3 August 2012

Zimbabwe: Biti Explains Draft Constitution At Press Conference

Photo: allafrica.com
Zimbabwe statehouse: The final draft of the constitution - with the most significant reforms aimed at political and legal systems - needs to be finalised in preparation for a referendum.

Zimbabweans under the new constitution will be entitled to demand information from the state for the purpose of accountability, the MDC-T secretary-general Tendai Biti said on Friday.

Briefing journalists on the position of their party regarding the draft that was completed two weeks ago, Biti said journalists and ordinary people can approach the government and ask how much money the state is getting from diamonds.

Critics of the new constitution did point out that no matter what was written in it, you would have little chance of getting any information out of a ZANU PF government if it got back into power, particularly on diamonds.

The legislation is contained in Article 4.19 on Access to Information under Chapter 4 of the Declaration of Rights in the new constitution.

It says every citizen or resident of Zimbabwe, including the Zimbabwean press and other media has the right of access to any information held by all the state and institutions and agencies of government at every level.

'You will also have the right to get information on how many ghost workers the Ministry of Defence has employed. If you have a case before the courts and you want to use information for your defence, you are entitled to demand information from the state, Biti added.

The new charter is at variance with the current repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which was enacted in 2002 by a ZANU PF dominated parliament that sought to control how the print and electronic media operated in the country.

AIPPA was passed into law by Robert Mugabe on 15 March 2002. It has been described as the leading weapon of the former ruling ZANU PF party in their campaign to stifle independent media reporting in Zimbabwe.

After it was enacted, dozens of journalists were arrested, foreign news organizations banned from reporting in the country and some newspapers were shut down. The law was however relaxed at the formation of the inclusive government to allow foreign media organizations to operate in Zimbabwe, while more independent newspapers have been registered to publish.

At the press conference Biti also explained why there was upheaval in ZANU PF because of provisions dealing with the Executive in the draft. Presidential powers have been curtailed to some extent in the new charter, in that the Head of State can declare war, but must seek parliamentary approval.

'The real power to declare war rests with Parliament. I'm told this is what ZANU PF doesn't want. But if the president decides to go to war, he needs two-thirds consent of parliament, which will be difficult,' according to the Finance Minister.

But it would appear that the new constitution still gives the president the power to deploy the army in Zimbabwe.

The ZANU PF politburo has met three times in 7 days but has failed to reach consensus on the new constitution. Some in the party are reportedly not happy with sections of the draft constitution and are demanding that the draft be re-opened for amendments.

Already the two MDC factions have approved the draft constitution and analysts believe ZANU PF will follow suit, but only after exhaustive deliberations within the politburo.

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