Forum trashes Bill on parties

By Khalifa Said @RealKhalifax

Dar es Salaam. Stakeholders yesterday warned that the proposed amendments in the Political Parties Bill contain provisions that grant the parties’ registrar more powers than the President of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Speaking during a dialogue in Dar es Salaam, one of the stakeholders, Mr Harold Sungusia, queried more provisions in the Bill that grant the registrar immunity from being sued.

Mr Sungusia said that this kind of power is so enormous that it could even threaten the constitution itself.

“What if the registrar cancels the party membership of the president? This is what we mean when we say that the registrar might be more powerful than his appointing authority,” he said.

He went ahead to single out Section 6 of the Bill that protects the registrar. He said, through the current law the registrar was liable to be sued for negligence, but he said the proposed bill completely freed the registrar from being sued.

“Protection must be compatible with a constitution and human rights,” said Mr Sungusia during the forum organised by Tanganyika Law Society (TLS )to solicit views from stakeholders regarding the Bill as it prepares to submit its recommendations to the parliamentary committee.

Mr Sungusia, who is an advocate of the high Court, said the Bill gives the registrar the power to decide who can be a member of a particular political party and who cannot.

“The registrar can decide whether one should be registered as a party member or not, fired from the party or spared, eligible to contest for a particular position or not,” he pointed out.

The dialogue drew the attendance of the members of the legal fraternity, religious leaders, lawmakers, political parties’ leaders and the members of the general public.

They sought to examine the Bill, pointing out both the legal and political discrepancies while at the same time suggesting what can be done to improve it.

Apart from the unlimited powers that the bill gives to the registrar, participants also took issue with various other sections of the bill that they think are not only against the constitution but also irrelevant to the multiparty democracy path of governance that the country has chosen to follow.

These sections include those that give the registrar impunity on how he chooses to deal with the opposition, sections that ban political parties from operating as pressure groups, sections that propose jail terms of up to 20 years and hefty fines for party members involved in militia–like activities and those that regulate political coalitions.

“Suppose the registrar goes to his birthplace…and while there he issues a statement saying that the President has been removed from his party and then cross the border to Burundi or Rwanda, what will we, as a country, do?,” questioned UPDP President Fahmy Dovutwa. “This bill doesn’t even need to be improved but rather totally abandoned and the registrar should come up with a totally different one,” he suggested.

The secretary of the Council of Islamic Organizations in Tanzania Sheikh Issa Ponda urged the lawmakers not to pass the bill into law saying doing so will amount to an unforgettable betrayal not only to their compatriots but also to their own conscience.

Referring to the enormous power that the bill has vested in the hands of the registrar, Bshop Benson Bagonza of Karagwe Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania suggested a complete renaming of the bill from being called political parties bill to registrar’s bill. “The bill minimises the value of having political parties in our country by giving paramount significance to the powers of the registrar.”

Dr Azaveli Lwaitama, a Josia Kibira University College lecturer, said the bill exposes the registrar’s desires to be a ruler of political parties and not an advisor as it is supposed to be. “This bill must be scrapped and the new one that will outline the role of a registrar as only a coordinator be brought forward.”