Commissions: Are they toothless?


THE new Constitution creates six independent commissions in order to support democracy and ensure that a culture of democracy, justice and swift service delivery is upheld.

These independent commissions include the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, The Zimbabwe Media Commission, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.

The critical question is whether these commissions are going to function effectively and independently given the current monolithic political architecture.

The hard truth we have to ponder is whether Zanu PF can and will interfere with the operations of these commissions.

While Section 235 of the Constitution postulates the independence of the commissions, it is critical to consider the political environment within which the independent commissions exist and how far the incumbent political leaders will allow them to exercise their independence.

Quite clearly on paper the Constitution gives the commissions a fair measure of independence by entrenching the following provisions in Chapter 12 Section 235:

  • The independent commissions are independent and are not subject to the control of anyone,
  • The commissions must act in accordance with the Constitution,
  • They must exercise their functions without fear or favour.

However, they are accountable to Parliament in their activities and Parliament is currently dominated by Zanu PF which previously has shown an aversion for democracy.

Will the independent commissions be, therefore, allowed to be independent? Can a Zanu PF government for example allow the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission to function effectively given the State’s history of human rights violations, impunity and organised violence?

My guess is the government will allow these commissions to exist as a form of political convenience and ornamental democracy. They may be allowed to whine and bark, but be denied the teeth to really carry out their core mandates.

Independence is justified by a number of factors including but not limited to the following:

  • Methodology of appointment of commissioners,
  •  Integrity of individual commissioners,
  • Funding,
  •  Support staff
  • Enabling subsidiary legislation,
  • A strong and independent judiciary,
  • A objective Parliament,
  • An enabling political environment and
  • A citizenry that demands results from commissions.

Most of the appointments of the commissions are done by the president from lists submitted by the parliamentary committee on standing rules and orders. They can be said to be fair, but not totally independent.

However, most of the individuals in the commissions currently appear to be competent men and women. But as we all know, even if the commissions were to be run by angels and saints, they would still fail in the absence of an enabling implementing infrastructure and a conducive super structure.

These commissions will all be mere democratic decorative monuments if not adequately staffed or funded. They should have a vote from the national budget if the government is serious about operationalising them.

We wait with bated breath to see whether Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa will allocate anything to the commissions.

This will be a sure indicator of the presence or absence of political will.
The commissions themselves have to be pro-active an go out of their way to engage the public in order to be relevant.

I doubt that many people know that the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission exists besides activists and political parties and yet this institution exists to protect the rights of ordinary Zimbabweans.

The commissions will fail to deliver on their mandates without adequate power to carry out their duties through supporting and enabling legislation.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission exists on paper for example, but has not been formed and neither is there a legal framework for it to function effectively.

There is also need for enabling legislation for the Zimbabwe Gender Commission as well within the context of instruments such as the Convention for The Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and other international and regional covenants on gender equity.

The commissions will also fail to deliver in the absence of a strong and independent judiciary which adequately interprets the Constitution. They will also fall short if other organs and structures such as the National Prosecuting Authority and the police do not carry out their roles of prosecuting and upholding the law respectively.

As Zimbabweans, we have a role to play as well by ensuring that on the demand side we bring our issues to the commissions. Whether or not they do anything is another thing, but we need to keep them on their toes.

It remains to be seen whether the commissions will be “pie in the sky or steak on the plate”.


 Dumisani Nkomo is an activist and opinion leader