Critics and activists have praised President Jakaya Kikwete for his choice of members of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), saying its diversity reflects an intention of an inclusive and balanced handling of the opinion-gathering exercise on the anticipated new constitution.
The tabling of the Constitutional Review Act to the National Assembly last year met with fierce criticism from a wide range of observers, including civil society activists, academicians, legal experts and leaders of opposition parties.
This time around, though, members representing civic groups teeming with critics seem to have approved the appointment of the commissioners, specifically pleased with the inclusion of individuals from diverse backgrounds.
Ananilea Nkya, a seasoned journalist and executive director of the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA), was less concerned about the appointments, but rather with whether the team would remain cohesive in the course of executing their tasks.
Nkya said the best way this commission should be judged is how much it is determined to undertake its functions in the public interest, to avoid the temptation to please its appointing authority.
“I have so much respect for the commission’s chairman Judge Joseph Warioba and his deputy Augustino Ramadhani (retired Chief Justice). They are men of integrity. However, the task ahead of them is not minimal and history will judge how objectively they handled this nation’s major agenda,” the activist declared.
The staunch advocate of women’s and children’s rights said that in many national agendas, a void in objective leadership often lacks, where issues of national interest have been handled with less emphasis to reform the country’s institutions but rather in pursuing individual gains.
“This should not become another lost opportunity; instead the commission should put forward the public interest as their driving motivation,” she said.
A senior lecturer with the University of Dar es Salaam, Dr Kitila Mkumbo, lauded the composition, saying it has observed diversity. The fact that it has included personalities from various quarters and professions, from constitution experts, senior civil servants, political personalities and activists, brings hope for a diversity in ideas.
“Diversity is very important. And when this is the case, it basically means that members of this commission are not going to easily agree on issues if they work selfishly. When they don’t agree easily the result is that they will solemnly make conclusions based on compromises accepted by the majority, which thus defends the national interest,” he added.
Dr Mkumbo, who is head of the Department of Educational Psychology and Curriculum Studies at the School of Education at the University of Dar es Salaam, said the list is also rich in people who know clearly what they are doing and experienced enough to figure out what could be the public interest.
Yefred Mnyenzi, HakiArdhi executive director, was hesitant to express doubts on the selected commission, noting that a good number of the appointees have vast experience in public service and were involved in constitutional and other key national issues.
However, he had a different concern: “These people represent an old-school mindset. I don’t see them as people who can make radical transformation, but only some light reforms,” he said.
He argued that in past public constitutional debates, Judge Warioba had made some comments which clearly showed how reluctant he was about writing a new constitution, and he now heads the commission.
Moreover, Mnyenzi noted, it was Judge Augustine Ramadhani who “unsatisfactorily handled the private candidacy issue a couple of years ago.” With this record, he is convinced that most individuals appointed to the commission are people who can’t make meaningful reforms, but would seek to maintain the status quo.
He admitted that the nomination to the commission had observed diversity, but warned that it scarcely included radical reformists. “They are people with old and moderate sentiments about the issue,” he said, urging the public to voice their opinion on the issue.
“If the public’s voice is strong, it will be hard for the commission to tamper with its clearly expressed views,” he declared.
Dr Hellen Kijo-Bisimba, director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre, said that she lauded the variety of the persons in the commission, who include a couple of civil society activists, but wondered about the absence of active civil society activists.
“I expected the President would also appoint active activists who already have been on the frontline from the beginning of this process. But I don’t see any. At least he (the President) has somewhat observed gender, age, professionalism and political differences,” she asserted.
In contributing to the Constitution Review (Amendment) Bill, 2011) in Parliament last February, Special Seats MP Rosweete Kasikila (CCM) affirmed that “when involving civil society personalities in the commission, activists such as Ananilea Nkya and Hellen Bisimba are among individuals who should not be included.”
Dr Kijo-Bisimba was nevertheless optimistic about the commission’s performance, remarking that as long as the commission’s job was mostly to collect opinions from the public, “I do not see any reason why it should fail to just put together what people want.”
On the other hand, James Mbatia, chairman of the NCCR-Mageuzi party, preferred to distance himself from giving comments on the commission this early. He, however, hailed the inclusion of one of his closest associates, Dr Edmund Sengondo Mvungi, saying, “He is one of three best known gurus on constitutional matters in the country.
“I commend his inclusion and of others such as Professor Baregu, who have since the beginning given constructive opinion on a meaningful constitutional review process.”
That Judge (retired) Warioba was one of the key figures in the making of the current constitution gave a hard time to Mbatia to be optimistic about what should be expected from the work that the commission he heads will undertake.
The Constitutional Review Act, 2011 directs that 15 members nominated to the commission be appointed from Zanzibar and another 15 from the Mainland.