New constitution: Civil society has taken an active role

The active participation of the Tanzanian civil society has been welcomed by the authorities. Despite of the good work done by the Constitutional Review Commission, several loopholes still need to be addressed.

Teksti: Asna Mshana

As the first draft of the constitution has been released it’s a good time to have a glimpse to the contstitution process so far.Several CSOs in Tanzania have been very active in the constitution making  process by  collecting citizens’ views, creating public awareness as well as  monitoring what is happening within the whole process.This role was particularly given to the Constitution Forum, Jukwaa la Katiba in Kiswahili, established by about 181 CSOs to act as a watchdog during the constitution process.In principle President’s willingness to acknowledge the need for a new constitution came from the citizens’ demand. This demand is rooted in the 2010 general elections results.Since 2010 there have been concerns and demands for new constitution because of the poor elections management, the power position of the President, and the questionable independence of the Electoral Commission of Tanzania, just to mention few.Some of the CSOs were invited to provide expert opinions on issues regarding land, natural resources, human rights, freedom of press and expression, and other organizations to present general opinions.For example Tanzania Natural Resources Forum and Southern African Human Rights NGO Network’s Tanzanian branch presented civil society’s views and opinions about the role of natural resources and environmental issues in the  new constitution.Similarly Civil Society Foundation and HakiArdhi are demanding protection of land and natural resource rights by making land tenure security a constitutional category and not leaving it to normal legislative procedures.***Despite of the Constitutional Review Commission’s (CRC) good work, there were several loopholes raised by civil society organizations, political parties and individuals regarding the constitution process. Lack of aid for disabled people, lack of sign language translation services, political interference, and poor attendance of women are some of the challenges observed.Most of the women were reluctant to give their views. Political interference prevented people from enjoying their freedom of expression, them ending up airing views of their respective party instead.One challenge was that the draft constitution was available only in English despite the fact that less than 20 per cent of Tanzanians speak English, making it difficult or completely impossible for the vast majority to understand the contents of the draft.Shortage of time have been a serious constrain in the constitution making process. For example citizens were given three days to provide their views.Pointing out the same issues the chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) said that the three hour time for the commission to meet with the citizens to collect their views on any given day is far from enough.***The  draft bill was debated within unreasonably restricted and generally technocratic circles and public hearings were only conducted in Dodoma, Dar Es-Salaam and Zanzibar which limits genuine participation of the majority of the citizens.  The hearing process was also interrupted by police who fired tear gas to disperse residents and students in Dodoma. The students were seeking to enter parliament grounds where the public hearing was going on. In Dar es Salaam hearing was canceled after intermittent chanting.There were also widespread protests against the draft bill when Jukwaa la Katiba and other CSOs were against it. As a result the  bill was withdrawn in order to address people’s concerns. The leading opposition party Chadema said the whole process was hijacked by the ruling party. The party also expressed a concern that CRC was working too closely with the government and the office of the President which compromises the commission’s ability to work independently. The political  allegation and religious interference was also raised by the Constitution Forum. Jukwaa la Katiba accused CRC’s senior officials for refusing to appear before a parliamentary committee to clarify some matters.At the end it must be stated that the new constitution is very important as it will be the beginning for new Tanzania: the new constitution will not only affect the political system, but also other spheres of life such as socio- economic factors.The writer works as Kepa’s Programme Advisor in Tanzania.