of U-turns on policy recently as a result of popular pressure. Now something similar has happened in Tanzania.

A Constitutional Review Commission
After the elections in October 2010, the greatly strengthened Chadema opposition party stated that, because it did not think that the presidential election results were correct and because there were many anomalies in Tanzania’s existing constitution, it wanted a new constitution to be adopted.

The first reactions from the ruling CCM party were not favourable but soon it became apparent that this was a subject of great interest to the people.

President Kikwete responded by setting up a Constitutional Review Commission and gave it instructions to draw up proposals for a draft Bill to be presented to parliament. The commission got to work immediately and in March 2011 presented a draft Bill for consideration by parliament at its next session in August. It was expected to lead to the enactment by 2014 of a constitution which would be an amended version of the existing one. It soon became apparent however that this was not what the people wanted.

Criticism from all sides
The Guardian, the Citizen and most other papers, English and Swahili, gave heavy coverage of the reactions.

Former Prime Minister and retired judge Joseph Warioba praised the government for the goodwill it had shown in establishing a new constitution but faulted the ‘sanctity’ of the three issues that would dilute the whole process. Concerning the powers of the presidency, (which he said were classified as untouchable, in the Draft), were, in a real sense, the real constitution. “How can you refrain from discussing them?” The question of what kind of government they wanted; whether to have one government instead of the current situation where there are two, were among other things which they should be freely allowed to discuss he argued.

He added that Section 9 of the Bill should be amended to give time to discuss the Draft. “Give people freedom to talk about human rights, about equality before the law and due process of the law. Listen to their views on the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, on national unity and peace and let political parties campaign for the type of constitution, which represents the will of the people” he said.

Chadema Secretary General Dr Wilbrood Slaa complained about the excessive powers of the President in the proposed Bill. “The president has powers to appoint the Commission, issue terms of reference, appoint permanent secretaries and receive reports…all these concentrated into the hands of one person.”

Civic United Front (CUF) National Chairman Prof Ibrahim Lipumba recommended the establishment of an independent Commission, a Constitutional Assembly, a National Convention and finally to hold a referendum – Guardian.

Former Chief Justice Barnabas Samatta and the Legal and Human Rights Centre Executive Director urged the government not to restrict people’s involvement in the process of writing the new constitution. It should be clear and transparent and Tanzania should emulate countries that had recently changed their constitutions – Kenya, Ghana and South Africa. They strongly criticised a section of the Bill which prohibited members of the public from discussing issues about the Union, the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar and the Government of National Unity there.

Public hearings
The government organised three public hearings – in Dar, Dodoma and Zanzibar – to give the people a chance to comment. At the parliament building in Dodoma, hundreds of people turned up but many were refused entry because of shortage of space. They then began running battles with the police and started chanting patriotic songs as a way of pressing for their right to be allowed in. According to the Citizen, those
waiting outside the Parliament buildings were people from all walks of life, including officials from civil society organisations and ordinary citizens. The huge turnout had been prompted by announcements popularising the event through the mass media the day before.

Many students gathered in the middle of the road outside the parliament building and announced that they would continue with a separate public hearing of people’s views because the hearings inside ‘were meant for perpetrators of graft and not ordinary Tanzanians.’ When the situation became tense, police began using tear-gas to disperse the students, after some of them had started throwing all sorts of ‘missiles’, including stones, at the police.

In Dar es Salaam another public hearing was temporarily suspended when a crowd of university students argued with an MP representing the CCM. The MP differed with those who questioned the proposed presidential powers in the bill, saying: “You cannot just decide to infringe upon the president’s powers through such a forum, and the Bill is right but…..” The crowd did not give him time to continue and the meeting became uncontrollable, forcing the chairperson to postpone the debate.

At the Zanzibar hearings opposition was very strong. Some government leaders and House of Representatives MP’s had indicated earlier that the Bill could not be taken wholly as it stood. Isles Constitutional Affairs and Justice Minister Abubakar Bakari (supported by other ministers) said the Bill had violated the basic agreement setting up the Union and called on the Speaker to remove the Bill from the table. Anything warranting to be added or removed from ‘matters of the Union’ in the text must be discussed by both parties. Zanzibar had been sidelined right from the start because discussions had started without Zanzibaris being involved.

On the last day of the open hearing in Zanzibar there was some chaos when the Chairman of the Zanzibar Association of Imams tore up the document. People chanted slogans such as: “We do not want the Union.” “No more Tanganyika’s colony.” This caused the session to be halted before its official closing time – Habari Leo.

At the hearings many views were expressed: Many people said that they did not want to be rushed on the issue and were opposed to the idea of taking the Bill to Parliament under a certificate of urgency. Others said that the draft gave too much power to the President; people wanted a new constitution – not amendments to the present one.

A government spokeswoman brought some reality into the debate by pointing out that the Bill was just a draft which was meant to lay down grounds for the constitutional review process; the process itself would facilitate collection of public views on the new constitution,

The Speaker of the National Assembly Anne Makinda accused politicians of creating chaos and disrupting on-going public hearings of the constitutional review, to advance their personal interests.

Speaking in Parliament Chadema National Chairman Freeman Mbowe said his party planned to conduct demonstrations countrywide to press the government to halt the fast tracking approach to the constitutional review process. “If the government suspends endorsement of the Draft, Chadema would also suspend the planned demonstrations, he said. The fate of over 44 million Tanzanians could not be decided by a few people in Zanzibar, Dodoma and Dar es Salaam he added.

The U-turn
The government finally decided to halt the ‘fast tracking’ process toward enactment of a new constitution. The Bill would no longer be presented to the August parliamentary session under a certificate of urgency. Normal channels would be used so as to allow the government to work on the opinions of the people and give more room for discussions.

1 Comment »

  1. Tanzanian Affairs » 50 YEARS OF CONSTITUTIONAL EXPERIMENT said,

    January 1, 2012 at 12:52 am

    […] also engaged in an animated national debate over constitutional developments anticipated for 2012 (see TA No 99). This is not for the first time, nor are the basic issues unfamiliar: citizens are concerned to […]

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