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Parly urged to suspend public hearings on Constitutional Amendment Bill

Civil society organisations are calling on Parliament to suspend the public hearings on the proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 2 Bill set to commence next week saying the discussions may not bring a desired outcome as only 50 people would be allowed to partake due to the COVID-19 regulations.

Last year, the government gazetted the Constitutional Amendment No.2 Bill, which seeks to introduce at least 27 amendments to the constitution.

The public hearings were initially scheduled to take place from March 29, to April 3, 2020 but were suspended together with all parliamentary activities from March 18, to May 5, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the country still under COVID-19 lockdown which restricts public gatherings to only 50 persons, Parliament has announced that public hearings on the contentious bill would run from June 15 to 19 across the country.

After the bill was gazetted, a section of Zimbabweans including the opposition described the proposed constitutional amendments as “pure mischief” claiming they had nothing to do with the general interests of Zimbabweans but means for President Emmerson Mnangagwa to consolidate power for himself.

In a statement, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition rejected the premature announcement of public hearings dates saying it came at a time when the country is in Lockdown Level 2 due the COVID-19.

“This move will unnecessarily expose citizens to the COVID 19 virus unless necessary and sufficient measures are put in place. This is to make sure citizens are not exposed to COVID- 19 and that citizens voices are heard and respected during the Public Hearings on the proposed but unnecessary Constitutional Amendment No.2 Bill,” said the coalition.

“The Parliament of Zimbabwe must make sure that COVID-19 preventative measures are in place before any public hearings commence. Strangely the public hearings are resuming at a time when the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has suspended all electoral activities citing COVID-19 regulations.”

The coalition said COVID-19 restrictions would make it almost impossible for citizens to effectively participate in the public hearings.

“Some of the key COVID-19 measures announced by the government which have a huge effect on citizens contributions to this process include maintaining social distance at all times, wearing face masks outdoors, limiting unnecessary travel and travel restrictions locally and between town and cities except for those providing essential services and a ban of gatherings of more than 50 people.”

The coalition noted that members of civic society and other pro-democracy forces had rejected the proposed constitutional amendments, saying it was “a mockery to democracy , a recipe for disaster and a violation of the principle of separation of powers,” adding that it seemed the government is “hell bent on using the COVID-19 for autocratic overreach.”

An overwhelming 94.49 percent voted yes for the 2013 Constitution at a referendum.

The coalition also questioned why the government was in a rush to amend the constitution when general election were in 2023.

“Why are we on a race back to our past? We therefore reiterate our call that no amendments should take place without implementing fully the 2013 constitution. In light if the proposed public hearing and the objections by the Crisis in Coalition, other pro-democracy forces and citizens we urge Parliament to review the proposed public hearings dates until the following is addressed and or guaranteed:

“Make sure that citizens’ participation is guaranteed considering the current lockdown measures which limit movement especially those not providing essential services. Clearly outline safety measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during all outreach activities.

“Make sure that all key stakeholders including civil society organisations are considered providers of essential services to allow them to conduct outreach activities to educate citizens in the proposed constitutional amendments before the proposed public hearings,” Crisis in Coalition said.

Meanwhile the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade of Unions (ZCTU) and human rights lawyers have also called on parliament to shelve plans to roll out public hearings on proposed Constitutional Amendments until the country’s COVID-19 lockdown measures are eased.

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