8 February 2014

Tanzania: Tough Task Awaits Constituent Assembly

THE marathon Constituent Assembly is now on the last 100 metres home dash, and the winner's prize is the priceless New Constitution. But as opposed to the contemporary races where the prize goes to the first person to cut the finishing tape, the winner in this case must be the people of the United Republic of Tanzania, not an individual person or a group of individuals or an organisation of whatever affiliation.

It is foolhardy to expect all the delegates or rather members of the Constituent Assembly to agree on all the clauses in the draft constitution, but the people have the right to expect an all-encompassing Katiba that will really reflect the interest of the nation.

Surely we do not expect a sacrosanct document from the Constituent Assembly, but we neither do expect a controversial document that will be rejected by the people in the referendum.

Our representatives in the Constituent Assembly must therefore understand that theirs is not a tea or wine party meeting, but a herculean job that requires sober, visionary and patriotic minds that would contribute intelligently to the document that will be the nation's pride for the next fifty years.

I am obliged to recall what President Jakaya Kikwete advised leaders of registered political parties on Thursday this week in Dar es Salaam where he urged them to set aside their differences so that they come up with a new constitution that will serve all Tanzanians.

President Kikwete used the occasion of a special meeting for political parties' council held at the Mwalimu Nyerere International Convention Centre to announce that the Constituent Assembly will convene from February 18 and run for 70 days and which may be extended for addition 20 days if the need arises.

Indeed, the nation depends on the contribution of the political party members in the current Parliament and House of Representatives plus the 201 members representing various interest groups and institutions the President was expected to name yesterday. The nation expects these people's representatives to discuss all the views raised in order to arrive at an amicable agreement for the good of the nation.

The number of members (around 700) of the Constituent Assembly somewhat explains the almost 90 days duration in order for the assembly to receive and deliberate on as many and as wider contributions that would enrich the new constitution.

It is only logical to go along with President Kikwete's call for wisdom and non-party partisanship in the deliberations in order to come up with a constitution that will put national interest above all else; because if they do not collectively agree on issues that will be raised, the nation will certainly be plunged into total chaos, and no Tanzanian would want that to happen. Much as every individual has his or her taste or interest, much as every group in the Constituent Assembly, be it a political party or any of the interest groups would want their interests prevail in the House, it would be wise and proper to exercise flexibility in listening to and accommodating a good idea of national interest when it is presented regardless of which political party or interest group the idea came from.

What the representatives and members of the public should bear in mind in the draft Constitution is just that: A draft Constitution, and no more. It is a working document for our representatives, that is, members of the Constituent Assembly, add a clause or two for the interest of the nation, or remove a clause or two, again, in the nation's interest, so that when it is presented to the public for final endorsement in the referendum, it does not raise other controversial issues.

President Kikwete warned that the members of the assembly should not concentrate on one issue in the draft constitution, but give areas of the new Katiba equal weight. It goes without saying that one of the seriously controversial issues in the new Constitution is the question of two government system as it is at present, or three government arrangement, that is Zanzibar government, a Tanganyika government and a smaller(?) Union government.

Some people (myself included) believe that the present two-tier arrangement is ideal but that the three-government arrangement will tear the nation asunder. But it would be wrong for such people to force this idea on the others, rather they should put forward convincing argument that would win others. It would equally be wrong for those who think three-tier government was ideal to force it on others without convincing reasons.

I wish to remind members of the Constituent Assembly that they face a tough task ahead of them and they must live to the expectations of Tanzanians and show the public that their stay in Dodoma was worth the taxpayers' money. Otherwise, I wish them peaceful and focused national interest deliberations.


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