PRESS RELEASE-Zimbabwe Constitutional Thematic Committee Ignores Environmental Issues
The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) noted with great concern a number of initial missteps by the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) and the Thematic Committee on Land, Natural Resources and Empowerment in their quest to prepare questions and discussion points for the constitutional reform public consultation and outreach programme. The first meetings of the Thematic Committee on Land, Natural Resources and Empowerment were held on the 11th -13th of January 2010. ZELA’s concerns are twofold; the first is the unbalanced composition of the thematic committee. The second is the lack of prioritization of critical environmental questions and discussions points/questions during the discussions as summarized in the report of the thematic committee.
An analysis of the composition of the Thematic Committee clearly indicates that the majority of the members are parliamentarians from the two MDCs and ZANU PF. Apart from MPs the committee meetings were attended by chiefs and traditional leaders, a sizable number of political party functionaries and a number of civil society activists from the land and agricultural sector. Only one representative from the community based natural resources management sector attended. Sadly, no one from the environmental protection sector either from specialized government departments or civil society was invited by COPAC. This is despite the fact that names of environmentalists were submitted to COPAC through the Civil Society Constitutional Coordinating Mechanisms operating under the auspices of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO). Yet the environmental institutions and individuals that were left out have a better and more intimate understanding of key issues around environmental and natural resources conservation and protection and would have enriched the discussions. As will be outlined below, the failure by COPAC to include environmentalists negatively affected and impoverished the deliberations of the thematic committee as well as the content of the discussion points that were raised during the meeting.
From the report of the meeting, it is evident that the composition of the thematic committee influenced and impinged on the content of the questions and discussion points that were raised. Although there is no doubt that the land question is a critical issue in Zimbabwe, the discussions of the thematic committee mainly centred on land and agriculture. In the end the majority of the questions raised were heavily biased towards land and agriculture at the detriment of other sectors like environmental protection, natural resources management and empowerment. To give the numbers, a total of 21 questions or discussion points were raised and agreed on. Out of that 15 questions are based on the land issue, 3 on natural resources, 3 on empowerment and only 1 on the environment. The thematic committee appears to have been more interested in the land issue at the expense of other issues like empowerment, natural resources and environment. The environmental question that was raised clearly shows lack of appreciation and understanding of environmental protection issues by members of the thematic committee as it is limited in scope and not open enough to generate more information from the public during the consultations. It appears that the majority of the members of the committee did not bother to think about the environmental problems being faced by people living in towns and cities caused by poor environmental service delivery (water shortages, poor waste collection, air pollution etc). The ghost of the cholera outbreak in 2008 should have reminded them of the need to treat environmental protection as an equally important issue that merits more discussion points and questions. What the thematic committee missed is the need for the public to be consulted on their environmental interests and views. In that regard, the appropriate questions were not raised. If this gap is not addressed it may result in the production of a half-baked product.
What ZELA Demands
The following are ZELA’s key demands to ensure that the process and content of the constitutional reform generate adequate and credible information on environmental protection from the public;
• Reconstitute the thematic committee and include environmentalists and natural resources management experts who can guide discussions on the key questions for the outreach programme
• If it is not possible to reconstitute the team, then subject the discussion points or questions to public scrutiny by publishing them in newspapers so that members of the public can make comments on them.
• Further, if the above is not possible the other alternative is to bring together a team of experts from the land, environment, natural resources and empowerment sector to further review and synthesise the questions and discussion points. • In the above context, the thematic committee should reconsider the questions and discussion points and include the following issues for public consultation and discussion; (a) Should there be a right for people to live in a clean environment that does not cause harm to health? (b) What environmental services should people be entitled to? (c) Do people want access to environmental information to be included in the Constitution? (d) Do people want to be involved in environmental decision making processes? (e) What environmental principles should be included in the new constitution? (Examples include: polluter pays, sustainable development and environmental impact assessments)