LEGAL think-tank Veritas has warned that amending the Constitution to give more powers to the President will put the country at risk of creating a dictatorship.

In their latest Bill Watch publication this week on The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 2) Bill, which was gazetted on December 31, 2019 and is likely to be brought before Parliament in March or April given the 90-day notice period required by the law, Veritas said the President already had extensive powers which did not need further reinforcement.

One of the contentious provisions in the proposed Constitution amendment is an amendment of Chapter 5, which allows presidential candidates to nominate two vice-presidential candidates and for all candidates to be elected together in the same election.

It allows that in the event of the President ceasing to hold office before the end of his or her term, the first VP takes over as President for the remainder of the President’s term, and these provisions were to be implemented in 2023.

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But the Bill to amend the Constitution proposes to replace the provision for elected VPs with a new one under which only the President will be elected; he appoints two VPs, and the VPs will hold office until the President removes them from office.

“The President has wide powers under the Constitution as it is, and when exercising many of them he can use his personal discretion without having to accept the advice of his Cabinet. This is particularly so when he appoints people to posts and offices under the Constitution or any other law,” Veritas said.

“Amending the Constitution to give the President even more powers or to expand the role of the President’s Office risks putting Zimbabwe on the road to a dictatorship.”

Other than creating a dictatorship, Veritas said the Bill also sought to clip Parliament’s oversight on foreign agreements that have fiscal obligations.

“If the Bill is passed by Parliament, it will make a large number of wide-ranging amendments to the Constitution, many of them minor but some very important indeed: for example, one of them will materially limit Parliament’s oversight of foreign agreements that impose fiscal obligations on Zimbabwe,” the legal think-tank said.

If the Bill makes it to Parliament and is passed, it will be the second time that the country’s Constitution has been amended, only six years after its enactment in 2013.

“Formulating the Constitution took five years of wide public consultation, political bargaining and entailed considerable public expense. Zimbabweans are proud of our new Constitution and it was acclaimed internationally. We should not amend it now unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. The Constitution is the supreme law and must not be tinkered with,” Veritas said.