Heal Zimbabwe expresses deep concern over the announcement by Parliament of Zimbabwe on plans to conduct public hearings on the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill number 2 amid the infinite COVID-19 lockdown. At present the corona virus infection cases in Zimbabwe have risen to 287 infections and 46 recoveries and the country is not well prepared to contain the current rate of infections given the economic crises and shambolic public health system.
Of great concern is how Parliament is going to put in place mechanisms that will ensure that citizens observe social distancing given that lockdown measures restrict big gatherings that exceed 50 people. The announcement by Parliament comes at a time when President Emmerson Mnangagwa on 16 May 2020, announced that the country will continue on level 2 for an indefinite period. Section 4 of Statutory Instrument 110/2020, highlight that gatherings of more than 50 people remain prohibited for an indefinite period.
Given the above, Heal Zimbabwe is appalled at how Parliament plans to conduct public hearings given that the lockdown regulations limit the number of people attending a gathering. Given that the constitution is a national document, the lockdown regulations restrict participation of more citizens. If public hearings are to continue under this situation, there is likelihood of promoting community infections and a spiraling effect on the number of infection rates. Added to this, given past experiences during public hearings, Parliament aptly demonstrated its inadequacies in crowd control. A case in point is the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill (NPRC) hearings conducted in 2017 where the majority of hearings were violently disrupted. Heal Zimbabwe contends that the ill-timed hearings will also expose citizens to the deadly COVID 19 pandemic.
Heal Zimbabwe also views the proposed public hearings during a national lockdown as an attempt to clandestinely smuggle amendments that only seek to strengthen powers of the executive while at the same time ignoring citizen participation. Added to this, the choice for venues of the public hearings is also inhibitive. For example, the schedule for the hearings in Matebeleland North province only has Lupane and yet the Province is home to other districts such as Tsholotsho, Binga and Nkayi.The same can be said for other provinces. Due to the COVID 19 lockdown the economic activities of most citizens were negatively impacted hence it will become difficult for ordinary citizens to incur the cost of travelling long distances to attend public hearings.
In light of this, Heal Zimbabwe implores Parliament to shelve the public hearings and do so when necessary mechanisms and planning is put in place. Parliament must also give civic society and other stakeholders’ ample time to conscientize citizens not only on the bill but attendant implications of the proposed amendments.