The Sunday Mail
THE last two weeks have been particularly busy for Parliament’s Committee on Standing Rules and Orders (CSRO).
On July 3, the committee interviewed 23 candidates shortlisted to fill the four vacancies in the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.
On Friday, another group of 18 people underwent interviews for an opportunity to serve on the Zimbabwe Media Commission.
There are eight vacancies in the ZMC.
These two key events had been delayed by the nationwide lockdown occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Vacancies on the ZHRC were triggered by the expiry of terms of four former founding commissioners: Dr Ellen Sithole, Mr Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, Ms Kwanele Jirira and Dr Joseph Kurebwa.
The departure of the four had left the ZHRC severely handicapped.
It was left with only four commissioners, out of a full complement of nine.
The remaining four commissioners did not constitute a quorum of five required by law and thus the commission could not hold meetings or adopt its reports.
The ZMC, on the other hand, has not had commissioners since the resignation of the chairperson and commissioners in December 2014.
Which means two of the five Chapter 12 Independent Commissions have been virtually inactive for some time and could not dispense their constitutional duties.
The other commissions are the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
Now, Chapter 12 Commissions are the cornerstone of our constitutional democracy.
They represent a fundamental building block of the Zimbabwean democracy.
Their functions include, but are not limited to, supporting and entrenching human rights and democracy, promoting constitutionalism and promoting transparency and accountability in public institutions.
They also enforce the observance of democratic values by the State.
Critically, the commissions are responsible for ensuring that injustices are remedied.
The Constitution obligates the commissions to exercise independence and to act without fear or favour.
And they are only accountable to Parliament.
Without these commissions, the State and its institutions can trample on our Bill of Rights and exercise impunity.
The fact that these two institutions were inoperative presented a real danger to our credentials as a democracy.
Thus, reconstituting them with speed cannot be overemphasised.
Observing the ZHRC interviews was in itself an eye-opener.
Firstly, it was the calibre of the interviewees that are at times quite uninspiring.
Some of the individuals interviewed appeared flavourless and in some cases unknowledgeable.
In terms of the Constitution, commissioners must be chosen for their integrity and competence in administration, their knowledge, and understanding of human rights issues and the best practices in media matters.
Some of the interviewees clearly did not fit the above description.
This probably calls into question the vetting process carried out by the CSRO prior to the interviews. These interviews must not be free for all, where anyone can waltz in for a shot at glory, however unlikely.
Secondly, the line of questioning by the CSRO panel at times did not inspire any confidence.
Some of the questions were not pointed enough and there were barely any attempts to pose follow-up questions. One would expect interviews for such important bodies to be the stuff of classic Hollywood.
In interviews for such critically important bodies, we would expect the CSRO to be more vigorous.
These interviews should not be walks in the park on a warm summer day, but unfortunately, it appeared so for some of the interviewees.
On their part, Parliamentarians should make an effort to acquaint themselves with the specific subject matter and further sharpen their interviewing techniques.
I have, in the past, observed public interviews for senior Judges conducted by the Judicial Service Commission panel and they are the stuff of legend.
No chancer would dare sit before such an aggressive committee. The JSC interviews are more intense and not for the faint-hearted.
Interviewees are put under the microscope and taken to task over words they have uttered and actions they have taken in their adult lives.
The 2016 JSC interviews for aspiring High Court judges are a case in point.
During the interviews, four of the candidates literally walked out of the waiting room before they could come face to face with the interviewing panel out of apparent fear of embarrassment.
A written test exercise carried out prior to the interviews also witnessed 29 of the aspiring High Court Judges failing to write a judgment, an elementary skill that every judge must possess.
“In view of the poor performance by most of the candidates during the pre-interview assessment exercise, I am calling upon all those who did not pass this elementary exercise to introspect and decide on whether they want to proceed with the interviews or wait until they are ready and can pass this preliminary hurdle,” commented then Chief Justice, the late Godfrey Chidyausiku prior to the public interviews.
Having done away with the interviews, the CSRO must now prepare a list of nominees for appointment from those interviewed.
The list will then be submitted to the President who must appoint new commissioners from the list.
May the best men/women win!
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