Commissioners bleeding Zimbabwe


Zimbabwe has six independent constitutional commissions

ONE of the drafters of the country’s new Constitution, former High Court judge, Justice Moses Chinhengo, says he is disappointed that political patronage in Zimbabwe has resulted in government being unable to fund some independent constitutional commissions as some of the members have needlessly become full-time employees of the commissions.
Chinhengo said when they drafted the supreme law of the land over two years ago, it was never envisaged that these commissioners — who are supposed to only give guidelines on policy matters — would end up serving as full-time workers at some of these commissions.
Chinhengo made the uncharitable remarks during a public lecture on the Rule of Law in Harare last week.
“We created a number of commissions, which were supposed to support democracy and the rule of law. It never came into our minds… it was never contemplated… that except for the Human Rights Commission perhaps, these commissions would provide full-time jobs for anyone. It was not for that,” Chinhengo said.
Zimbabwe has six independent constitutional commissions that include the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC), the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) as well as the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission (ZACC).
Some of the board members of these commissions with strong political connections work full time at these institutions.
“These commissions were supposed to have a kind of a lean secretariat, where commissioners would act more or less like board members… they come and hold their meetings, they are paid for attendance, it was never contemplated that they would be commissioners to be employed full time, and that is the reasons, perhaps, why it is becoming very difficult to fund them because the budget becomes bigger if you have to pay the high-powered persons,” said Chinhengo.
“The exception is always the Human Rights Commission… I am not sure about the Gender Commission because it is not so much divorced from the Human Rights Commission. So I am saddened when I realise that these commissions are manned full-time by persons who should otherwise not be there, perhaps they should just leave the chairpersons alone there to run the commissions, you can’t be having 10 to 15 people employed full-time there… what are you doing there?”
He gave an example of ZEC which he said only needs members of its secretariat to undertake the continuous voter registration exercise, with board members only giving directions on policy matters.
“They don’t have to be there everyday, having offices, a big car and perhaps a house and all these things. That was never our intention, but when a system depends of patronage, these jobs are given to commissioner so and so who has been there and has done this and that… and we undermine our institutions, but you can see that there are some commissions that need not have a board of 10 commissioners… even those 10, what are they meeting for, what are they doing everyday to be like full-time employees anyway? If we had realised that this was what was going to happen, we would have recommended that some of the commissions be run like companies…big companies… the members of the board are not milling around the offices everyday. Here we are talking of companies whose budgets run into millions and billions of dollars,” Chinhengo said.
Meanwhile, legal and legislative watchdog, Veritas, say attempts by government to put the country’s independent constitutional commissions under some line ministries for the purpose of funding them is unconstitutional.
The body this week expressed disappointment that in its 2016 budget, government had decided to fund these commissions through different ministries, a move that it says effectively takes away their independence “from control of anybody”.
Section 305 of the Constitution requires separate budget estimates to be given for each of the independent commissions, just like what happens in the case of the Judicial Service Commission and the Civil Service Commission.
“Under this arrangement, the commissions will have their funds channelled through their ‘parent’ Ministry instead of coming straight from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The accounting officer — the official responsible for accounting for the use of the funds — would be the permanent secretary of the parent Ministry,” Veritas observed.
“To put it another way, these commissions will be dependent on the parent Ministry for prompt and efficient transmission of the public funds to which they are entitled under the budget and would have to answer to their parent Ministry for their use of those funds.
“Such a situation of dependency is inconsistent with the constitutional independence of these six commissions. There is too much scope for Ministers and Ministry officials to influence — exercise control over — the commissions. She/he who pays the piper calls the tune.”
In his budget presentation last week, Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, said ZEC and ZHRC would get US$8,3 million and US$1,2 million respectively through the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs; NPRC would get US$100 000 through the Office of the President and Cabinet; the ZGC would get US$150 000 through the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development; ZACC would get US$1,6 million via the Ministry of Home Affairs, while ZMC would get US$351 000 through the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services.

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