By Sheryleen Masuku.
Bulawayo based pressure group Ibhetshu LikaZulu has bemoaned the gazetting of the Constitutional Amendment Bill No 2 into law by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, which calls for the creation of a Public Protector.
In a press statement released Sunday, Ibhetshu LikaZulu said the passing of the second constitutional amendment bill was another blow to the country’s democracy.
The organisation said they have noted with concern government intentions to undermine independent commissions such as the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission NPRC and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission ZHRC by creating an office of the Public Protector which will be controlled by the executive.
ZHRC and NPRC were two vital independent regulatory bodies that were created by the people of Zimbabwe through the 2013 Constitution.
The pressure group argues that the “Government of Zimbabwe has a penchant to use state Institutions for partisan ends” and will therefore control the office of the Public Protector for partisan gain.
“The people of Zimbabwe through the 2013 Constitution saw it fit to create an independent story body of incorruptible and eminent individuals to watch over it, not a body led by one individual who will be controlled by the executive” reads the statement.
In the statement Ibhetshu LikaZulu accuses Zanu PF of plotting to undermine the functions of ZHRC because the commission previously condemned political violence and partisan distribution of food aid.
“This angered the government leading to the taking away of its key function”.
“This is indeed a serious threat to the freedom of citizens and our democracy. It is symptomatic of the Zanu PF regime’s unwillingness to open up democratic space”.
In theory the office of the public protector is meant to promote democracy and hold both private and public individuals and institutional bodies to account without any fear or bias.
During the consultative process of the constitutional amendments various civil society organisations criticized the proposed introduction of the Public Protector questioning the selection process of its officials.
Southern Africa Litigation Centre SALC released a report in 2020 expressing their concerns about the constitutional amendments including the establishment of the office of the Public Protector.
SALC said there were concerned that: “the President has such extraordinary, and rather untrammelled, powers of appointment in relation to the Public Protector and the Deputy Public Protector.”
“In practice, this enables the President to select appointees based on self-interest or political motivations.”
“This problem is amplified by the fact that there is no constitutional requirement that holders of the office of the Public Protector possess experience, qualities, or aptitudes required for that office”.
These views were also expressed by the Secretary General of Ibhetshu LikaZulu, Mbuso Fuzwayo, in an interview with Sly Media News yesterday:
“The office of the public protector is critical in a country with a democracy, but in our country, we are under a ‘military government’ so the office of the public protector will be run by an appointed person, whilst the
commission is an independent body deriving its mandate from the constitution”.
According to the new constitution the, Public Protector shall have the ‘functions and powers of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission’. However, ZHRC will continue to have power to take over and continue any investigation that has been instituted by the Public Protector if it determines that the matter is relevant to its functions, but critics argue the necessity of the Public Protector
“The commission was able to investigate government departments that had violated the rights of the people. You don’t strip the constitutional body of its mandate by creating a parallel structure”, said Fuzwayo.
Vice President of the opposition MDC Alliance and Constitutional Lawyer Tendai Biti last week warned that “there will be a floodgate of litigation” against the new constitutional changes.
Biti Tweeted that this legal action “ought to be complimented by peaceful civic action”.
The pressure group Ibhetshu LikaZulu and other civil society organisations have called on Zimbabweans to unite and protect the gains made by the 2013 Constitution and the political independence of the independent commissions.