Equip citizens with constitutional knowledge to curb Govt mischief

Equip citizens with constitutional knowledge to curb Govt mischief

By Joel Mandaza

Last week, the Zimbabwean political debate was intensely consumed with the land question.

It had appeared as if the Zimbabwean government under President Emmerson Mnangagwa was giving land back to white farmers.

As expected, there were frenzied debates, think-pieces and media interviews.

The ensuing chaos was a product of two variables.

Firstly, Zanu PF had long held an uncompromising stance on the land question.

In the party’s public arguments led by the late former President Robert Mugabe equating the formulation or honouring of any corrective concession to selling out or reversing the gains of the land reform.

Zanu PF’s stubbornness on land issue

Zimbabwe went through a gruelling two decades of sanctions because of Zanu PF’s stoicism and stubbornness on the land issue.

They ignored pre-existing agreements which caused tension with the international community who queried the country’s attitude towards property rights.

The government took even land which was previously protected under what is known as the BIPPA agreement.

Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPAs) are special agreements between governments meant to protect citizen investment in foreign lands.

Essentially, the businesses will be protected from internal dynamics.

Zimbabwe had BIPPAS with countries like Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Malaysia and Switzerland.

All these theatrics with protected land had one effect, Zimbabwe ended up facing isolation from the international community.

After parcelling out the protected land, Zanu PF has sought to appease the Western through opening the negotiation door.

The government is inviting farmers who were displaced

Turns out the process which was instituted, to allow farmers whose land fell under the (BIPPAS) agreement to re-apply with prospects of being given their farms back.

According to Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube there will be considerations to the practicability of the land restitution.

Those who will not be able to get their land back will be allocated new land elsewhere.

The issue is the government has over the years created a reputation of being conservative with the truth and this becomes one of the instances where their true nature shows self.

How many farms are under BIPPAs?

There is no clarity on how many farms in Zimbabwe fall under the BIPPA classification.

In 2009, a group of 40 Dutch farmers took Zimbabwe to the International Court for the Settlement of International Investment Disputes and won the land dispute.

Zimbabwe was ordered to give a US$25 million settlement to the farmers and it is yet to be given, meaning the farmers form the group of those eligible to receive a payout.

This immediately put into doubt claims by authorities in Zimbabwe that there are only 37 farms under BIPPA.

If 40 farmers won against the Zimbabwean government in court, what happened to the other three?

If Zimbabwe has BIPPA farm agreements with more than five countries, how come the total number of farms is lesser than applicants from a single country Netherlands?

In 2013, a Ministry of Lands official, Mr Dzinoreva told Parliament that 197 BIPPA farms were acquired to create A1 and A2 farms.

How the number shrunk to 37 is a work of magic only the Zimbabwean government can explain.

The veracity of the numbers can be subject of another article and debate.

The crux of the matter is; government has since argued that it is acting in accordance with the provisions of the 2013 Zimbabwean constitution.

Section 295(1) as read with Section 72 (3a) obliges Zimbabwe to compensate for improvements and developments on the acquired land.

In a recent radio interview, constitutional law expert Professor Lovemore Madhuku said despite the outcry, Zimbabweans should carry their crosses.

Zimbabweans dont know their constitution

“It is a Zimbabwean problem, people do not know what is in the constitution despite voting for it in 2013. And there is a tendency to actually get surprised when they are told that something is in the constitution,” he said.

He said the constitution provided for the compensation of improvements and land which was protected under BIPPAs ought to be returned of compensated.

Madhuku’s observation raised a critical but often ignored point, Zimbabweans do not know their constitution.

During the constitutional making process, there were a lot of political compromises made, Zanu PF and MDC campaigned its adoption.

Zimbabweans voted “yes” to what is known as the new constitution, which replaced the Lancaster House constitution of 1979.

However, the surprise on the land issue betrays ignorance on this document which is now governing Zimbabwean lives.

Despite the little knowledge that people have on intricate details in their constitution, one wonders why Parliament is in a rush to ratify a document only known by a few?

At the start of the Second Session of the 9th Parliament, President Mnangagwa announced about 27 bills to be brought in line with the new constitution.

Ordinarily, one would expect that Parliamentarians would go with skeletal provisions to the people they represent so that they give input into the matter.

However it appears like legislators in Zimbabwe assume that the piecemeal consultations done merely to tick boxes by Parliament are enough.

This is how people end up with laws that surprise them as suggested by Professor Madhuku.

Legislators sleeping on duty: Equip citizens with constitutional knowledge to curb Govt mischief

Legislators in their lawmaking role are no longer going back to the people for ideas. They are arguing from points of privilege assuming that they know better than the people they represent.

There is a disconnection in the engagement between legislators and their constituents.

Lawmakers, should report back to the people who voted them into office informing them of the nature of laws the constitution carries, their interpretation as well as applicability.

But it appeared that some legislators did not even know that the provision existed and expecting them to break it to the mandating electorate would be a tall order.

Constitutional language is by no means easy language; even the learned can get vexed by it.

After the signing of the constitution into law, there needed to be a whole Parliament outreach program meant to ensure citizens are well informed on the basics of the constitution.

Had that happened, the land issue which is a key component of the Zimbabwean constitution would have been treated with familiarity by the electorate.

MPs serving selfish needs

Instead of straining their voices asking for fuel, gym and other superfluous requirements not commensurate with the public servitude they promised during their campaigns, they should have put up spirited fights for funding to decrypt the supreme law to people.

The taxpayer will be more willing to fund the process of ensuring that everyone including those in the remotest of areas in the country gets clear and concise explanations of what the constitution carries.

As it stands, there is opacity around the constitution and its provisions.

This makes it easy for the ruling party to cherry pick elements of the constitution which serves them under the guise of compliance as has happened on the land issue.

With the government already seeming to be understating the number of beneficiaries under BIPPA, one cannot help but wonder why Section 295 of the Zimbabwean constitution is suddenly a priority. What is the catch?

It is hard for citizens to put pressure on authorities when they do not know the background or legal provisions. People should be taught about the constitution and the land question is a good place to start.

Our Parliamentarians are our last hope, they can and must do better.

Equip citizens with constitutional knowledge to curb Govt mischief

Equip citizens with constitutional knowledge to curb Govt mischief

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