Monday, April 11, 2011

CONSTITUTIONAL DEBATE
BY
Mr. Elias Mhegere

There are warning signs that Tanzania, a country that has been a cradle of peace, will succumb into civil strife if immediate measures are not taken. The fear is, the ruling (CCM) is losing its power grip, and it is not prepared to pave way for the opposition parties, particularly the Chama cha Maendeleo na Demokrasia (CHADEMA) which storm a strong threat to it’s (the CCM) existence during the last year’s General Elections whose results particularly the presidential votes are still doubted by many in some circles.

No wonder that the call for a new constitution has met with strong resistance from the incumbent Governemnt which prefers for the review of the much disputed existing constitution.

And this is confirmed by the commotions that went on Thursday this week in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma when the Tanzanian Government choose to table a Bill which is substandard in preparing the process for collecting views and eventually enacting a new constitution.

On Saturday last week there was a constitutional debate at the Nkrumah Hall of the University of Dar es Salaam, a second in series and which attracted good attendance but ended in emotional conclusions as the Bill to be tabled in Dodoma.

But the tumultuous debate indicated that things will never be the same if the strong wave for a new constitution in Tanzania will be swayed in a wrong direction that do not concur with the people’s wishes.

Commenting on Wednesday this week, on the motives that could have led to the Bill that is so much disputed, Prof Abdallah Saffari a Dar es Salaam based distinguished lawyer said that the hidden motive could be a delaying tactic so that come the 2015 General Election, the electoral commission and other institutions that are very important for the survival of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) will still be in place.

On his side the executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Francis Kiwanga said what happened is just an indication that the incumbent president Jakaya Kikwete is surrounded by bad advisors.

He reminds that the call for new constitution is there for so many years, but the Government came up with proposals for amending the existing constitution. “I can not understand why some selfish people are attempting to hijack the move for the new constitution, this is quite inacceptable,” said Kiwanga.

This view was shared by a prominent political scientist and lecturer at the St Augustine of Tanzania (SAUT), Prof Mwesigwa Baregu who said that there is a deliberate attempt by the Tanzanian Government to delay the process in order for the CCM to make good preparation well ahead of the forthcoming General Election in 2010.

Another academic who commented on the matter was Dr Ng’wanza Kamata a political scientist lecturer from the University of Dar es Salaam, who identified three things; first it is the fact that there is lack of a political and legal will to enact a new constitution.

He also sees that the existing Government has been threatened by a wave of political events which indicates that with a new constitution in place it would have been easy for the opposition parties to replace the CCM from the power hegemony.

And thirdly he says that even the reviewed or even a new constitution to be enacted in such a style will not demand the aspirations of the majority Tanzanians. ”There is a need to start with a good process in order to expect a good constitution.

But while the debate for new constitution continues to take a new course, journalists have been challenged to take an active part to educate and inform the people of Tanzania on the need for a friendly, new constitution.

The chairman of the Mwalimu Nyerere Professorial Chair Prof. Issa Shivji said this week that the ongoing debate on the road to a new constitution should be well covered by Tanzania’s media in known languages of Kiswahili and English, with rightful and educative news and editorial.

He said Tanzania needs a new, people oriented and friendly constitution that would push the country’s development process forward with more and wider democratic rights of the citizens.

On the other hand, a special training for journalists covering constitutional news will be organized through various media stakeholders so as to equip the reporters and editors with best knowledge on reporting the concepts and elements to be included in the new constitution, with critical points as well.

The University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) professors and lecturers will be among the trainers to conduct such trainings.

Prof. Shivji said the current constitution in place had attracted a number of criticisms from various groups because of loopholes and anarchies emerging from its contents.

But adding fuel to the fire is the statement from the Civil Society Organizations which had prepared inputs on the draft Constitutional Review Bill 2011 that were presented at the April 7 Public Hearing in Dar es Salaam and Dodoma. In a nutshell, the general comments that were presented were as follows;

They questioned the use of English language in the proposed bill which denied the majority a chance for full participation.

The bill could have been written in Kiswahili which is understood by all Tanzanians. More than 80 percent can neither speak nor read English. As such, it was difficult for them to understand the legal technicalities used in the Constitutional Review Act.

Also they argued that there is a problem in identifying the Constitution-making Organs. The proposed bill did not provide for the participation of all constitution-making organs.

The proposed Constitutional organs under the interpretation section clearly stipulate that “Constitutional Organs” means, for the purpose of this Act, the President, the Constituent Assembly or the National Assembly. This means that there are only two organs namely the President and either the Constituent Assembly or National Assembly.

They instead proposed that four organs be the Constitutional Organs for the purpose of making the constitution namely; the Commission, the Constitutional Assembly, the National Convention, and the National Assembly and finally a Referendum. These organs should be clearly defined and their roles be provided in the Act.

The CSOs criticized the current Bill in that the President is given enormous powers. For instance he has powers to appoint the Commission, issue Terms of Reference, appoint secretary, receiving the report and analysis, to constitute the Constituent Assembly without regard to the present Parliament and the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977 to mention but a few.

Moreover they identified contradicting sections in the Bill. For instance, name of the Bill Constitutional Review Act, 2011 which does not reflect the idea of forming a New Constitution but rather implies amending the existing Constitution.