THE Copac management committee last week finally handed over the final draft constitution to the Global Political Agreement principals for final determination.
This was after nearly three and half years of haggling and confusion, as the three parties in the GNU -- Zanu PF and the two MDC formations -- struggled to write a new charter for the country.
The Standard Political Editor, Patrice Makova (PM), spoke to the minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Advocate Eric Matinenga (EM), about the draft and other issues.
PM: Now that the Copac draft has been completed, what measures are being put into place to ensure that the document is not tampered with, like what happened to the rejected 2000 Constitutional Commission draft?
EM: I cannot put it past the person who is going to take the constitution after we have done it. I can only hope that the document is not going to be tampered with to distort the views of the people. The last time this happened, there were disastrous consequences. I am hoping that whatever is done on the document is to actually improve on what we have done, rather than removing certain provisions.
PM: When are we likely to have the national stakeholder's conference and referendum? Have you secured funding for these processes?
EM: I wish I could be able to give a timeline. From my experience in what we have been doing, it has been so difficult, if not impossible to meet any deadline. What I can say is that I hope we are going to have a referendum this year. Funding for the referendum and all stakeholders conference is there, as it has been budgeted for.
PM: What of national elections?
EM: Elections area is a political decision. We might decide to hold elections tomorrow, although it would be stupid to do so. If we are going to go through this referendum process, there is no way we are going to have elections this year. We don't even have a voters' roll. How do we go for elections without a credible voters' roll? It will take six months for ZEC to have a credible voters' roll. It is now ZEC responsible for this process.
PM: What are some of the key highlights of the draft?
EM: The proposed draft addresses not only political and civil rights but it goes further to recognise economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. The death penalty has now been severely curtailed. It cannot be imposed for murder in aggravating circumstances. The penalty cannot be imposed on a woman or man of 70 years and above. The draft proposes women to enjoy full and equal dignity of the person with men and this includes equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities. Though this is not a human rights issue, special provision has been made to enhance women representation in both houses of parliament. Sixty seats have been created specifically for women in the House of Assembly. Women are expected to top any party list in the proportional representation in the Senate.
The draft comes up with a citizenship law, which protects, absolutely, citizens by birth. Parliament cannot enact laws which interfere with citizenship, which can either be by birth, descent or registration.
PM: How is the issue of the election of a President addressed in the draft?
EM: In Zimbabwe, because of our peculiar environment and in order to accommodate two Vice-Presidents, which is a Zanu PF tradition, the proposed draft introduces the concept of two running mates for any aspiring President. It will be entirely up to the aspirant to pick a running mate from one's political party or elsewhere. Immediately after elections, if you drop dead, the first running mate becomes the President. This effectively addresses the issue of succession.
The draft proposes term limits for the presidency, the executive and independent institutions in the public sector and other state-controlled entities, including the security service. We have put what we call a (Abdoulaye) Wade clause. You do your 10 years as President and it will be difficult to amend the Constitution in order to extend your term of office. In the case of a President retiring, he or she will be entitled to a salary equivalent to the sitting Head of State to avoid a situation where someone may say if I go, my lifestyle will change.
PM: Is devolution of power addressed in the proposed draft?
EM: The draft proposes devolution of government powers. The main motivation behind the issue is to design efficient service delivery. The draft seeks to ensure that political, economic and financial decision-making is broadly distributed so as to achieve a more effective and responsive government.
PM: Do you still plan to retire from politics before next year's elections? What do people of Buhera West who elected you feel about this?
EM: I decided not to offer myself for re-election way back in 2008. I believe I have achieved what I wanted and it's time to give others a chance. Initially, people from my constituency were against my decision, but what is important is the message at the end of the day. They are now happy that Buhera is setting a trend with an MP who showed them the light, that positions can be acquired and left.
PM: What is your comment on the perception that it is the views of Zanu PF which prevailed in the draft as the other parties compromised on a lot of things?
EM: When you look at what has been introduced in the draft, which is not in the current constitution, you will not agree with that statement.
There is the issue of term limits, issues of advertising positions for judges and making reference to a committee of Parliament before appointment of members of constitutional bodies.
Hopefully, the draft opens a new era in the governance of Zimbabwe.
It is now important as a nation, that we apply the draft in a purposeful manner. It provides the basis for a democratic and developmental state, respecting the rule of law. It is us people of Zimbabwe who must make it work. If we adopt a culture of constitutionalism and implement it sincerely, I am convinced that the draft will democratise our institutions, thereby promoting good governance and accountability.
PM: In your MDC-T party, do you think there are people capable of succeeding party leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai or becoming his running mate in the next elections?
EM: I have my own views on who should be Tsvangirai's running mates, but I will not say this in public. People have different capabilities, but I don't think there is any party ,whether MDC or Zanu PF, which does not have able people to take up positions. No one is also irreplaceable.
PM: Do you think your party has made a difference for the past four years you have been in the coalition government?
EM: The presence of MDC in government has made a lot of difference. It is no longer business as usual for Zanu PF. The country is now a better place and government decisions can now be questioned, unlike in the past when Zanu PF was doing whatever it wanted to do.