17 March 2014

Tanzania: Bunge Embarks On Business On Monday

Dodoma — AFTER almost a month formulating standing orders, swearing in the chairperson, vice-chairperson, clerks and members of the Constituent Assembly (CA), the House finally today embarks on the task of rewriting the country's basic law.

It took three weeks for the CA to formulate its standing orders through a special committee led by legal guru, Prof Costa Mahalu, which was formed by Interim Chair of the House, Mr Pandu Ameir Kificho, who is credited with presiding over chaotic sessions in the absence of official guidelines.

The CA will officially embark on its "core business" when the Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), Mr Joseph Warioba, later today tables before the House a draft of the constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania.

According to the recently elected Chairman of the CA, Mr Samuel Sitta, by tabling the draft constitution, Mr Warioba will be setting the motion for members of the august House to start discussing the document.

On Wednesday, President Jakaya Kikwete will inaugurate the CA, which is made up of 629 members, 428 of whom were directly drawn from the union Parliament and Zanzibar's House of Representatives while the remaining 201 were selected from various social groups.

For three days members of the CA will hold general discussions on the tabled draft constitution and also be enlightened on the standing orders so that members become aware of how House sessions will be conducted.

They will also get a brief history of Tanganyika and Zanzibar and how the two countries merged to form the United Republic of Tanzania on April 26, 1964, a union that has lasted for fifty years and is so far the only successful union of countries on the African continent.

During the three days, most probably tomorrow, members of the CA will also have a presentation from constitutional experts from Kenya, who will enlighten the members on how the country managed to go through the same process of rewriting its constitution in the year 2010.

The CA will then form 12 committees, each with possibly 52 members, to go through the document and afterwards present a report in the full CA. Each committee will submit two reports - majority and minority reports.

"The minority report will be given about 30 minutes in the CA to state areas of discontent and these will be discussed by the full House before a resolution is reached," a member of the CA explained to this paper.

The draft constitution has 17 chapters but chapter 6 has drawn much attention from members of the CA and the public alike. The chapter dwells on the structure of the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, proposing a three-tier structure as opposed to the existing two governments.

Other areas of concern are sections which propose that cabinet ministers should not be members of parliament as is the case now, and term limits for MPs.

The draft proposes that an MP should serve for only 15 years, whereas the existing constitution does not have a term limit for lawmakers.

Members of the CA are also expected to lock horns on a section that gives powers to the electorate to recall their MP when they feel their representative is not delivering according to their expectations.

In principle, if the submitted draft constitution sails through in its current form, it will, to a large extent, change the "modus operandi" of the country, introducing completely new changes.

For instance, while the current constitution allows any MP or any other person with reading and writing aptitude to become Speaker of the National Assembly, the draft constitution recommends that the Speaker should not come from among sitting MPs and should not have engaged in party politics for a certain period.

All said and done, Tanzanians are highly optimistic of positive results from the august House under the Chairmanship of Mr Samuel Sitta, he of the "speed and standards" philosophy, and his deputy, ms Samia Hassan Suluhu.

The CA is a very crucial process in rewriting the country's constitution because its output will subsequently be decided by the people through a referendum.

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