Namibians protest another constitutional amendment

 

Windhoek – The second discussion of the Third Constitutional Amendment Bill of 2014 in Namibia’s National Assembly was met with a public mass demonstration on August 12, with protesters calling for the withdrawal of the Bill.

The proposed amendments to the Namibian constitution have caused displeasure among the public, especially with the civil society organisations (CSOs) arguing that the public was not consulted on the matter.

Minister of Presidential Affairs, Albert Kawana, tabled the Bill to change the constitution in Parliament last month.

But CSOs, under the umbrella body Namibian Non-Governmental Organisation Forum (Nangof), are not happy with the number of proposed changes, saying they require extensive general public consultations.

Of particular public concern are the proposals to expand the National Assembly (NA) from 72 to 96 and the National Council from 26 to 42; as well increase the number of presidential appointees to the NA from 6 to 8 and to give these appointees full voting powers.

The Bill also proposes that only 27 percent of the NA would be required to be present to debate when no voting is to take place. Another cause for concern is the proposal that regional governors be given constitutional status, which would effectively entrench their existence as well as seek to create a vice-president to be appointed by the president.

Critics of the changes question why the government is in such a hurry to change the constitution, while some people claim the Bill seeks to concentrate power in the presidency.

The Bill has since pitted SWAPO members of parliament against the opposition, who recently traded verbal jabs, with Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Theo Ben-Gurirab, struggling to bring the House to order.

In his contribution, opposition Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) MP, Heiko Lucks, submitted that the motion was not in the interest of the public and that it is undemocratic to draft a Bill without wide consultation with the public.

The opposition MP charged that most of the proposed changes were attempts to further centralise power, therefore, undermine democracy.

“This Bill was drawn up by an individual under the orders of another individual, which makes its legality and the whole process highly suspicious and rejectable to the nation,” he charged.

He further charged that the proposed parliamentary changes would have cost implications that would have a negative impact on the national budget and service delivery.

Lucks further complained that opposition parties were given little time to make inputs during the consultation process and drawing up of the Bill and called upon Parliament to place the matter on hold to allow full consultation with stakeholders and the public.

The first amendment to the Namibian supreme law was in 1998, to allow for the Namibia’s founding president, Sam Nujoma, to serve a third term in office, as the country’s head of state.

In 2010, the constitution was changed for the second time, among others, to extend the period required for the acquisition of Namibian citizenship by foreign spouses of Namibian citizens and for naturalisation. It further sought alignment of the period of tenure of members of the National Council with those of members of the National Assembly, as well as subjecting the appointment of foreign judges to a fixed-term contract.

The second change also elevated the head of the Prison Service to the rank of Commissioner-General of Correctional Service, and removed the Ombudsman’s powers to investigate corruption matters, which was transferred to the Anti-corruption Commission.

August 2014
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