Harare (New Ziana) – The Zimbabwe government intends to allow the public to scrutinise international treaties before it adopts them as part of wider reforms being pursued to further entrench democratic tenets in the country, a senior official said on Tuesday.
The 2013 Zimbabwean Constitution provides that most international treaties require the approval of Parliament except those such as peace treaties, which are made within the President’s prerogative powers in the sphere of international relations.
Following realisation that some international treaties had far-reaching consequences on the country’s domestic laws, the government saw it prudent to ensure that these are concluded only after Parliament and the public have been notified.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade acting legal advisor, Stewart Nyakotyo said the proposed changes were contained in the International Treaties Bill which is currently before Parliament.
“It was deemed necessary to have the Bill because it establishes a uniform procedure for the consideration of international treaties by Cabinet and Parliament before their ratification,” he told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“Many international treaties were being concluded by Zimbabwe and the public would only get to know about them afterwards, after they have been signed and they would not have had an opportunity to interrogate what government would have negotiated. So this Bill presents the Members of Parliament and the general public with an opportunity to then comment before the finalisation of ratification.”
He added; “I think this is a very important aspect of democracy and transparency by the government.”
Nyakotyo said the Bill, which has 12 clauses, also provided for the establishment of a Public Agreements Advisory Committee (PAAC), mandated with considering all proposed international treaties and making recommendations with respect to their negotiation, drafting and approval by the Cabinet and Parliament.
He said the Bill also charges the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with maintaining an official archive of all international treaties currently in force, access to which would be afforded to any interested person subject to meeting certain conditions.
“(The Bill allows) for the establishment of the electronic database of treaties which would answer to the concerns from members of the public (who) in the past (have said) that they were not in the picture regarding what government has been concluding, so it is part of our open diplomacy and transparency as a Ministry and we hope that we will be able to get resources necessary for us to implement that plan which we have as a Ministry,” he said.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be the principal custodian and principal national depository of all international treaties. This is important in the era of open diplomacy because treaties have to be known by the public and what government is signing up to has to be subjected to public scrutiny.”