No less a personage than Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda has promised the nation that he would take the initiative of advising President Jakaya Kikwete to start a process of reviewing the Constitution. He made reference to recommendations of the 1992 Nyalali Commission as being among the first things to look at when the process to review the constitution starts. “I do not see any difficulty in dealing with this issue, since we already have some recommendations from the two commissions which were not implemented…we can start from there,” observed Pinda.
He said that he would advise the President to form a team consisting of diverse experts who will advise the government on what should be done on the issue. “They will tell us whether we need a new constitution or just to amend what we have, and specific issues to be addressed. Thereafter, we can decide on whether to take the matter for public discussion or through their representatives,” he explained.
The PM acknowledged that the calls for a review of the constitution were logical and legitimate, saying his initiative aims at putting the ongoing debate to rest.The debate about overhauling the constitution has attracted different legal experts following the General Election, with analysts wanting a significant cut in presidential powers and calls for a mother document which enforces more checks and balances on the Executive.
A recent high-level discussion on Tanzania’s constitutional journey was a world apart from the quarrelsome variety we are getting in the various rallies, so one was able to get a more sophisticated argument from the likes of former Chief Justice Augustino Ramadhani, who urged the government to consider the issue of constitutional reform as a fundamental need of the entire nation. He said debate on whether or not to write a new constitution should not be suppressed, but should be encouraged so that the people reach common ground for the benefit of the nation. To many, he is among the leaders reputed for not speaking unless they have fully thought about and digested the implications or consequences of their words.
According to Robert Kamugisha, a constitutional lawyer in Dar es Salaam, a shift would subject public systems to more checks and balances. He gives examples of how it would strengthen parliamentary oversight of the Executive, introduce meaningful decentralisation and one that would protect the rights of citizens.Citing the benefits of reviewing the constitution as including “bringing government closer to the people, involving citizens (including women) more actively in decision making, and enhancing transparency and accountability across all parts of government,” he added: “Why are some people so agitated about a new constitution? If we accept that people know what they want and are all capable of making good choices about their interests, then we must accept their verdict through the sort of things they want to talk about.”
He went on: “We need genuine cases where power and initiative moves to the grassroots and introduce a decentralised fiscal regime to strengthen the existing devolved funds Constituency Development Fund and other existing funds”.He noted that the idea of giving the Bank of Tanzania constitutional independence is one that should give attention to and shield such a critical institution from the meddling of any central powers. According to the Registrar of Political Parties, Mr John Tendwa, those agitating for a new constitution had a point, but he said any debate should be “sensible”.
“It is urgent that we review the whole constitution and make amendments where necessary…we should leave no stone unturned in attaining this,” he said. He emphasised that any changes should ultimately be geared at safeguarding national interests.
He added that there were some sections of the constitution that needed to be reviewed more urgently than others, such as that which gave the President powers to appoint members of the National Electoral Commission. Ambassador Hashim Mbita, a one-time Organisation of African Unity (OAU) liberation committee icon, was quoted by a local daily expressing surprise at anyone who may not want a debate on the need for a new constitution.
He said the current constitution needs modification to go with the current wave of change and strengthen patriotism, including addressing the current policy gaps.Speaking on the state-owned television channel TBC, Mbita said the current constitution largely puts development policy in the hands of donors, thus slowing down the entire phenomenon of development.A cabinet minister, Ms Celina Kombani, recently said it would be prudent that interested parties formally make submissions to government on where changes should be made.
A University of Dar es Salaam don, Professor Gaudence Mpangala, who also took part in the discussion, said a new constitution would help go with the current political systems and policies. “The current one was made in 1977, when we had a one-party system whereas we have since moved away from that,” said retired judge Mark Bomani, adding what was needed was a deeper look at the current mother document to see where the weaknesses are, noting that there were some unfounded fears about change.
Judge Bomani, a former Attorney General, advised that the government forms a team of experts from different sectors to go through the prevailing laws and come up with recommendations on a new constitution, in order to do away with the current push-and-pull debate on the matter. The Chairman of the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRGG), Justice (Rtd) Amir Manento, said during an interview that there was a need for a new constitution.
At the climax of the International Day of Human Rights celebrations recently, legal and human rights activists added their voices to the call for a new mother document.
By ORTON KIISHWEKO
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