HARARE – Lack of funding and political interference has resulted in most independent commissions set up by government failing to deliver in terms of the Constitution, rendering them useless and a burden to the nation’s fiscus, rights groups have said.
Zimbabwe has several key independent commissions that are aimed at promoting transparency and accountability in public institutions as well as entrenching human rights and democracy.
Among them are; National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), Zimbabwe Media Commission, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, Zimbabwe Gender Commission, Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission as well as the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).
However, these commissions have suffered major setbacks as a result of political interference and lack of funding, which has made it difficult for the organisations to work as independent as they should be.
Meagre budgetary allocations have brought into question the government’s commitment to fighting corruption and accounting for human rights abuses as well as the holding of free and fair elections.
“We are a country with a history of commissions but no commitment to the cause . . . So how do we stop the history of failed commissions and make the NPRC different?” Zimbabwe Human Rights Association questioned recently.
Heal Zimbabwe Trust, on the other hand, called on “ . . . the NPRC to ensure a people-centered peace, truth, justice and reconciliation process brought through an all stakeholders’ consultation process.”
The commissions, established under the country’s supreme law, have largely failed to deliver on their constitutional mandates, with some alleging government could be deliberately starving these institutions financially for selfish gains.
In Zimbabwe, the issues of political violence have been emotive, including the Gukurahundi massacres, where at least 20 000 civilians were reportedly murdered in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces following civil strife in the early 1980s.
Over the years, the Gukurahundi issue has become a perennial problem that has remained unresolved, despite the signing of the Unity Accord between former President Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.
As testimony that the current commissions have done little in bringing national healing, MDC member David Coltart recently started an online petition, demanding the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with Gukurahundi issues.
“We, as Zimbabweans, cannot forget and forgive the immense pain of our fellow countrymen, who have had to personally experience or witness crimes against human beings like torture, murder, disappearances, abductions, beatings, intimidation, forced displacement and homelessness.
“A genocide cannot be assimilated into a Zimbabwean Revival! If the figurehead of suppression has been disempowered, it must be the time to address the darkest times of our experience,” reads part of Coltart’s petition.
Some political leaders, especially in the ruling Zanu PF party, have been accused of acting with impunity to cover up the roles they played in the atrocities that left many children orphaned.
The alleged involvement of political leaders has made it difficult for the commissions to effectively carry out their roles as defined under Chapter 12 of the Constitution.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, in his 2018 budget, said while five of the most crucial independent constitutional commissions were provided for in the Constitution for intentions of good governance, they impose heavy fiscal over-heads which the country cannot bear.
“Currently, the majority of Commissions are set up on an executive basis, and hence, imposing an annual wage bill of around $11,6 million, inclusive of $3,8 million for Commissioners,” Chinamasa said.
But these independent commissions are important in constitutional democracy, as they provide checks and balances in the provision of democracy and human rights. They are also instrumental in the fight against repression, corruption and anti-democratic practices.
“Zimbabwe is yearning for truth and reconciliation and in the midst of that is a cry for peace and forgiveness. Transitional justice is critically important to achieve the national cohesion agenda,” human rights activist Linda Masarira wrote on Twitter.
Over the years, people have also been clamouring for free and fair elections through implementing electoral reforms and the government has not been forthcoming on the issue.
In previous elections, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has been accused of failing to conduct a free and fair election and the incapacity to provide every Zimbabwean with a right to vote.
As it stands, there is an application pending before the Constitutional Court in which those in the Diaspora are seeking permission to be allowed to vote while in the countries they are staying.
While, the focus is on these independent commissions, Zimbabwe has in the past set up commissions to investigate certain atrocities that took place in the past, including the Gukurahundi, which was investigated by the Chihambakwe Commission.
In as far as this document was meant to provide leads on what happened and what needs to be done to address the violence that took place and possibly heal the wounds of the victims, the document was never made public.
Only last month, Ibhetshu LikaZulu secretary-general Mbuso Fuzwayo, Dumisani Mpofu of Masakhaneni Trust and Charles Thomas, a victim of Gukurahundi, filed an application at the Bulawayo High Court seeking the release of the findings of the Commission of Inquiry.
“This is a constitutional application to compel the respondents jointly and severally to release the official findings of the Zimbabwe Commission of Inquiry into the Matabeleland disturbances, also known as Chief Justice Dumbutshena and Justice (Simplicius) Chihambakwe Commissions respectively, and/or alternatively first and second respondents to set up a public inquiry (Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the Gukurahundi genocide) and ensure post-conflict justice, healing, reconciliation and reparation amongst other measures,” Fuzwayo said.
Another Commission of Inquiry into Education and Training led by Cephus Nziramasanga in the education sector has not yet been implemented despite a number of recommendations.
Though there has been an attempt to implement the recommendations, some have been met with resistance from parents.