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Constitution Watch - Second All Stakeholders Conference

Via Veritas

The Second All Stakeholders Conference

The Second All Stakeholders’ Conference went ahead as planned on Monday 22nd and Tuesday 23rd October. On the whole the Conference went smoothly and the many predictions of chaos and violence, based on what occurred at the First All Stakeholders Conference, were not fulfilled. This was largely attributable to a drastic reduction in numbers allowed to attend, better organised accreditation of delegates and observers, and good security arrangements.

Opening of the Conference

The ceremonial opening of the Conference was on the morning of Monday 22nd October. After a late start, there were speeches from Minister of Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Matinenga, COPAC co-chairs Mangwana and Mwonzora, Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara, Prime Minister Tsvangirai before President Mugabe officially opened the Conference. As well as the delegates, there were observers and invited guests from government and from embassies.

The Prime Minister said the party principals had all agreed that the constitution-making process is being done in accordance with Article 6 of the GPA, “which makes it clear that this is a Parliament-driven process in which the Principals and the Executive must play a minimum part. We have no intention whatsoever, at least on my part, to tamper or meddle with the people’s views.”

The COPAC co-chairs gave an overview of the constitution-making process and the methodology to be followed by the Conference in examining the draft constitution [see next section]. They emphasised that the COPAC draft was the focus of the discussions. The ZANU-PF re-draft, incorporating the many changes to the COPAC draft called for by the ZANU-PF Politburo, was not one of the Conference documents. ZANU-PF delegates were free to advocate the changes ZANU-PF wanted when commenting and making recommendations on the COPAC draft.

The President: in his speech opening the Conference expressed differing views from the previous speakers and said the work of the Conference was to align the COPAC draft with the National Statistical Report. He also made it clear he thought it should be the GPA principals who should sort out any differences over constitutional content that might remain after the Conference.

After the opening proceedings, which took all morning, the delegates were divided into eighteen breakaway groups, each group to consider one of the eighteen chapters of the COPAC draft. The groups started their meetings on Monday afternoon.

The 18 Group Meetings

In typical COPAC fashion, each group had three co-chairs – one Parliamentarian from each of the three GPA political parties. The groups were made up of delegates consisting of members of the three political parties and representatives of civil society. Accredited observers were able to attend any group meeting.

Initially, despite the COPAC co-chairs briefing at the opening plenary, there was confusion in some meetings about how to proceed, with delegates wanting groups to make detailed textual comparisons of their allotted chapters against the National Statistical Report. [This was probably sparked by what the President had said earlier about the purpose of the Conference.] But groups eventually settled down to going through their allotted chapters in a more orderly fashion, with delegates commenting on provisions in each clause, one by one.

As was expected with representation from different parties, delegates in each group were divided, with some supporting what the COPAC draft said and others supporting what the ZANU-PF amended draft said, although it was not an official conference document. Most of the latter quoted the National Statistical Report to support their views. It was unfortunate that there were very few copies of this report made available at the Conference. Time in some groups was wasted by opposing arguments on whether the National Statistical Report on its own was a reflection of “what the people said” or whether other more qualitative opinions should be given weight [which is what the COPAC draft did].

Audio and video recordings were made of each group meeting, and rapporteurs noted the delegates’ comments on each provision for purposes of the group’s report to the plenary.

Report Back to Plenary

Initially, the target was for the groups to complete work in one and a half hours and report back on Monday afternoon, but that, unsurprisingly, proved unachievable. Some groups completed their work late Monday evening and others had to adjourn and resume early on Tuesday morning before reporting back to the plenary meeting on Tuesday morning. The report backs were given by one of each group’s co-chairs and were of necessity brief, with no additional comments or questions from either the members of that particular group or from other delegates in the plenary.

What was reported from each chapter was:

  • Which provisions in the COPAC draft were acceptable to all delegates
  • New input – suggestions for new additions or deletions to the COPAC draft which were simply recorded but with no indication whether or not consensus was reached on them
  • Strongly divergent opinions which were expressed on provisions of the COPAC draft [usually as against the ZANU-PF draft] and no agreement was reached on them in the group.

The Conference ended at lunchtime.

Conference Shortcomings

Although on the whole the Conference went off fairly smoothly and at least there was no repetition of the disruption that marred proceedings at the First All Stakeholders Conference in 2009 and delegates were mostly able to express their views, there were shortcomings:

Last-minute arrangements Late announcements of COPAC decisions on the Conference timing and venue, and unavailability until the last minute of the COPAC draft, left little time for preparation of serious non-party-directed input at the Conference.

Problems with allocation of civil society delegates There was an only partly-resolved wrangle between COPAC and civil society organisations represented by NANGO and Crisis in Zimbabwe over political party interference in the allocation of delegates places for the organisations. COPAC wanted the umbrella organisations NANGO and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition to give them lists of potential delegates from which the political parties would make their selection. Those civil society delegates applying through NANGO/Crisis were outraged at being politically “paddocked” and asserted that they were independent. Although an accommodation of sorts was reached when COPAC agreed to allow them to select their own 200 civil society delegates on top of the civil society delegates the political parties had selected, this was still not entirely satisfactory, and NANGO and Crisis remained discontented with the manner in which the matter had been handled. There was still the problem that some organisations ended up with too few delegates to cover satisfactorily all their areas of interest when the plenary Conference broke up into separate groups to discuss individual chapters of the COPAC draft.

Civil society input Although theyhad little time to prepare and there was uncertainty over their delegates, civil society had a last minute pre-Conference Indaba convened by NANGO and Crisis on 18th and 19th October. Despite the problems, civil society delegates attending the Conference managed to make their comments and recommendations on the COPAC draft, and these were captured as part of the Conference proceedings. The weight, if any, to be given to those views – indeed, to any views expressed by delegates to the Conference – is another matter entirely and can only be determined when the final draft appears.

Shortage of official Conference documents While all delegates and observers were provided with a printed copy of the COPAC draft constitution on accreditation, copies of the other promised Conference documents – the National Statistical Report and the collection of documents that made up the instructions to the lead drafters – were not freely available.

Instructions to breakaway groups not clear enough The initial muddle in some group meetings over how to proceed with their task indicated methodology for conducting the meetings had not been clearly enough conveyed to all delegates.

Variable quality of chairing Some meetings were well-chaired and orderly. For example, the proceedings in the group discussing the chapter on Devolution were dignified and well-mannered despite differing views being put forward by delegates. Other meetings were rowdy and ill-disciplined, with chairs having difficulty maintaining control.

Physical conditions for breakaway groups The meeting places were not uniformly ideal. Some meetings took place in the air-conditioned comfort of the Conference Centre’s permanent committee rooms, but most were relegated to temporary partitioned-off spaces that were neither big enough to accommodate delegates in comfort nor provided with air-conditioning in the sweltering October heat.

Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara’s participation in the opening ceremony resulted in Professor Ncube and his MDC party boycotting the occasion. But thanks to intervention by the SADC facilitation team, this did not develop into a boycott of the whole Conference, and MDC delegates took part in the remainder of the proceedings. This issue should have been sorted out before the Conference.

COPAC camera seized An untoward incident occurred on day 2, when a ZANU-PF delegate grabbed and disappeared with a video camera, objecting to being filmed by a COPAC cameraman. A COPAC spokesperson reacted promptly with a statement that the camera’s official record of the proceedings in the group concerned had already been safely secured. MDC-T representatives expressed concern that police officers present during the incident had not intervened to protect COPAC property and personnel.

Assessments of the Conference

Assessments of the Conference have ranged from “very successful” [from COPAC] to “farce” [because it was a costly talkshop that resolved none of the points that were in dispute before the Conference] to “charade” [a continuing contest between the parties in government instead of a process of objective analysis of the draft] to “national tragedy of epic proportions” [the National Constitutional Assembly, which has already committed itself to campaign for a NO vote at the Referendum] .

Given that COPAC had described the Conference’s terms of reference as being for delegates to freely air their views on the COPAC draft and have their comments and recommendations heard and recorded, the Conference largely achieved its purpose. But it was largely a continuation of pre-existing interparty disagreements over content, with “coached” delegates putting forwarded prepared party viewpoints and it is doubtful if new inputs will be considered.

In their preliminary observations on the Conference, ZZZICOMP [Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) Independent Constitution Monitoring Project] observed that coaching of party delegates by all three political parties in a bid to safeguard their political party aspirations” had been “rampant”, and said it necessaryto issue a reminder that “the Constitution is not written merely for the generation that exists at the time of its being authored but for unlimited and perpetual posterity”.

The critical question, to which the answer is not yet apparent, is whether any Conference input will result in the emergence of a better draft to be put before the Referendum.

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