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New Constitution: Let us encourage the President to build Consensus!

New Constitution: Let us encourage the President to build Consensus!

According to press reports, some ruling party MPs were not happy with the move to amend the Bill because, among other disputed factors, the amendments were conceived by the ruling party caucus as too "accommodating" to the opposition!

One of the major opposition parties in Parliament had sought and achieved audience with the President to express their misgivings on an earlier constitutional review bill. They had earlier boycotted debate in the House reportedly on the grounds that the Bill had been hushed without affording people to air their views.

The misgivings of the opposition party on the initial amendment bill was on the factor of the district commissioners (governors) (normally presidential appointees) being assigned to oversee the process of opinion sampling from the people on the new Constitution instead of civil servants per se.

Now the Constitutional Review Act 2012 Amendment Bill endows the process of overseeing opinion sampling from the people directly to District/Regional Development Directors who are civil servants per se and not political appointees like district/regional commissioners. This is said to be a concession that has the blessings of the President and is now enshrined in the new amendment to which the ruling party caucus is reportedly uncomfortable.

Now, if press reports that the ruling party caucus in Parliament is unhappy just because the new inputs in the constitutional review bill has taken into account the views of the opposition are true, then we have a problem here.

We have a problem because MPs, regardless of the tickets of their respective political parties, should be the first to know the role of a President anywhere. Another factor that is to be presumed that MPs know only too well is the meaning of the basic law of the land, otherwise known as the Constitution.

A constitution is certainly not a partisan affair. Any constitution anywhere takes into account the interests of a given society of a given country, both in the short and long term. It  does embrace the will of a given people on how they want to live and be governed. It is a basic law that takes into account the interests of a given country, both in its present and future generations.

However, one of the most glaring limitations of the current Constitution of the United Republic is that it bestows too many powers on the President of the day without checks and balances. There are no oversight processes on presidential appointments either of ministers, governors (district/regional commissioners) or ambassadorial positions.

In the Tanzanian context, how does one reject a charge that district commissioners are actually cadres of the ruling party and they are there to ensure the triumph of the interests of the ruling party especially at election time? This is just one observation on the current Constitution in place. One can observe other limitations. So in this process of rewriting the Constitution of this country, then we need, first and foremost to be accommodative to alternative views. A President, given the weight and far-reaching impact of his office needs to be the first to listen to alternative views especially when they relate to the destiny of the country.

This is what President Kikwete did when he received a delegation from one of the major opposition political parties who went to sound their views on the constitutional amendment Bill. The role of the President anywhere is to build consensus from all shades of opinion from the people he leads. I am sure our President was aware that the views he had listened to and perhaps consented would not be final on their own. They would be subjected to debate in parliament anyway!

But here then comes an all-important question: Should we expect members of Parliament of the ruling party of this country to reject anything no matter how sound and sensible just because such ideas emanate from the opposition?  Is it an act of enmity in this country for one to belong to an opposition party? Is it 'unpatriotic' to reject ideas just because the one giving those ideas belongs to an opposition party?

Assuming the President found some sense in the points of view of the delegation that went to see him, has he now become member of that opposition political party?! One needs not over-emphasize the importance of the agenda now before this country: re-writing the Constitution. One needs all views, whether sounded by persons one likes or dislikes, the opposition or otherwise, isn't it? This country belongs to us all, isn't it?

In the intervening period however, I have noted a very healthy trend in this country -- people attending funerals of the deceased regardless of their political affiliation.  The other day, we saw top leaders, mingling together; both from the opposition and ruling party, attending the funeral of a fallen opposition lady member of parliament as we saw them at the funeral of another one belonging to the ruling party. This is as it should be. It underlines the maturity and solidarity of a given nation.

On the same breath, therefore, our members of parliament from all political parties should be the first to understand and appreciate when the President accedes to the point of view of other people, even if they are from the opposition.  People from the opposition are as patriotic as any other, and have the interests of this country at heart, and not anything else!

E-mail: makwaia@bol.co.tz


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