Tanzania: Civil Society Asks for Time to Discuss Constitutional Amendments

Source: Article by Edwin Agola (The Guardian)

Tanzanian government should give the people more time for the current constitutional review process, warned the Southern African Human Rights NGO Network (SAHRINGON) national branch, also focal point of Social Watch in this country. The police fired tear gas last week near the Parliament venue, when students tried to participate in a public hearing.

The Southern African Human Rights NGO Network (SAHRINGON) Tanzania branch urged the government to provide more time for collecting views on the constitutional review bill, instead of the set three days, reported The Guardian newspaper this Thursday.

SAHRINGON national coordinator, Martina Kabisama told reporters in her office this Wednesday that the three days were not enough for Tanzanian society to contribute their views on the bill throughout the country.

"We are shocked and stressed by the move. It seems to be deliberate to deny the public opportunity to offer meaningful contribution,” she said.

Last week police fired tear gas to disperse residents and students in Dodoma seeking to enter parliament grounds where a public hearing was going on at Msekwa Hall, while in Dar es Salaam hearing was cancelled after intermittent chanting which disrupted airing of views.

The draft bill, according to clarification issued recently in the House by the Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Justice Celina Kombani, seeks to kick-start constitution review process and not for enacting the country’s constitution.

She said public hearings, conducted simultaneously in Dodoma, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar and coordinated by the Parliamentary Committee on Constitution, Justice and Good Governance, have been designed to allow general public and other stakeholders contribute their opinions on the whole process of “kick-starting” the constitution review process, as outlined in the proposed Bill.

In another development, a Constitutional Platform composed by 20 Tanzanian civil society organisations has raised concern over the shortfalls revealed during public hearings on the Bill for Constitutional Review, calling on parliamentarians not to pass it, reported this Thursday The Guardian newspaper.

Acting chairman of the Constitutional Platform Israel Ilunde told journalists in Dar es Salaam that “the public hearing that never was” was marred by inconveniences, souring the process.

An amendment must be “a public property that should fully involve the citizens from the onset and must have broader views of stakeholders for the betterment of future generations,” said Ilunde.

The Platform is dissatisfied and dismayed by the choice of venues pointing out that it was a deliberate move to cut off the public from presenting their views on a matter that is relevant to the present and future generations, according with the activist.

He said: “It beats any logic how Karimjee Hall in Dar es Salaam (venue of the government) and Msekwa hall in Dodoma (the Parliament) designed to hold less than 500 people could accommodate the general public after running series of advertisements in newspapers.”

Ilunde said the Platform also criticised the short notice given by the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution saying: “It caught the majority off-guard, denying them the opportunity to participate in the debate.”

Similarly, the Platform pointed to the chaos and hecklings witnessed during the public hearings, attributing the trend to lack of preparedness on the part of the Parliamentary committee.

“Even the process to kick-start the constitution review must be all-inclusive. Why block people’s contributions to a process towards the constitutional review process?” queried Ilunde.

Ilunde stressed the need to avoid rushing the process, if the country wanted to formulate a constitution that reflected the will of the people.

According to him, future constitutional review process should be conducted in a peaceful atmosphere where the majority of the people are given opportunity to air their views without external intimidations or political influence.

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