A recent report by the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs has stirred debate on the willingness of the Portfolio Committee to acknowledge citizens’ views on the Constitution Amendment Bill, amid concerns the committee undermined citizens’ submissions and downplayed their involvement.
This came out during a Zoom engagement meeting organized by Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD), which provided a platform to review the Constitution Amendment No. 2 Bill Public Hearings.
The Zoom meeting was held following a feedback report on the Public Hearings, which stirred debate as civil society organisations contested some of the findings reported by the Portfolio Committee.
In response to these concerns, a member of the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Honorable Misheck Mataranyika said, the committee debated issues presented by the public before making recommendations.
“Our recommendations do not necessarily have to be the same with the views of the public. In our wisdom, we felt it was important to increase the quota system by another two terms,” said Mataranyika.
Mataranyika added: “At the same time we are advocating for government to ensure there is achievement of equal representation in all structures of the Parliament.”
Nationwide public hearings on the Bill were conducted by the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs from 14 – 19 June, 2020. Currently, the bill has gone through its second reading in parliament.
Zimbabwe Institute’s representative said the committee did not consider views made by the general public as evidenced by how the committee suggested an extension of the quota system when the general public had different views.
“Once the committee makes a recommendation, despite the fact that views of the committee are influenced by the general public’s views, recommendations by the committee tend to hold much weight. That is my worry, if the majority of the community makes clear of their position, and the committee takes a contrary decision then it means their views are diminished,” he said.
Another civil society representative, Philemon Jazi said “Genuine involvement involves the committee and parliament seriously considering citizens’ concerns on the proposed amendment in their debate ensuring that the interest of citizens override those of the executive, which is concentrating power in the presidency.”
Nikiwe Ncube-Tshabalala who is Legal Practitioner, said the government did not flight enough advertisements to prepare the public for the hearings and the general public had limited platforms to air their views, with most of the limitations owed to the Covid-19 induced lockdown.
“Personally, I think that people had limited platforms to give out their opinions, because of the participation limitation caused by the corona virus. I think the government should have provided more platforms and make more adverts in the form of billboards and other forms. The government should also have educated the public enough so that they could have made more meaningful additions,” she said.
Some participants indicated the need to further engage the government, to enforce the public’s true views.
“There is still room for the public to engage the parliament and lobby for their views. The publics could engage their representatives in Parliament, and when they still feel the need to further their engagement, they could lobby their senate to further their opinions with regards to the bill,” said Mataranyika.
During the meeting, delegates also expressed concern over how the committee downplayed citizens’ views making inferences that civil society had coached citizens. These allegations were denied by civil society representatives who noted that it is civil society’s duty to conduct advocacy initiatives and educate the populace on constitutional processes.
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