Interview with Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga (em) Has Decided Against Contesting in Next Year's Polls Following a Term in Which He Was One of the Central Figures in the Drafting of a New Constitution for the Country.
What is your take on the just-ended Second All-Stakeholders' Conference?
There is no doubt that this was a peaceful conference and it was managed according to expectations. Obviously some attended with a view to see to it that their personal preferences or party positions were articulated. You will remember that in my opening remarks I dissuaded delegates from adopting this position. I suggested that people should be able to look at the bigger picture for the simple reason that you can't have a document that satisfies all your needs. It's impossible because if that were the case it means we would have as many constitutions as there are people in Zimbabwe.
Do you agree that the principals have the final say in this process as enunciated by President Robert Mugabe?
I know there has been that talk in the Press, I know the President made reference to this in his speech at the Second All-Stakeholders' Conference. As far as I am concerned, the process is accruing from Article VI of the GPA (Global Political Agreement). As far as this Article is concerned, the Executive is not yet involved in the process. It's still a Parliament process. The Executive will only take over after the Select Committee has reported to Parliament.
After Parliament has debated the report, then and only then, does the Executive take over and formulate the referendum question. When this referendum is done and we get a YES vote, this Ministry will then table the constitutional Bill before Parliament. Before we get to those stages, there certainly is no room for what the President has said. That does not mean that he does not express his personal views. We also recall that at the Second All-Stakeholders' Conference, the Prime Minister clearly stated that this was an Article VI process, a parliamentary process. So when the President says the principals have said this, one wonders which principals. The PM has said no, Professor (Welshman) Ncube has said no. Let me clarify this, obviously the principals would be given copies for their information and not to tinker with the document.
When will the referendum be held?
I don't see ourselves holding a referendum earlier than end of January next year. Look at where we have come from. It would be naïve to think that from now on everything would be smooth sailing. When the report of the Second All-Stakeholders' Conference is compiled, the Select Committee may find it necessary to effect some changes to the draft. When that is done, assuming there are no hiccups, the Select Committee will then table the draft before Parliament.Today, (Monday, November 5, 2012), the co-chairs of the Select Committee are meeting and the Select Committee will meet in the afternoon over plenary. Article VI gives them a month to report to Parliament. I am simply being realistic, looking at the time, at the task ahead. The last two weeks of December, really, nobody would be working. We know that ZANU-PF has a conference in Gweru and one must look at things against that background.
With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently in coming up with a new constitution?
EM: I was not involved in the talks that led to the GPA so I really don't know what motivated the negotiators to come up with Article VI. They must have had a good reason for providing this novel way of writing a constitution. Maybe if you look at it, they wanted the people to be involved. And in so wanting the people to be involved, the process became open to political manipulation. Maybe the best thing would have been to put in place a process which, as much as possible, would not have been open to political manipulation. But again, one may argue that at the end of the day constitution-making is a political process and that it is virtually impossible to have a process which does not answer to the politics of the country at any given time.
What's your view on the non-implementation of other reforms before next year's polls?
It's unfortunate that we have not implemented what we agreed on in the GPA. Implementing those positions would have given this country confidence both domestically and internationally and that non-implementation of the agreed issues is certainly a dent on the confidence which we would otherwise have enjoyed.
What is stopping implementation?
It's easy. ZANU-PF controls the apparatus of power in this country. What ZANU-PF has done is as playing the card of power and control. ZANU-PF feels that in the event that everything is implemented, it loses its grip on power.
Is ZANU-PF in control?
ZANU-PF controls the army, the intelligence, the Ministry of Home Affairs is co managed but we know that ZANU-PF is in control there. All the people there have declared their allegiance to ZANU-PF.
Moving to elections, is a March 2013 poll feasible?
I don't see us going to an election in March. I know the President has talked about a March poll. I don't know whether he is misinformed or he is misinforming people because the March date comes at the back of a court order that he should order by elections in three Matabeleland North constituencies. What the judgment says is that the President must proclaim an election for those three by March 31. It does not say he must hold harmonised elections by March 31. That judgment aside, the President is obliged to proclaim a date for harmonised elections in consultation with the Prime Minister by the last day of the life of this Parliament. I think it's June 29. That's what the law provides for In Section 58 of the Constitution. In terms of the Constitution, when an election has been proclaimed, that election shall be held on such a day or days within a period not exceeding four months from the proclamation day. Assuming that the President proclaims the harmonised elections by March 31, which he can do in consultation with the Prime Minister, it means that we must have an election by July 31 because that is the period not exceeding four months from proclamation. If he proclaims the date by June 29, it means we must have an election by October 29. One thing which concerns me about our elections which come next year is that we still have not dealt with the issue of the voters' roll. I hope this issue would be dealt with as soon as possible.
What if the President consults the PM and goes on to take his own road?
The law is very clear. There is no unilateralism in the Constitution. Section 115 of the Constitution - I am going to read for you this. It says "in consultation with" means that "the person required to consult before arriving at a decision arrives at the decision after securing the agreement or consent of the person so consulted". So, there is no room for unilateralism.
As the dissolution of Parliament draws near, can you guarantee that by the time the next polls are held all MPs deemed to have abused the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) will have been prosecuted?
I have made it clear over and over again. My Ministry is not responsible for prosecuting. If there is any allegation of wrong-doing, that is not a matter of this Ministry after the police or the Anti-Corruption Commission has carried out their investigations. There is a time when four MPs appeared in court and the AG (Attorney General Johannes Tomana) in his wisdom or absence withdrew charges against all the four before plea. That is his decision; he is constitutionally mandated to decide. I don't have access to the investigations. What we simply do is to do an internal audit and if there is any suspicion we ask the institutions that investigate (to investigate). Let me tell you something: A suspicion is not the same as having an offence, suspicion is not the equivalence of committing an offence.
Still on Parliament, what are the reasons behind your decision not to stand for re-election?
When I accepted to run at the end of 2007 for the 2008 elections, I did not simply accept to do something in a void. I had a plan and my plan was: I will be in for five years and thereafter I would do something else. That position was fortified when I got into Parliament and became Minister. I then realised that one of the biggest problems faced by the people of this country is the problem of over staying. One must go in, do your job and let somebody else take over. As far as I'm concerned, nobody - and nobody in this inclusive government is invincible. The sooner we realise that, the better for our country.
Who asked you to run for Parliament in the first place?
A number of people asked me to run. Maybe it's not time yet to mention names but I was approached by a lot of people. When I was approached my mind was not in it. In turn I then approached someone who was running. Actually I approached John Makumbe and at the time he said he was not ready. When Buhera, became a four constituency district we had a problem and we had to find two more people to run. I come from Buhera West and I was already visible in the district because at the time I chaired the MDC support group for Buhera.
Why did you consult Makumbe?
We come from the same area. We are 10 kilometres apart. George Charamba (Presidential spokesperson) comes from the same area but I did not approach him for obvious reasons. John Makumbe has not been put in Bikita West. He is offering his services and it is subject to people accepting him there. He has not been imposed.
What was the view of your family?
I am blessed in that I have a wife who is a huge pillar of support. We discussed with my wife and a common decision was reached. When I was arrested I was in the company of my wife. When I was detained in Rusape, my wife leased a place in Rusape, so I could not have asked for a better wife. Before the elections, we agreed that I was going to accept to contest and after five years I go back to law practice.
Earlier on you said people must know when to go, the PM Tsvangirai has been at the helm of the MDC since the formation of the party in 1999?
He has a different mindset. To me I genuinely believe that in the MDC nobody has a better brand than PM Tsvangirai today, but these are personal decisions.
After leaving Parliament, it will only be law practice?
I am going back to my law practice. I was in the same class with Sobusa Gula Ndebele (former AG) at university, Chris Mutsvangwa, Judge Garwe, judge Omerjee, Joseph James (former Law Society of Zimbabwe president). That was from 1975. In respect with Garwe and Mutsvangwa, we actually did A levels together at St Augustines. But I want to say this, while I'm not going to be actively involved in politics, I am still available to serve in a non active manner. There are a lot of developments to be done in Buhera and if I can assist in this regard, I will be happy.
Talking of assistance, how have you assisted Buhera West as its MP, thus far?
People think MPs have got pockets full of money, they don't, and at least I don't. So any development which you carry out is at the mercy of partners. When I first went into Buhera, I started addressing the educational sector. In my constituency there was no school with chalk, writing pencils, pens. As a group of people from Buhera west, we meet here every month. I then approached UNICEF and they provided a sporting kit for each and every school in Buhera. With my CDF money, I managed to build a teachers house at each of the five schools. We used the same plan and each house is10 roomed. At Murairwa School all the teachers are housed there.
After sitting in Cabinet since February 2009, what is your view of that decision-making body?
EM: I am disappointed in that we could have achieved more than what we managed to achieve and I think the performance I expected could not be realised because of the unfortunate power matrix in this august body. You will realise that if there was an issue which was traceable more to a political party, the discussion around that issue would be on political lines. The question of power and control manifested itself in Cabinet decisions at times. Obviously, the moment you do that you lose sight of the bigger picture.
Can you give examples of the power matrix at play?
If you look at the issue of indigenisation; that has been politicised and has become a convenient political tool. We have always talked about diamond mining in this country. Even as a Cabinet minister I am not aware how much we produce or how much we can get from diamonds. The whole thing is opaque.
Also still in Cabinet, what view do you have of President Mugabe emanating from those meetings?
I don't think it's fair to limit that assessment over this short period of time because what he has done or what he has not done in four years; it was motivated by what he was doing or not doing since 1980. To be honest, I think President Mugabe lost an opportunity to be revered in this country by overstaying. If I were him, thank God I'm not, I would have long retired and I would have earned respect as an elder statesman to whom people go for wisdom. Unfortunately, I think he has lost that opportunity.