Dar es Salaam — The role and structure of the union government has once again sparked a heated debate among Tanzanians as the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) wrapped up a series of public meetings in Zanzibar last week.
The commission held 54 meetings in the Mjini Magharibi region of Zanzibar from November 19th to December 18th as part of its efforts to collect public opinion on a new constitution, which is scheduled to be considered by the Constituent Assembly in April 2014. General elections are scheduled for 2015.
Meetings have been taking place all over Tanzania since July, with citizens presenting ideas and grievances directly to the commission. Nearly 200,000 citizens attended the recent meetings in Zanzibar, according to CRC head Mwesiga Baregu.
Yet despite the interest in the meetings among the general population, Baregu said most participants erroneously mistook the constitution review meetings with a public referendum on whether or not there should be a union government.
"Unfortunately, most Zanzibaris think this opportunity to collect citizens' views to write Tanzania's new constitution was the opportunity to appraise the union, but that was not the case," he told Sabahi.
The island of Zanzibar united with mainland Tanganyika in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania. In the process, the government of Tanganyika was dissolved, but the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar was retained to exist alongside the newly formed union government.
Under the current constitution, the semi-autonomous Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar has jurisdiction over local matters, whereas the national union government controls fiscal policy, foreign affairs, defence and security, emergency powers, immigration, the national debt and trade.
Salim Hassan Khamis, 55, a Zanzibar native who attended the meeting at Magomeni Constituency, said leaders should understand that the people of Zanzibar want to have equal political weight with citizens from the mainland. "As it stands, when you say the union [government], it is understood to be the Tanganyika government," he told Sabahi.
Khamis said some people think that because Zanzibar is smaller than Tanganyika, it should be subservient within the union. But that is a superfluous argument, he said, because Zanzibar was an independent state before uniting with the equally independent Tanganyika.
Deus Kibamba, a lawyer and executive director of the Tanzania Citizens' Information Bureau, says the existing form of government is chaotic.
Kibamba said officials at various levels of government do not follow the demarcations defined in the union agreement that clearly define which ministries and industry sectors fall under the responsibility of the union government and which ones are left to be separately managed by the local government in Zanzibar and the mainland.
He said the union government, for example, currently funds the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, which only deals with the mainland and not Zanzibar.
He said the problem began when the two governments joined together, as Tanganyika's government institutions were assimilated into the union government without following rules about jurisdiction or addressing redundancy in roles and budgetary requirements.
Kibamba said a possible solution could involve reinstating the government of Tanganyika and establishing a parliamentary republic where the prime minister would represent the union government and each state would have its own president with limited powers.
Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office for Regional Administration and Local Government George Mkuchika said citizens' views were timely, as the purpose of the commission is to analyse their ideas and present its findings to the nation for deliberation.
He said the constitution writing process would involve voting for or against ideas and encouraged Tanzanians to continue to speak out without fear. "The only thing I can say is that all citizens are entitled to divergent views, but we will come to a consensus on how we want our constitution to look like through the ballot boxes," he told Sabahi.