Constitutional watchdog Veritas-Zimbabwe has called on members of the public and relevant organisations to comment on the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill (MOPO) as parliament invites public comments on the bill.

The Bill seeks to replace the notorious Public Order and Security Act (POSA),  that was being used by the state to suppress citizens’ freedoms of association, expression and the like. Meanwhile, the Bill has been received with dismay as people note  its similarities to the Act it is purported to replace.

Veritas-Zimbabwe says the invitation for public comments on the Bill,, presents opportunity for organisations and individuals with practical experience of POSA in action to share that experience with Members of Parliament (MPs). The watchdog adds that doing so would enable MPs to appreciate the extent to which POSA curtailed their constitutional rights and ensure that the MOPO Bill is amended when it is debated in Parliament, so it is aligned with the Constitution.

The watchdog further advises that during the public submitting.. the following sections should be taken into consideration; (1)  that every person has the right to freedom of assembly and association, and the right not to assemble or associate with others, and (2) that no person may be compelled to belong to an association or to attend a meeting or gathering.

Section 59 Freedom to demonstrate and petition. Every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully. “reasonably and with due regard to the rights and freedoms of other persons” and that although they may be limited by Act of Parliament it is only to the extent that any limitation is: “fair, reasonable and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness justice, human dignity, equality and freedom”.

Veritas-Zimbabwe says the time in between should present the best time to get MPs thinking about new or alternative approaches to how to achieve a constitutionally acceptable balance between those important freedoms set out in section 58 and 59 of the Constitution, and the rights and freedoms of others.  It is important for MPs – indeed, for everyone – to remember that section 86 of the Constitution recognises that the constitutional rights enshrined in sections 58 and 59 must be exercised:

Comments can be submitted to the following e-mail address:  [email protected]  or alternatively, written submissions can be sent or delivered to: The Clerk of Parliament, Parliament of Zimbabwe, Corner Third Street and Kwame Nkrumah, PO Box CY 298, Causeway, Harare. The deadline for receipt of comments is Friday 17th May.

Public hearings on the Bill will be held by the Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services will be held on dates still to be announced.  For any clarification, citizens may get in touch with the Assistant Clerk of Parliament on [email protected].