Bill to ‘shield’ leaders from prosecution queried

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs Prof Sifuni Mchome.

What you need to know:

Activists and civil society groups have expressed discontent over a bill that seeks, among other things, to protect top national leaders from prosecution, saying it will bar people from holding their leaders accountable.

Dodoma/Dar. Lawyers and Civil Society groups yesterday expressed concern over a Bill that seeks to shield the sitting president and other national leaders from prosecution, saying the changes would create a class of government officials, who are above the law.

The Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No.3) 2020, which was read for the first time in Parliament on Friday is now open for public discussion.

The Parliament’s Permanent Committee on the Constitution and Legal Affairs is collecting views from stakeholders about a draft on Act of amending various laws.

The deadline for collection of views was yesterday. The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs Prof Sifuni Mchome, said they were waiting for Bunge to decide on the draft.

Through the amendments, the parliament seeks to revise some sections and/or add some new ones with the aim of enhancing clarity and/or aligning with the Constitution. The draft also proposes section 115 of the Act on running the Parliament should be amended. It proposes that the authority of forming departments, divisions and units of Parliament should be approved by president.

The yet to-be- amendments aim to observe the conditions of article 87 (1) about the authority and powers of appointing Bunge’s secretary.

The document also aims to abolish the position of the deputy Commissioner General for Immigration as the position has been struck off the structure of Immigration.

It will grant immunity to the president, yet there is already an Act that protects a person who has held a powerful position against prosecution over offences committed by that particular person after tenure of office.

The Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Centre for Strategic Litigation (CSL), Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), Twaweza East Africa have argued in a joint statement that they have been accorded a limited time to analyse the proposed amendments and give their views.

“Most of the proposed amendments are unsubstantiated and directly contravene the Constitution,’’ they said in a statement issued yesterday as they submitted their views. The rights groups argue that the principal of separation of powers is violated in the proposed amendments.

“The basic foundation of any democratic society are the three institutions of government: the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive all working independently to hold each other accountable for performance, delivery and ethics,” they said, adding: “The Amendment of The Laws Revision Act, (CAP. 4) and the Amendment of The National Assembly (Administration) Act, (CAP. 115) give the President and the Attorney General undue mandate over parliamentary business.”

“The President is the Head of the Executive and as such should not be allowed to determine the conduct of the affairs of the National Assembly. It is the independence of the arms of government that ensures their efficient function,’’ they added.

“Allowing for this undue interference tampers with the Legislature’s capacity to hold the Executive to account and violates parliamentary supremacy as provided for by Article 63 of the constitution,’’ they noted.

Mr Onesmo Olengurumwa, the THRDC director, says the proposed amendments have serious implications on the rights of people and the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977,”

Mr Olengurumwa argued that in the amendments proposed to the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act, (CAP. 3) and the Law Reform (Fatal Accidents and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, (CAP. 310), citizens are denied the opportunity to directly hold their national leaders accountable through the courts of law. He joints CSOs in raising concerns that the Bill creates a class of government officials who are above the law in contravention of Article 13 of our constitution. The proposed amendments do not provide any justification for “enhanced immunity” of the named officials.