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Limited Access for Zimbabwe NGOs as Constitutional Drafting Process Begins

Writing Zimbabwe's new constitution has been entrusted to three principal drafters: Justice Moses Chinhengo and constitutional experts Priscilla Madzonga and Brian Crozier

The parliamentary committee in charge of revising Zimbabwe's constitution said Monday that actual drafting of the new basic document has begun despite some discord among the three parties in the national unity government on constitutional principles.

Writing the constitution has been entrusted to three principal drafters, Justice Moses Chinhengo and constitutional experts Priscilla Madzonga and Brian Crozier.

They will be assisted by 17 experts – five from each of the three governing parties and two from the council of traditional chiefs.

Constitutional Select Committee Co-Chairman Douglas Mwonzora of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Paul Mangwana of President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF assured journalists and civic activists that they are optimistic they can resolve remaining differences within the next 35 days.

The drafters will report to the parliamentary select committee.

Mwonzora said there would be no “smuggling in,” as some have described it, of points that were not covered during last year's public outreach phase of the process.

The chairman said civil society members who have observed most of the stages of the revision process would not be allowed to observe the actual constitutional drafting.

Mangwana said the select committee wants to keep the drafters from the public so that they can do their work without interference. But they said civil society representatives can attend the select committee’s own meetings and observe the technical committee of party representatives subject to rules and guidelines the committee will set.

Civil society organizations were not happy to be excluded from the drafting process and limited to observing the technical committee with certain restrictions.

Activists said such access is cosmetic and will not truly open the process to the people, adding that the panel should have given civil society greater access throughout.

Parliamentary Monitoring Trust Executive Officer Leonard Makombe said the government and political class have disregarded civil society since the start of the revision process, even going back to the negotiation of the 2008 Global Political Agreement.

Makombe said there is not much point for civic society in observing the meetings, when nongovernmental organizations will not have much chance for meaningful input.

Sydney Chisi, director of the Youth Initiative for Democracy, said civil society should no longer worry about how the constitution is drafted as that process is nearing an end.

He said civic activists should focus on what the finished document will contain and whether it will represent the will and democratic needs of the people.

Alois Dvzairo, youth chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, which opposed the parliamentary-led constitutional revision process from the beginning, said he expects more delays as political parties want to incorporate their positions, not the people's.