Seven months after cabinet permitted the Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission Bill to be designed; Parliament through the Joint Portfolio Committee finally wrapped up public hearings that took a week discussing a draft of the bill.
The public hearings started on the 7th of June 2021 and were held in different parts of the country ending on the 11th of June.
A report containing the views of the public will be presented in the National Assembly as required by Section 141 of the constitution of Zimbabwe.
Generally, the bill is a significant development that can be improved in terms of its effectiveness which will largely depend on how independent the commission will be especially in an environment where Zimbabwe’s ruling elite has a tendency of disregarding clearly outlined provisions while on paper seeming to be loyal to those values.
In a notice of amendments submitted to Parliament recently legal think tank Veritas proposed amendments to the Bill suggesting under Clause 7 of Section 2 that ‘whenever it is necessary to appoint the Chairperson of the Commission, the Judicial Service Commission shall advertise the position, invite the public to make nominations, conduct public interviews of prospective candidates and submit list to the President’, whereas the current clause says ‘the President appoints the Chairperson ‘after consultation with’ the JSC for its views and does not have to follow its advice’.
Veritas further recommends in Section 3 of the proposed amendments under the same clause that the Parliament Committee on Standing Rules and Orders should follow a similar all-encompassing procedure when recommending a member of the Commission other than the Chairperson.
To gain public trust the Commission should be independent and crafted in a way that is open to public scrutiny; appointments should not entirely be at the control of the President which might give it a tag as another power amalgamating tool in the making.
Despite noted shortcomings like the lack of independence, not investigating complaints submitted more than three years after the misconduct arose and lack of clarity around the issue of witness protection, a commission that receives and investigates complaints in relation to illegal actions from security services should be good news for media workers and freedom of expression activists who have for the most part experienced unlawful arrests, torture, and harassment.
Journalist Leopold Munhende commented, “The bill will function if it is adhered to, the challenge is we have people who are not committed to following enacted laws, even after passing this bill into law there are some overzealous police and intelligence operatives who will still want to harass us”.
“We hope our grievances will be part of the final bill” added Munhende.
When it is finally passed into law the bill will pave way for the establishment of the Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission which will have sufficient powers to investigate complaints against the security services sector bringing into effect Section 210 of the 2013 Constitution which says ‘An Act of Parliament must provide an effective and independent mechanism for receiving and investigating complaints from members of the public about misconduct on the part of members of the security services, and for remedying any harm caused by such misconduct’.
It is unfortunate that it had to take so many years of grave human rights abuse for laws that protect citizens to be recognized despite a past of glaring human rights violations.