Constitutional amendments: MDC vows to fight Zanu PF vagaries
FOLLOWING an outcry by civil society, political parties and the general populace over the government’s proposal to amend 27 clauses of the Constitution, Daily News on Sunday reporter Blessings Mashaya sat down separately with the minister of Justice Ziyambi Ziyambi (Zanu PF) and the MDC deputy secretary for legal affairs, Brian Dube, to get the two major political parties’ perspectives, below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: People are saying this issue of constitutional amendments is meant for President Emmerson Mnangagwa to consolidate power. Is this true?
A: There is no single provision that is increasing the powers of the president from the current powers that he has.
The current dispensation is very democratic. The running mate has never been implemented. We don’t know if it is good or not, we have just heard of experiences from other countries.
It’s not a widespread practice in Africa. It’s foreign, it’s alien. Those who had tried this concept like Malawi, it has backfired on them spectacularly.
There is nothing new we are trying to do. There is no clause that the president is seeking powers that are not already there.
Q: The issue of removing the presidential running mates clause gives the president powers to fire his vice presidents whenever he wants to and no one will be able to challenge his decision. What’s your take on this matter?
A: Vice presidents serve at the pleasure of the president and all those who are in the executive.
Why is there this sudden love of the vice president to the extent of arguing that he should be removed by Parliament, not by the person who he is serving under.
The vice president is supposed to be promoting the president’s policies.
Why should you have a vice president who is not the ultimate person responsible for policy and the running of government to be removed by Parliament and not by the person who is answerable to the generality of the people?
Everyone in the executive is answerable to the president and can be fired by the president. If things are not going well, you don’t say VP (Kembo) Mohadi has failed, you say President (Emmerson) Mnangagwa has failed.
I am using Mohadi as an example because he is my brother, then you want the vice president not to be answerable to that same president. They never experienced what they are crying for.
This is a borrowed concept, it does not work in our democratic societies here in Africa, it creates too many centres of power. You need a president who is able to fire his own deputies, with a running mate you need Parliament to institute impeachment proceedings to remove whoever is VP. Those who are saying it’s best practice are totally lost.
Q: The constitutional amendments will allow the president to promote judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court to a higher court on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission without public interviews. Is this not going to reduce the independence of the judiciary?
A: The judiciary will remain independent. In terms of judges why are you subjecting somebody whom you are supposed to be upraising on a day-to-day basis to interviews?
The very same people who are supposed to appraise them, they interview those judges about something that they are supposed to be doing on a day-to-day basis.
Q: The appointment of the Prosecutor-General (PG), some say is another way which is going to be used by the president to control the judiciary?
A: World over, even in America, the PG is appointed by the president and nobody has raised a finger about it. The PG is an independent person, but on the side of the executive.
Q: Why do you say he is on the side of the executive when he is supposed to be independent?
A: He or she prosecutes on behalf of the State. He appears before the judiciary, why should somebody who appears before the judiciary be interviewed by the judiciary?
What we are simply saying is that the judiciary should now be consulted by the president so that on issues of integrity and other issues, the judiciary will then interrogate this and advise the president on the suitability of the person who he wants to appoint.
In relation to the independence of the office of the PG, nothing is being removed, we are maintaining the independence of the person who is in that office.
Q: According to the amendments, the president is now going to appoint seven ministers from outside Parliament, legal experts are saying the president is extending his powers of patronage and these ministers will not respect Parliament?
A: If you are a minister and you have right of audience in Parliament without voting powers you are bound by the rules of Parliament.
If you don’t respect the rules of Parliament you are charged with contempt of Parliament…
This provision allows the president to appoint people who have critical skills as ministers and it’s a good move.
It’s not related to the number of ministers, but it only deals with the number of ministers who are not MPs or senators.
The president can choose not to appoint anyone who is not a legislator; he is only limited to appoint up to seven.
Q: The government proposed constitutional amendments, as MDC what’s your position on this matter?
A: What I can say is it’s regression, we are moving backwards, many steps backwards in terms of democracy and the rule of law.
The 2013 Constitution came with progressive provisions, for example, the first part of the amendment which relates to the running mate, the reason why people wanted running mates or a vice president who is elected by the people was because there is a possibility of a vice president taking over the term of the president like what happened in 2017, so because of that we needed someone who has the people’s mandate.
Q: On the issue of removing the running mate clause by the Zanu PF government, what do you think is the reason behind this?
A: Mnangagwa wants to create one centre of power, which is a polite way of dictatorship. You have a vice president who has no mandate from the people, they report to you, they don’t report to the Constitution.
The running mate in the Constitution is supposed to answer to the constitution, they have a direct responsibility to protect the constitution.
You now have an appointed person, that person is answering directly to the president, not to the people and the Constitution.
I think they also want to create puppet judges, puppet PG and puppet vice presidents and at the end of the day, Zimbabwe is going backwards and is going into full dictatorship.
Q: Despite the issue of running mate, what do you think of other amendments?
A: On the appointment and promotion of judges, the aspect relating to public interviews was a very brilliant process because it was meant to ensure that those people who are competent are promoted and was progressive.
Incompetent people will be afraid to go to the interviews because you will be asked how many judgments have you made and even professional conduct will go under scrutiny.
You remember (Priscilla) Chigumba was asked serious questions relating to some professional conduct during an interview.
These things make people become responsible while in office. The PG we want is an independent person, the Constitution was very clear as it says that person must also go under public interviews like a judge, this was good for democracy.
Now you find out the values of transparency and competency are being thrown away, the president can deal with his own friends, promote them or appoint them clandestinely.
Q: Do you think as MDC there is any need for constitutional amendments?
A: For now there is no need for these amendments. This is a confirmation that Zanu PF does not respect the rule of law because what Zimbabwe needs and wants now is implementation of the Constitution and alignment of the laws with the Constitution and not amending of the Constitution because it’s not necessary, it’s good as it is.
Q: You don’t have numbers in both the National Assembly and Senate, what are you going to do?
A: The way forward for starters is to debate and try to convince our colleagues in the chambers that it is not right. It’s never been about numbers at times, it’s about values.
You need to also know that when we are debating in Parliament we are being recorded for history purposes and it is going to be known that in this particular year certain things were discussed and everyone’s position will be known.
Remember MDC told Zanu PF during the land reform that they must redistribute the land equally to all Zimbabweans, but they didn’t listen.
They used their numbers and they did what they wanted, but are now going back trying to do land audits, they are now seeing that we were right.
We told them give land to productive people, but they refused now they are trying to correct this.
So I am saying it does not matter whether the majority of people who are not reasonable come with something which is not wise.
The most important thing is even if you are few, you must be able to say reasonable things so that in future people will know who is a fool.
Q: Legally, is there a way you can stop these amendments outside Parliament?
A: Yes, actually the amendments can be stopped through court application, if you appear before a reasonable court, but it requires to be done at some stage not now. This will be done after the debates.
For now we have a platform so we may risk the court saying exhaust the local remedies, the local remedies we currently have as MPs is to debate in Parliament.
If that fails we have the opportunity to petition Parliament to say it is acting unconstitutional and is acting not in the best interest of the country.
We are prepared to fight to the end and determined to make sure the right things are done.
Q: Some of your party members are saying the only solution is for MDC to have mass protests to stop these amendments, what’s your view?
A: That is not necessarily for MDC. It is for all Zimbabweans who do not agree with the process.
There are constitutional rights for people to show the government that they are not happy
Q: Some are saying Mnangagwa is following in the late former President Robert Mugabe’s footsteps in terms of constitutional amendments, what’s your view.
A: I think he is worse than Mugabe. He must have learnt that certain things do not work, certain things are not right, 30, 40 years down the line you repeat the same mistake that someone did in early 1987, it means you are very shallow.