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Concern over exempting judges from public interviews

Part of a cocktail of constitutional amendments, the ZANU-PF-led government is working on, is the removal of the clause providing for judges to be subjected to public interviews prior to their appointment.

According to Section 180 of the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe, considered as one of the most progressive in Africa, whenever it is necessary to appoint a judge, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) must advertise the position; invite the President and the public to make nominations before conducting public interviews of prospective candidates.

The Supreme law stipulates that the JSC must then go ahead and prepare a list of three qualified persons as nominees for the office, and submit the list to the President who must appoint one of the nominees to the office concerned.

The government, however, now wants that done away with, with Justice Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, having said it was not necessary to subject already serving judges to further scrutiny.

This has however not gone down well with some Zimbabweans who are seeing the amendment as a reversal of the gains made in the new Constitution, which repealed the Lancaster House Charter.

Political analyst, Fortune Mlalazi, told CITE, the development was a confirmation of the fact that the Zimbabwean judiciary has always been compromised.

“You would remember that the appointment of judges was compromised during the Mugabe era, hence for some of us who were involved in the constitution-making preferred that route where there are public interviews so that people have confidence in it,” said Mlalazi.

He said public confidence in the judges would further decline if they are to be directly appointed by the President.

Opposition ZAPU national spokesperson, Iphithule Maphosa, said the pursued constitutional amendment was meant to facilitate and sustain “capture of the judiciary by the executive.”

“It is typical of ZANU-PF as this has been the norm under Mugabe,” said Maphosa. “We will witness the deployment of party cadres as ZANU-PF will continue rewarding its members with government and state positions.”

He explained further: “The motive is the capture of state institutions, with the judiciary being the target in this particular instance. The capture will facilitate efforts of power retention by a blatantly failing government of Emmerson Mnangagwa and Lacoste faction of ZANU-PF, to whom constitutionalism and abiding by the law is alien.”

Maphosa bemoaned the amendments the Constitution is being subjected to, adding, the exercise would render it ineffective at the end of the day.

“It is unheard of that a constitution is subjected to over 27 amendments at one go. It is as good as writing another constitution that is only convenient to ZANU-PF and Mnangagwa,” he added.

Sipho Nyoni, also political analyst, said the proposed changes would cause appointed judges to serve at the mercy of the President.

“This then compromises the rule of law and puts into question the meritocracy of our bench and judiciary as a whole as officials will not be elected on merit,” said Nyoni. “Take the example of someone who is fully qualified but is perhaps not pro-government that person will be left out. This is part of the Zanufication of every pillar of the state, part of the grand state capture which ensures ZANU-PF maintains power.”

But Methuseli Moyo, another political analyst, is of a different view.

“It seems as if there are no major changes as it were because even at the end of the day, it was still the President who had the final say,” said Moyo.

“The net effect of the public interviews in the appointment process was never proven. One would argue that the interviews were largely academic, though they gave a semblance of a meticulous process.”

He added: “My view is that the President is the custodian of authority and power in the land, and must, therefore, have the final say. As long as the JSC is involved in the process, I see no problem really.”

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