Proposed amendments to the Constitutional Review Act seeking to substitute district commissioners with Local Government Authority directors in coordinating public opinion gatherings when the exercise begins, took centre stage yesterday when MPs started debating the Constitutional Review Bill.
The debate ensued after the Attorney General, Fredrick Werema, tabled the bill seeking the House’s blessings to amend the law that came into force on December 1, 2011.
Justice Werema said good spirit aimed at having a better Act still influence the amendments, adding that they have considered stakeholders’ views in their course, including those from political parties.
Whereas the government’s proposed amendments were widely backed by a large section of legislators from the opposition, majority of the lawmakers from the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) opposed the changes as they wanted the present version, which permits District Commissioners to remain in charge of the whole coordination process at local government level, to remain.
The specific section disputed is 17 (5) (a) (b) as well as bringing new subsections 9 and 10 in the 2011 Constitutional Review Act.
Anna Kilango Malecela, (Same East, CCM) said the proposed amendment to has the DCs substituted by district director may not be suitable because the directors are responsible for development projects, adding that coordinating constitutional review exercise for them could be a far fetched matter.
District directors; even though act as returning officers during general elections.
“DCs have full administrative authority and act as chairpersons of defence and security committee at district levels, thus they should overseer the review exercise,” Malecela said.
Kilango’s views were echoed by Esther Bulaya (Special Seats, CCM) who cautioned that the amendments should also specify the time when civic education will be provided, adding that this would prevent people bent at misusing the public rallies from doing so.
Pindi Chana (Special Seats, CCM) disqualified the use of directors in the carrying out of the exercise saying under the present legal setting they do not have the machinery to do the job as opposed to district commissioners.
“Directors overseer departments such as agriculture, water and others, but the entire government machinery is under the DC. In my view, this amendment should not be passed,” Chana said.
She also called for the politicians who would be appointed to the constitutional review commission to be patient so as to avoid conflicts driven by ideologies.
Said Arfi (Mapanda Central, Chadema) told the House that his party and other opposition parties would not have bothered to have DCs coordinating the constitutional review arrangements if they did not appear in the constitution of the ruling party.
“The problem here is that we are all aware of the duties of the DCs and how they execute them. Therefore let us have these amendments passed if really we are determined to have a constitution based on the interests of the public,” he said.
For his part and former Attorney General Andrew Chenge (Bariadi West, CCM) looked opposed to Arfi’s position, saying having the posts of DCs mentioned in CCM constitution was a non issue because that it does not hold water because even that of the President appears in the same document and there appears to be no conflict of interest.
Moses Machalli (Kasulu Urban, NCCR – Mageuzi) said:
“Local Government Authority directors employ ward and village executives and they are spokespersons of the National Electoral Commission during elections. Why do we take away our trust on them in the constitution review process,” Machali queried.
Earlier, presenting the Standing Committee on Constitution, Legal and Administration deputy chairperson Angela Kairuki supported the government’s proposed amendments.
“The Committee believes that these proposals aim at having the constitutional review process under government executives and civil servants who are not tied to political ideology so as to ensure the commission’s independence and transparency.”
Spokesperson of the official opposition camp in Parliament, Tundu Lissu said the amendments would ensure that the process towards having a new constitution starts on correct footing.
“This Act is perhaps important than any law the tenth Parliament will have opportunity to debate. It is a historical bill because since the independence of Tanganyika 50 years ago and since Union was forged almost 48 now Tanzanians have never had an opportunity to discuss and decide on their national constitutional future as stipulated in this Act,” Lissu said.
The proposed Bill for amendment stipulates tht sections to be amended include Section 6 (i) which would provide opportunity to political parties, civil societies, religious organisation and professional associations to propose names among whom President of the United Republic and that of Zanzibar would choose to be members of the commission.
The current Act, assented by President Kikwete in December gives absolute powers to the Union President in consultation with the Zanzibar President to appoint chairman as well as members of the commission.
It further proposes addition to Subsection 17 (9) and 17(10) to which allow individuals, religious institutions, and political parties to conduct civic education on the exercise. The present Act does not provide this aspect. These groups would be reporting to local government council directors instead of district commissioners.
Amendments are also proposed on deleting Section 6(5) (c) and Section 6 (5) (a) which to allow councillors and other political leaders to be members of the commission.
Other amendments are on the sections relating to disciplinary matters.