- Assembly postponed after melee, resumes later
CONSTITUENT Assembly Interim Chairman Pandu Ameir Kificho was on Thursday forced to postpone the assembly, less than two hours after it had started after it turned into a melee.
It all started after a verbal exchange between Mr Christopher Ole Sendeka and Mr Abubakar Khamis Bakari, who is also the Zanzibar Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, turned personal.
Mr Bakari stood up to point out to the chair that members whose schedule of amendments were late or are not in the list provided by the committee should not be allowed to contribute to the Standing Orders to save time.
Right before Mr Bakari’s comment, CA member Mr Ole Sendeka had stood up to make his contribution to the SOs and the interim chairman had called on Ms Ummy Mwalimu to make her contribution. Ms Mwalimu was also not in the list.
Mr Ole Sendeka stood up to defend himself and the other members, including Ms Mwalimu, noting that they had forwarded their schedule of amendments on time and if there was any miscommunication then it was between the secretariat and the committee appointed to guide the chairman on the standing orders.
Mr Ole Sendeka said he is knowledgeable about standing orders and the procedures that guide parliament’s business, adding that he knew his rights and when to present schedule of amendments to the Secretariat.
“Together with my colleagues, we sat and analysed the same point and you have been mentioning my name and that of Ms Mwalimu and Mr Peter Serukamba. If our points are hurting some people, (shoutings from the floor) our task is to present the schedule of amments to the secretariate and not Mr Bakari,’’ he charged.
“If Mr Abubakar has his own party and my comments are hurting him, he should stand up and declare interest,” Mr Ole Sendeka said amid shouts from other members.
Mr Kificho promptly chipped in and admonished Mr Ole Sendeka for his harsh words, only falling short of asking him to apologise to Mr Bakari.
He urged members to refrain from leaning on their political party’s stands, stressing that if he persisted, the assembly will never move forward from its present task.
“It is not right to start pointing fingers at each other because one is CCM, Chadema or CUF, NCCR-Mageuzi. Ole Sendeka, on this you went too far,” he said, while other members could be heard in the background shouting and demanding that he (Ole Sendeka) should apologise.
However, when he provided an opportunity for Mr Bakari to speak, he said that his explanation on the issue was for the benefit of the parliament and the nation.
He added that according to procedures, once the deadline for bringing the schedule of amendment has passed, it is not allowed to bring more names, noting that the names were not in the list given by the secretariat.
“I don’t think…I don’t think Mr Ole Sendeka has enough experience than I have…I have been in parliament since 1980…for 34 years. I don’t think someone from Simanjiro with only 10 years of experience, can come here and say he knows about standing orders,” Mr Bakari told the all-roaring assembly.
Right after Mr Bakari’s comment, a scuffle broke out. Mr Abdallah Sharia, who is also MP for Dimani (CCM) and Mr Khatib Haji, who is MP for Konde (CUF), could be seen exchanging heated words.
On the other hand, Mr Tawida Gallos (CCM) and Mr Suleiman Bungala, who is also MP for Kilwa South (CUF), could also be seen trading verbal jibes.
The melee and confusion in the floor prompted Mr Kificho to postpone the assembly without any preamble.
Mr Haji later told reporters that he could not withstand Mr Sharia’s “insulting words’’. “I could not stand his insulting words and that’s why I called him out to fight with me. They have censured the media out of the committees and now they are turning to us. We will continue to stand firm for the interests of the public,” he said.
Mr Ole Sendeka told journalists outside the debating chamber that he was taken aback by Mr Bakari’s comments.
“I don’t want to speak on this matter but I am surprised by Mr Bakari’s comment…he must understand that the interim chairman gets the list of names from the secretariat,” he said.
Meanwhile, journalists have been banned from sitting in and reporting on any proceedings in the Constituent Assembly’s committee meetings.
Instead, journalists will be briefed by the committee chairman, deputy chairman or any member of the committee who will be given permission by the chairman or deputy chairman.
On Wednesday evening, when the special assembly was discussing Article 57 of the standing orders, which details who should attend the committee meetings, some members of the CA fought tooth and nail to have journalists allowed into the committee meetings, underscoring the importance and the right for the public to learn about the discussions.
CA members Ezekiel Oluoch, Moses Machali, Maria Sarungi, Halima Mdee and Freeman Mbowe fought hard to have journalists allowed in the committee meetings, noting that the draft constituent being discussed was a public document.
Ms Mdee wanted Article 57 (1) and 57(3), which bars journalist from getting into the committee to be amended to allow the media into the meetings.
Mr Machali wanted both journalists and the public to be allowed into the committee meetings, adding that members of the public should be given special permits on request two days before.
“Some members are advocating for transparency…I don’t understand why they should all of a sudden fear having journalists into the committee meetings; what is it that they are hiding?” he asked.
Another CA member, Ms Sarungi, advised that the committee meetings should be open to journalists, stressing that the draft constitution under discussion belonged to the people.
“So it would be better if the public would know what is happening from the beginning…I mean from the onset of the committee meetings,” she pleaded.
Ms Sarungi said the people out there…on the bodaboda, in the villages and on the social media…were following the proceedings of the assembly.
Mr Oluoch went further and quoted the country’s current constitution, Article 18, which talks about the right of freedom of information, to try and convince the assembly on the importance of journalists to attend committee meetings.
When he stood up to defend the decision to ban journalists from the meetings of the committee appointed to guide the CA interim chairman, Mr George Simbachawene said if allowed into the meetings, there will be conflicting and different reports from the journalists.
He added that absence of the media will allow members to discuss freely in the committee meetings.
“We would have wanted journalists into the committee meetings but the difficult part was implementation; it will be difficult to control them since the rooms are small and especially so if we would also allow the public,” he explained.
Mr Mbowe said the members are representatives of the people, stressing the importance for the public to follow up the committee meetings through the media.
“I am suddenly so worried…we are the representative of the people in deliberating and writing up the new constitution; so they do have the interest and right of knowing what we are doing. So barring journalists is censoring what the public need to know, which is not right… Kenya and South Africa held open meetings when they were writing up their constitutions,” he added.
The Chairman of the Special Committee to guide the interim chairman on standing orders, Prof Costa Ricky Mahalu, tried to have the decision to have journalists in the meetings decided by the members, noting that his committees’ task is to solely guide the interim chairman.
However, Mr Abubakar Khamis Bakari said the committee will take up the issue and look into the best way to put it to have the journalists will be allowed into the committees to access information without misleading the public.
Yesterday, the committee maintained its stand that journalists should not be allowed into the committee meetings, despite more members routing for journalists to be allowed except for Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, a lawyer-cum-journalist, who stressed that national freedom should not be confused with freedom of the press.
“Let’s not continue with debating on this issue, we have a lot of work ahead of us….when there is a war, the standing orders change, the journalists need to understand that regulations change…they should not be allowed into the committee meetings,” he said.
Right after Dr Mwakyembe’s comments, Mr Kificho announced that Article 57 of the standing orders have been passed without allowing journalists in the committee meetings.