Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Tanzania needs "Minimum Constitutional Reforms" for Now

A constitution symposium was organized by the Tanzania Constitution Forum (Jukwaa la Katiba) yesterday in Dar es Salaam. A number of paramount issues were raised by the discussants. Chief among them was the constituent assembly composition. This follows the heated debate in parliament last week over the same issue. A Bill was passed in parliament last week proposing 357 MPs in the United Republic of Tanzania and 81 representatives of the Zanzibar House of Representatives to be part of the constituent assembly. The Bill further proposes that 166 others be appointed by the president meaning that the total membership will be 604. The Chairperson of Jukwa la Katiba Deus Kibamba highlighted a very important issue of minimum reforms. 

As pointed out earlier in this blog, constitutional making process is not a one time event but a long and tedious process. From the look of things, it would be next to impossible for Tanzanians to finalize the tit-bits of the process and then go for a constitutional referendum before the next general elections in 2015. It is believed that there could be a deliberate ploy by certain people to frustrate the process so that the elections are pushed to 2017. The timeline set by the Constitution Review Commission will be hard to see the delivery of a new constitution before the elections of 2015. The suggestion for minimum reforms by Mr. Kibamba are timely and could be of great service to Tanzania at this time. 

In 1997, a Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) in Kenya pressed the then president Daniel Moi for crucial reforms before going into the 1997 general elections. Their calls included the set up of the electoral body in terms of composition and appointment of members, issues of the expanding the Bill of Rights of the minority, equity in political representation and resource distribution. Such calls together with those preceding the 2007 elections are vital lessons for Tanzania.

In truth, it will be diffucult for tanzania to have a new constitution before the elections. A lot of issues remain unsolved and division on issues such as the composition of the constituent assembly further shows we need more time. I urge the Constitution Forum to go ahead and highlight the needed "minimum reforms" and present them to the CRC and even the president. Taking lessons from Kenya, one of the minimum reforms should be the composition of the National Electoral Commission (NEC). The process of choosing commissioners to this body should be a cross-party consultative engagement and NEC should be given much independence. The Chairperson of this body should also be vetted by parliament. 

The call for minimum reforms by Mr. Kibamba are timely and should be taken into consideration.