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Zimbabwe Constitutional Panel, NGOs Meet on Monitoring of Outreach Process

Zimbabwe's Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Revision met Tuesday with civil society activists and agreed to set ground rules under which non-governmental organizations can continue to monitor - or observe, as parliamentary officials preferred to say - the ongoing public consultation process.

Parliamentary sources said they agreed to draw up a code of conduct governing how independent observers will go about monitoring the process nationwide.

Select Committee Co-Chairman Douglas Mwonzora told VOA Studio 7 reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that lawmakers and NGO officials agreed that all independent observers should be accredited with the committee.

But Chairwoman Dadirai Chikwengo of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations denied that agreement had been reached on the issue of accreditation.

Chikwengo said the meeting also took up issues that had emerged in the media regarding the operations of independent monitors. Committee Co-Chairman Paul Mangwana of the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe was reported to have accused NGO monitors of "peddling lies" and suggested they should be arrested.

Meanwhile, in reports from around the country, the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe, one of the non-governmental organizations observing the outreach process, said responses to questions often seem to be rehearsed, which it said compromised the program's objective of collecting genuine public opinions.

Democracy Manager Joy Mabenge of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative said his teams have noticed the apparent staging of responses in particular on issues of land ownership and presidential powers.

A number of sources including NGO monitors have said local officials loyal to ZANU-PF, and ZANU-PF militants, have been coaching rural residents under duress on what to say in outreach meetings, and discouraging those known to hold views contrary to those held by ZANU-PF from speaking out in meetings.