The National Assembly yesterday withdrew the widely criticised Constitutional Review Bill, 2011 and gave more time for public consultations and contributions to the document.
“My office respects the opinions of the public and stakeholders… We are now withdrawing the Bill,” announced Speaker of the National Assembly, Anne Makinda.
The Bill which was tabled in the house under a certificate of urgency, attracted fierce criticism from academicians, students, legislators, government leaders and other stakeholders from Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar.
The Parliamentary Committee on Constitution, Justice and Administration, which was tasked to collect opinions through public hearings in Dodoma, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, spotted numerous shortfalls on the draft Bill, the Speaker told MPs.
According to Makinda, the committee submitted its report on the stakeholders’ opinions on the bill plus its recommendations.
“But parliamentary rules and regulations empower the Speaker to make the final decision on the recommendations made by such a committee…my final decision must be made in accordance with specific laws and the country’s constitution,” said the Speaker.
“As the final decision maker, I would like to announce that the Bill is officially withdrawn in order to give Tanzanians and other stakeholders sufficient time to discuss, consult and contribute their views on it,” she added.
The Speaker said the Parliament respected public views as reflected in the recommendations of the Constitution, Justice and Administration parliamentary committee, thus suspending further processing of the Bill in this Bunge session.
The move is good news to millions of Tanzanians, including high-profile government figures —from both Mainland and Zanzibar, who had complained over the government move to fast-track endorsement of the Bill, which has numerous shortcomings.
The public hearings in Dodoma, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar were marred by exchange of bitter words, chaos and use of live bullets by police, all of them criticising the draft Bill as “unfriendly and undemocratic.”
In her official statement withdrawing the Bill from the agendas of this Bunge session here yesterday, the Speaker said the parliamentary committee that coordinated the public hearings recommended to the government to draft a Swahili version of the Bill, to allow more Tanzanians understand the contents of the document and contribute meaningfully.
“Another recommendation is that the Bill should be published in newspapers and other media to enhance public awareness on the document, to enable them contribute their opinions,” said Makinda.
The committee also proposed that the objectives of the Bill should clearly be explained to allow Tanzanians understand the main focus of the constitutional review process, she said.
Quoting recommendations of the committee, Makinda said many members of the public and stakeholders did not understand objectives of the Bill. “People thought the Bill intends to enact the country’s Constitution, while in actual sense, it seeks to ‘kick-start’ the constitutional review process,” she noted.
On the basis of results of public hearings plus constructive recommendations of the responsible parliamentary committee, she said the constitutional review Bill needed to be re-worked before being presented in the next Parliamentary meeting — for discussions and subsequent endorsement.
She tasked the parliamentary committee to use this period (between now and the next Bunge session in June) to continue collecting public views on the proposal in a bid to reshape the document and accommodate concerns and interests of all stakeholders.
Speaking shortly after Speaker’s announcement, the leader of Opposition in Parliament and Chadema national Chairman, Freeman Mbowe said the opposition party has decided to suspend its planned countrywide demonstration aimed at challenging the government’ rush in legislating the constitutional review Bill.
“Chadema has officially suspended Saturday’s (today) planned demonstration, because the government listened to the public outcry on draft Bill, and agreed to take the document back to the drawing board to allow Tanzanians to contribute their views…this is the party’s official announcement; we are not going to march,” Mbowe said in an exclusive interview.
On Thursday the government refused to be drawn into stating whether or not it would withdraw the disputed Constitutional Review Bill, 2011, only saying it awaited the opinion of National Assembly Speaker Anne Makinda.
“It’s difficult for me to announce here if the government will proceed with legislating the Constitutional Review Bill or not,” said Pinda during the Prime Minister's Question Time.
He was responding to a question posed by leader of the Opposition Freeman Mbowe (Chadema).
The prime minister said in recognition of the importance of reviewing the country’s constitution, the government had opted to draft the Bill and table it in the House under a certificate of urgency.
“This was done in good faith, taking into consideration that Tanzanians themselves demanded a new constitution,” he noted.
Pinda said the office of the Speaker, realising the urgency of the matter, had decided to organise public hearings on the Bill through its Parliamentary Committee on Constitution, Justice and Administration.
Pinda said that the committee had already collected views on the Bill and submitted its recommendations to the Speaker for scrutiny so she could come up with recommendations.
“As the leader of government business in the House, I am waiting for the opinion of the Speaker…I cannot say, at the moment, if the government will proceed with the process of legislating the Constitutional Review Process Bill unless I get an expert opinion from the Speaker,” he said.
The premier dismissed as speculation suggestions that public hearings on the Bill created public fear and tension, saying the government was committed to leading the process towards a new constitution.
“There is no need for people to fear; the government acknowledges significance of this process for the development of Tanzanians and the nation as whole,” he observed.