By Robert Tapfumaneyi
THE decision by Justice Parliamentary Portfolio Committee to resume public hearings on Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No.2 Bill during lockdown period is regrettable, Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development ZIMCODD has said.
The ill-timed public hearing has been set for to run from the 15th to 19th of June.
“It is regrettably that the government is prioritizing Constitutional amendments while the country is gripped with health, economic and social crisis,” ZIMCODD said.
“In as far as process is concerned, if any public hearings are to be conducted, they must guarantee citizen participation without fear or putting them at any form of risk.
“The public hearings are ill-timed given the current lockdown regulations to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
“It is therefore worrying that the Parliament of Zimbabwe rolls out the said public hearings of such national importance at a time when citizens are not at liberty to move around and public gatherings pose health risk for citizens.”
ZIMCODD added, “What measures are in place to ensure a safe and free movement of citizens who wish to participate in the public hearings?
“The lockdown restrictions are an obvious impediment to active and effective participation of citizens in these crucial public hearings.
“More so, considering that our national healthcare system is weak and underfunded, Zimbabwe cannot afford to expose citizens to the pandemic as this will be catastrophic to human life, a constitutionally guaranteed right.”
Commenting on the written submissions to Parliament, ZIMCODD said it is not every citizen, who has access to internet to send email to the Clerk of Parliament expressing their views.
“Internet penetration in Zimbabwe is only 40%.
“Increased data costs also stand as a huge hindrance which may limit citizen participation.
“Instead of forcing public hearings into an unconducive environment, the Parliament should channel its efforts and resources towards ensuring transparency and accountability exercising its oversight role, holding the Executive and all agencies of government to account on the mobilisation and utilisation of resources towards fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The organisation went on to say that the Constitution of Zimbabwe is the supreme law of the land, as such the process of amending it should not be done hurriedly in an unconducive manner which does not guarantee sufficient citizen participation but rather, the process should be conducted in an enabling environment to ensure effective participation and consultation.
“ZIMCODD is convinced that there is no citizen or government agency which stands to be prejudiced if the Constitutional amendment is deferred as such can afford to be shelved and be pursued when the situation returns to normalcy.
“This way, effective citizen consultation is guaranteed.”
ZIMCODD is equally concerned that nearly 7 million Zimbabweans are in dire need of food assistance, government should therefore redirect efforts and resources towards cushioning the poor and vulnerable – the Constitutional Amendment is not a top priority for now.