The Constitution Open Forum took place on 30th September, 2014 at the TGNP grounds in Mabibo, Dar es Salaam drawing over 400 activists and Civil Societies from various regions such as Morogoro, Moshi, Mbeya, Singida, Mara, Shinyanga and Dar es Salaam.
The forum was jointly organized by TGNP and the Women and Constitution Coalition with three main objectives which were; to understand the key issues that transpired during the Constitution making process and new draft Constitution as proposed by the Constituent Assembly, to facilitate a public debate on the key issues that emerged in the draft Constitution and to facilitate and jointly plan strategies focusing on the remaining processes for constitution making; Local and General elections of 2014 and 2015 respectively.
The panel consisted of Ms. Ruth Meena, Ms. Lilian Liundi and Ms. Usu Mallya.
Ms. Ruth Meena commenced the panel discussions by highlighting the positive issues that featured in the third draft constitution. The Twelve Issues that the Women and Constitution Coalition were demanding for inclusion in the new constitution were highlighted and those that succeeded to be included were pinpointed. Some of those include: the definition of the age of a child, where the draft constitution states that a child is a person below the age of eighteen. She also said that the draft constitution mentions that a political party that does not include principles of gender equality (specifically- fifty fifty ratio between its members) in leadership will not be recognized.
Another big issue which has been included in the draft constitution was equal right between women and men to obtain and own land. This is a great success for the Women and Constitution Coalition since it has been a plea among women for many years. She also talked about the Draft Constitution promoting a fifty fifty ratio between men and women in the parliament. The draft Constitution has stated that each Constituency should have two members of parliament, one a man and another woman.
While presenting the gaps of the third draft constitution, Ms. Usu Mallya started by saying, “The process of demanding for our issues to be included in the new constitution unified women of all ages and all professions. We were able to get support from women activists, women members of parliament and even women ministers”.
The gaps highlighted include the issue of members of parliaments still being allowed to become ministers as limiting their ability to engage in issues related to their constituencies, since they will be required run their respective ministries. She further pinpointed out that once a member of parliament becomes a minister, he/she will not be able will not be able to carry out his/her duties effectively due to conflict of interest.
Another gap was the criteria of becoming a member of parliament, where she said, ’’In section 135 of the third draft constitution that states the minimum criteria for becoming a member of parliament is having the ability to read and write in Swahili is insufficient. This is because a member of parliament is mandated with a big responsibility to represent the citizens in issues related to economic, social, political and cultural aspects of the nation. Members of parliament have a big role to play in decision making including analyzing contracts”. Ms. Mallya said the draft constitution has taken away citizens’ mandate to hold members of parliament accountable when they do not deliver.
Ms. Lilian Liundi wrapped up the panel discussion by talking about steps the Women and Constitution Coalition will take once the draft constitution once the voting process is over. She first explained that if the draft constitution will be voted for by the members of the Constituent Assembly, awareness building campaigns aimed at citizens will be conducted so as to make them aware and understand issues included in the third draft constitution.
“We will make a press release demanding the authorities in charge of the Constitution making process to clearly state how they will amend the current constitution” said Ms. Liundi. She also mentioned priority areas that the Women and Constitution Coalition demand to be rectified in the 15th amendment of the current constitution. These demands include; recognition of independent candidates in the new constitution. This is important because it will give women and people living with disabilities the opportunity to run for presidency. They also demand the constitution of 1977 to include a section binding political parties to fifty fifty ratio between men and women members of their parties in various political leadership positions. Ms. Liundi also wanted the current constitution to include the issue of citizens holding their members of parliament accountable once they do not deliver expected
The discussions were then opened to the floor where strategies to make sure the positive issues that have been included in the new constitution are not removed. Participants gave various suggestions including ensuring that a fifty fifty ratio between women and men in leadership positions is observed by women running for various leadership positions during the coming general elections. Support was sought from community members to support women candidates. Other suggestions include wide use of the media and for participants to go back and educate their communities about issues discussed so as to increase the awareness.