BUMPY RIDE FOR THE CONSTITUTION

Compiled by Frederick Longino

Few issues in Tanzania recently have attracted the attention given to the first stages of the constitutional review process now under way. Recent debates in parliament have attracted an unusual amount of interest and controversy.

After months of consultation, meetings of legislative committees, and waiting, a Bill allowing for the establishment of a Constitutional Review Body was read for the first time in the National Assembly on 18th April 2011. Following many complaints it was then amended and presented again.

A Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) press release stated that the Bill didn’t accurately reflect the will of the people. Many Zanzibaris in particular were unhappy. Many people wanted a new, rather than a ‘rewritten’ constitution, and the removal of inviolability clauses to ensure greater representation on the proposed Constituent Assembly. The Guardian reported ‘Constitutional Review Bill still drawing fire’. Suggestions came from human rights groups like TAMWA, The Legal and Human Rights centre, the Tanzania Retired Judges Association, the Trade Union of Tanzania, the University of Dar es Salaam academic staff assembly, the Centre for Democracy and the opposition parties. Consequently, the Citizen wrote that ‘elders should step in and rescue the Bill.’

In November, the government continued to solicit last minute consultations with constitutional experts from the University of Dar es Salaam and ex-prime ministers including Joseph Warioba and Salim Ahmed Salim.

This last minute opposition by activists, academics and civil societies didn’t diminish the government’s determination to take the Bill to parliament in Dodoma for the second reading in November. The main object of the Bill was to set in motion the process of collecting people’s views and re-writing the country’s basic law.

In the debates in parliament, MPs gathered amidst half a dozen media cameras. CCM MPs cheered wildly when anything was said to ridicule the opposition Chadema and NCCR-Mageuzi MPs.

Walkout
There was a walkout after Chadema’s Tundu Lissu MP had read an alternative draft Bill and rejected the government Bill. He objected that the Bill did not contain the various recommendations made by parliament when the first draft was rejected in April 2011. However both the government and Speaker refused to withdraw the Bill on the grounds that Tanzanians had been consulted and all legal processes had been followed. Chadema argued that the proposed Bill had given super powers to the President, including him being the only appointment authority of the constitutional commission, the qualifications of the constitutional commissioners, timescales for both debating the Bill and the proposed completion time. Eventually Chadema and NCCR-Mageuzi MPs boycotted the session by walking out prompting wild boos and cheers from CCM MPs (Mwananchi).

No volume of cheering CCM MPs could drown out the technical mistakes that afflicted the Bill but it was finally endorsed by parliamentarians on 17th November 2011. Retired Justice Khamis Msumi said that: ‘The terms of reference of the people who will draw up the constitution are the heart of the matter because they are the ones which lead the commission…the consequences of having bad terms will be the forming of a bad constitution’ – The Citizen.

When the opposition parties and civil societies came out in protest, even after parliamentary approval, the sealed Bill had already become an Act. The Minister’s envelope resembled a Christmas party gift on Christmas Day. The Bill was immediately dispatched to the State House for President Kikwete to assent, as explained when all local newspapers featured the story on 19th November.

At the last parliamentary debate arguments by both CCM and opposition MPs made MPs seem like a ‘grade-school talent pageant’. It is unfortunate that the few MPs from the opposition could not block the motion going through against the majority CCM MPs. The home audience following the debate through Star TV and TBC1 would have been baffled by what they saw – Mtanzania, Majira and The Citizen reported on 15th November that ‘the road to the new constitution will be very bumpy’.

Immediately after walking out, MPs from Chadema and NCCR-Mageuzi indicated that they no longer wanted to participate in the debate and the passing of the Bill, but preferred to speak directly to Tanzanians nationwide. The Guardian reported this on 16th Nov, but the Police immediately banned all political rallies.

Chadema meets the President

Chadema leadership meet with President Kikwete

Earlier Chadema had requested to meet President Kikwete to discuss the Act. Chadema claimed that the President had been misinformed of their party’s views. The two met in talks described as fruitful and apparently agreed that there was a need for the government and other stakeholders to hold constant meetings and consultations, for the purpose of soliciting a national consensus. But government believed that the bill was perfect and the day after the President met Chadema he signed the Constitution Bill. The President made it clear that he would continue to receive views from stakeholders on how to best to improve the situation. Chadema then indicated that they would be boycotting the entire process of constitutional review, according to The Citizen on 30th November.

For the huge majority of people abroad and in Tanzania it appeared that Chadema had not been much involved in deciding the contents of the Bill.

The Constitutional Review Act 2011 stipulates that ‘politicians including MPs, councillors, security organs, officers or anyone charged in court with offenses related to ethics and losing trust, will not be nominated to the Commission’ and that the Constitutional Assembly would comprise all union MPs, all members of the House of Representatives, ministers responsible for the constitution and justice from the Union and Zanzibar and Chief Justices from both sides of the Union. In addition, there will be 116 members who will be selected from NGOs, religious organisations, political parties, higher learning institutions and groups of people with special needs. The Bill stipulates in section 27 (1) that the Tanzania Electoral Commission in collaboration with the Zanzibar Electoral Commission would supervise a referendum to decide whether the country should have the new constitution or not.

However, Tanzania Daima reported on 12th November that Zanzibaris wanted the new union constitution to recognise Zanzibar’s status as a country. It is currently ‘seen’ as one of the regions of the United Republic of Tanzania. There were threats of demonstrations to make their voices heard, Nipashe reported.

If there is to be a moment of anxiety for Tanzanians it would probably be during this period until the review is completed. The government said it is very much committed to a ‘new’ or ‘lipsticked’ constitution. But, to fill time, the government has fulfilled its duty to present the Bill in parliament for debate.

The constitution, to Tanzanians, is the mother of other laws that all Tanzanians need to adore, and they could do a lot of good with it for their future. When the new constitution is ready Tanzania will be brighter. However, the ‘lipsticked’ constitution will certainly be unfit for the forthcoming challenges in the ever-changing Tanzania, Zitto Kabwe an MP for Chadema, writes in his facebook.

Frederick Longino is a PhD student at York University studying the Interplay between Childrens Welfare and African Pentecostal Belief and Practice. Earlier he worked on Good Governance in the President’s Office in Dar es Salaam.

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