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The novelties and challenges of Tanzania's ongoing constitution making

Deus M. Kibamba who doubles as Chairman of Tanzania Constitutional Forum (TCF) and also as Executive Director of Tanzania Citizens’ Information Bureau (TCIB) wrote his perspectives on ongoing constitution process in Tanzania.
Asna Mshana
18.10.2013

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There are some democratic windows embedded in the ongoing constitution making process that are good to be pointed out. First, for the first time since independence the President needed to seek name propositions also from the groups of citizens that would be appointed to the commission that reviews the draft of the constitution. These elected representatives will also have the opportunity to propose amendments and additions to the draft.

After a second draft has been released, a Constituent Assembly will be established as the official organ for debating and passing the Final Draft Constitution. The last phase for the process entails a  universal suffrage voting for or against the Final Draft Constitution. All these novelties are featuring in Tanzania’s constitution making for the first time ever.

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Unfortunately however, there are shortcomings especially in regards to the free provision of civic education and representation in the key structures to validate the draft constitutions. The biggest dissapointment is that conducting awareness programmes on Constitutional Review is criminalized. This created a lot of fear amongst the smaller NGOs and community based organizations.

It was equally a matter of concern that the Constitutional Review Act gave the president the power to appoint all the members of the Constituent Assembly representing civil cociety and civic groups. This was far undemocratic!

Furthermore, all members of the Parliament of Tanzania and those of the Zanzibar House of Representatives, including Cabinet Ministers were to automatically become members to the Constituent Assembly. There was a potential conflict of interest for the incumbent MPs and Ministers wanting to maintain the status quo and protect the benefits of their current positions in the new constitution.

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At present, the Constitution Making process seems to be at crossroads. This is the second time for this noble process to be near stuck. The last time the process went into a similar situation was in 2011 when President Kikwete had to intervene to rescue it. This time again, the President is best positioned to successfully intervene.

The recent events in the Parliament of Tanzania leading to chaos and ‘punching’ are a proof that the process needs rescue from collapse. Outside law making and amendment, the draft Constitution is also another source of disagreement.

There is a divergence too big to lead to any consensus during the Constituent Assembly that the only way hope can be restored is by separating the Constituent Assembly and the business of the two houses in Tanzania namely Parliament of Tanzania and the Zanzibar House of Representatives.

Speaking content, the civil society circles criticized the draft for having focused too much on political issues leaving the larger social, economic and justice issues ‘out of the game’. However, Various NGOs echoed a common man’s voice in support of the content of the draft constitution.

There are also set limits and controls to the possible abuse of power by leaders. For instance, while the leadership term limit for the President has been retained at 10 years, Members of Parliament can no longer serve for life.

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Positive is also that the union cabinet may only compriseof 15 Ministers, no more! Parliament size is also set at 75 members, period! All these are very positive steps in a country whose current and previous administrative and political structures are overly bloated. The union Parliament as at June 2013 has 357 members, a huge burden to the taxpayer.

One overriding weakness of the draft constitution is that it does not go below the level of central government. There is hardly any talk about local governance except only a mention of such in a single article. The many concerns around lacking accountability regarding national and international borrowing have not been attended to.

Looking ahead, it appears almost obvious that the Constitution Making process may not complete in April, 2014 as previously envisaged. It is common knowledge now that if the Draft Constitution retains the three-tier government union structure which it currently promotes, the task ahead of us is bigger than we had initially envisaged.

Deus M. Kibamba doubles as Chairman of Tanzania Constitutional Forum (TCF) and also as Executive Director of Tanzania Citizens’ Information Bureau (TCIB). He is trained in Political Science, International Relations and Law as well as Electoral Politics. He has worked for more than 15 years in civil society circles in Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.