TSP scorecard | Two years later: Political reforms on paper, but not in deed

Hundreds were arrested in protests, January 2019 (pic: AP/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

When he launched the Transitional Stabilisation Programme in 2018, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said his economic recovery plan would need to be underpinned by governance reforms.

According to the TSP: “The values and objectives that anchor the aspirations of Vision 2030 recognise good governance as the bed-rock for a new democratic and developmental Zimbabwe. These values are enshrined in the Constitution, and the new Dispensation commits to live by them, never overstepping its mandate.”

Since then, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has indeed changed and repealed some laws that have long been used for political repression. However, removing those repressive laws has not really stopped repression, as envisaged under the TSP.

Ncube has been keen to show his fiscal successes. However, these have been overshadowed by the slow pace of reform on the political front.

Here, newZWire gives an assessment of some of the key political reforms promised by the TSP.

Alignment of laws: outstanding

Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013. Years later, many laws are still to be changed to make sure they comply with that Constitution. The “alignment of laws” has been a buzzword for seven years.

Under the TSP, government pledged: “The alignment of the remaining statutes to the Constitution will be completed over the next twelve months.”

According to Ncube, by the end March 2020, 144 laws had been amended out of 183 that needed alignment. Some of the delays, government officials say, have been caused by the lack of legal drafters in the Attorney-General’s office.

POSA: Old wine?

The TSP pledged to repeal the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). On 15 November last year, the Maintenance of Peace and Order (MOPO) Act was signed into law, repealing POSA.

MOPO matches similar security laws in the UK or South Africa, particularly on crowd control. However, according to legal watchdog Veritas, MOPO “is not new wine in an old bottle: it is the same old wine in the same old bottle with a new label stuck on it.”

Beyond repealing POSA, political reform had to be done in practice. It has not. The actions of the government when challenged by protesters show that changing laws is not enough; standout events are August 1 in 2018, when the army shot and killed six people, and January 2019, when security forces brutally put down protests that erupted after government dropped fuel subsidies, causing prices to rise by 150%.

An internet shutdown during the protest also alarmed many Zimbabweans and rights groups.

[CLICK | ZW View – A Govt running austerity measures shouldn’t be this surprised by protests. It should expect them]

Media reforms: Still gagged

According to the TSP: “In moving away from the past, Vision 2030 pronounces commitment to the promotion of tolerance and freedom of speech and association, and extension of mutual cooperation among different political parties, that way setting the necessary tone for tolerance and co-existence among people of diverse opinion.”

To achieve this, TSP pledged to repeal the notorious Access to Information and Protection of  Privacy Act  (AIPPA). This was achieved on July 1, 2020. It was a key milestone, with the gazetting of new laws in AIPPA’s place; the Freedom of Information Bill, the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and the Protection of Personal Information/Data Protection Bill.

The Freedom of Information Bill, according to Veritas, is “certainly better than those of AIPPA which the Bill will replace, and will give members of the public greater access to information held by public bodies.”

Police arrest journalist Leopold Munhende as he filmed a union protest in Harare, August 2019 (pic: 263Chat)

However, the repeal of AIPPA has not brought freedom of the press or of expression.

According to data from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 60 people have been arrested and prosecuted on charges of “insulting and undermining the authority of the President” since Mnangagwa took office in 2017.

In 2019, media freedom lobbyists Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) reported 27 violations against journalists, including 12 assaults. Between March and June this year, under the COVID-19 lockdown, 25 journalists and media workers were either arrested, assaulted or harassed.

The arrest of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on charges of inciting violence, and the abduction and assault of the nephew of journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu, further undermined the credibility of government’s promises.

Zimbabwe ranks 126 out of 180 countries on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.

In repealing AIPPA, the TSP kept its promises. However, the government has broken its promise to actually guarantee press freedom and free expression.

Devolution: slow progress

The TSP promised “legislation to give effect to the devolution of governmental powers and responsibilities to Provincial and Metropolitan Councils and Local Authorities.”

Under Section 2 of the Constitution, central government must cede some authorities to provincial councils. In 2018, Cabinet approved principles of the Provincial Councils and Administration (Amendment) Bill to make this possible. It is yet to become law.

However, the government has recently launched the Devolution and Decentralisation Policy while Treasury has allocated budgets to councils under the devolution plan; ZWL$657 million in 2019 and a projected ZWL$2.9 billion this year.