1.4 Tasks and responsibilities in constitution-making

Constitution-making has thus become complex, involving a number of tasks and stages andthe proliferation of actors and institutions. An essential component in designing a process is to review the tasks and decide how to allocate them and obtain the resources needed to carry them out, and the sequence in which the tasks are undertaken. Subsequent sections discuss in some detail the options available for each of these issues, and some of the main tasks often undertaken as part of a process.

If the constitution is made in settled times, there are many options for the process, including a high degree of public participation. If the country is coming out of internal or external conflict, there may be an inclination toward a more controlled process, with limited or no public consultation. Increasingly, negotiations held during an ongoing conflict take the form of a constitutional settlement. In this case the process is confidential and often secret, and almost completely dominated by leaders of “warring factions,” with little room for wide public participation.


1.4.1 Resources

Constitution-making cannot, these days, be done on the cheap. The process as described below costs a great deal. Many countries that seek to make a new constitution and a new start have come through a long period of conflict, their resources depleted or appropriated by warlords, the economy shattered, facing pressing poverty and an empty exchequer. It is necessary at an early stage of planning the process to pay careful attention to the financial implications and the means of raising sufficient funds. All people are entitled to a fair, participatory, and effective process, but not every country can afford it. It is often possible to get external assistance in the form of money, equipment, and personnel, but that may be achieved at the loss of some national control of both the agenda and the process. Ways must be found to minimize costs whenever possible. Sometimes the ambitious goals of the process must be scaled down. However, if the design of the process is good and efforts are made to avoid wasteful expenditures, the international community is likely to assist. An early estimate of the costs should be made so that the process can be realistically planned and efforts to secure support from external sources can be initiated.


1.4.10 Debating the draft constitution

It is becoming common to allow time for public scrutiny and comments on the draft constitution before it is approved by the assembly. (“Assembly” here is used to refer to the body that makes the decision on adoption, even if the adoption is subject to a referendum.) The advantage of this practice is that the public can react to a concrete and comprehensive set of proposals, and assess with some confidence its significance for them and the state. If there has been opportunity for prior public consultation, they can now judge to what extent their views have been taken seriously. The period of public consultation can also be seen as a chance for “peer review,” an examination of the document’s strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunity to correct policy and drafting errors. (Some countries have invited experts to review the draft: Timor-Leste [2002], Afghanistan [2004], Nepal [ongoing process], and Zimbabwe [2000].) If political parties or the general public are divided on some issues, here is another chance to build consensus, although there is the danger that during this period fresh differences may emerge (as they did in Kenya [2010]).

It is important to ensure that the public is correctly informed about the contents of the draft and allowed to make an assessment of it. Here civil society and academics can play a vital part. It is surprising how ill-informed debates on draft constitutions and proposals can be; politicians, but not only politicians, have a tendency to make pronouncements without bothering to read the draft. (See the discussion of civic education in part 2.2.2.)


1.4.11 Enacting the constitution

The first decision to be made is about which body will have the primary responsibility for approving or rejecting the draft constitution. Here the choice, as noted above, is frequently between the legislature and the constituent assembly. The second decision is whether there should be more than one stage of approval. The most common instance of more than one stage is when there is a referendum. Sometimes the draft can go straight from the drafter to the people for a referendum. This seems to have happened with the constitution of the European Union, and is stipulated in the Federal Transitional Charter of Somalia of 2004, but there are few other examples. The Kenyan process [2005] erred on the side of too many approvals—a national constitutional conference (broadly similar to a constituent assembly), a national assembly, and— a requirement imposed by the courts when the process was nearly finished—a referendum. It is important that there should be ample opportunity to consider the suitability of the draft, but too many approvals place hurdles in the way of enactment, give further opportunities to the spoilers to regroup, and perhaps need to be avoided. (See part 2.7.)

The other major decision regarding the design of the process concerns the rules for decision- making; different institutions have different levels where a decision to carry on with the process or to approve the draft will be made. Here the primary question is the majority required. A simple majority may not be seen to give enough protection to minorities. The constitution- making process is an opportunity to build consensus on fundamental national values. Sometimes this is taken to mean that there must be unanimity (as in Kenya, Nepal, South Africa, Uganda and Vanuatu). If this fails, there may be a formal (Nepal) or informal (Kenya) process to settle differences. But they both, like Uganda, provided for a two-thirds majority if no consensus was achieved. A large majority is preferable if the country is deeply divided, especially on regional or ethnic lines. But it increases the risk that no constitution may be adopted. So does a rule that states that a minimum degree of support in a minimum number of communities or regions should be required in addition to an overall national vote (as in Iraq, where the draft was nearly defeated by negative votes in three governorates). (See part 2.5.1.)

Many states provide for a referendum, but, contrary to what a Kenyan court thought, it is not indispensable under constitutional principles. Its use is less than universal and it is controversial. If the earlier stages of the process are participatory, with compromises to reach a consensus, then it may be unwise to put what has been achieved at risk. Referendums can be divisive, increasing tensions in society (as the experiences of Iraq [2005] and Kenya [2005; 2010] show). However, the Maldives (in 2008) made an interesting use of the referendum to determine only one issue, which had become extremely contentious—whether the executive should be parliamentary or presidential. Once that was resolved, the constituent assembly (the Special Majlis) proceeded quickly to adopt a new constitution. If the issue to be resolved touches on self-determination, a referendum can be a useful device to discover the people’s preference (as has been proposed regarding secession in Canada, and carried out in Bougainville, New Caledonia, and South Sudan).


1.4.12 Implementing the constitution

Constitutions that are the product of long negotiations in which different interests are carefully balanced, or that seek to make fundamental changes in the organization of the state and society, or that are agreed to under external pressure, are not easy to implement. Many provisions, particularly those dealing with values and ethical standards, or institutions aimed at accountability and the rule of law, may remain weak. Therefore special attention needs to be paid to the mechanism for a constitution’s implementation and enforcement. This is seldom done as part of the constitution-making process. In some recent processes this matter has been addressed by a variety of measures: a schedule (an annex) in the constitution dealing with transitional matters; another containing a list of legislative and other steps necessary for implementation and deadlines for action; an independent commission with responsibility for supervision and implementation; a constitutional provision that principles should be implemented by executive authorities so far as possible, even if no legislation has been passed; a provision that courts should be able to give orders within the same framework; the empowering of civil society to participate in the implementation and mobilization of the constitution; and making the implementation of certain principles a condition, for example, for the assumption of specified powers by the executive or the legislature.


1.4.2 Sequencing the process

By “sequencing,” we mean how the different stages are organized and ordered, whether there are clear demarcations among them, and whether the commencement and the conclusion of the process depend on collateral processes and decisions. There are two distinct issues here. The first arises when constitution-making is part of a wider process of ending armed conflict and establishing a peaceful order. The question then is: at what stage does constitution-making become feasible and central? There may be important preliminary questions to be resolved first: a cease-fire, the control of weapons, other confidence-building measures, tentative understandings about truth and reconciliation processes, negotiations of impunity, and some interim arrangements (such as allowing rebels or excluded groups a role in day-to-day government), before the parties negotiate the principles of the new constitutional order.

These considerations were critical in South Africa, and on the whole the sequencing that led to the adoption of the final constitution facilitated the constitution-making process. On the other hand, Nepal’s recent experience (beginning in 2006) shows that unless these matters are first dealt with satisfactorily, the parties can get bogged down in the constitution-making process. However, some broad agreement on how the country is to be governed in the future (i.e., the principles of the new constitution) may be necessary to deal with the preliminary issues mentioned above. Sometimes a specific national situation governs the question of timing. It is said that the Philippines’ Cory Aquino wanted a constitution urgently after her election and the overthrow of Marcos because she was afraid of a coup by the military and felt that a new constitution would minimize its power and deter it. There was no such urgency in Nepal; the king had been forced to give up his powers, and a preliminary agreement between the Maoists (just ending their insurgency) and the “democratic” parties had established a satisfactory basis that allowed them to set a more leisurely pace for a new constitution.

In a situation where conflict has not entirely ended, one relevant factor in the decision to proceed with constitution-making is the consideration of the stage at which maximum public participation might be possible, which may be well beyond the time of the cease-fire. It can sometimes happen that such participation broadens as the process moves on, as matters settle and people begin to feel more secure. We suggest below that one option, when significant public participation is not feasible, is to focus on interim arrangements, promoting as much public participation as possible but keeping the option of a more participatory process open for later. (See parts 2.1.9 and 2.2.2.)

Other tensions in conflict or postconflict constitution-making are the balance between peacebuilding, which may be favored by the international community, and local public pressures for a new constitution; incentives for the cessation of fighting versus trials for war and humanitarian crimes (raising difficult questions of impunity, compounded by the prohibition of amnesty under emerging international norms); and the choice between holding elections before the process and the imperative of confidence-building among the warring factions and between them and the public.

The second context in which the issue of sequencing arises is when the conditions for constitution-making exist, and the question is how best to organize the necessary tasks. The sequence depends on various factors, including the extent of public participation and the distribution of responsibilities for the different tasks. The sequence also depends on the purposes of the process, which can include national reconciliation, nation-building, and democratization. The first step is to agree on the need for constitutional reform, the principles underlying it, and the modalities of the process. The next is to engage the public in the process by providing civic education and information about the process and soliciting the views of the people on constitutional reform. There are different ways in which the people can be engaged; the choice may be to seek public opinion on the basis of a questionnaire or through an open-

ended process, or indeed on the basis of a draft constitution—or a combination of these. A central task is the drafting of the constitution, and here a critical issue is to determine who should have the principal responsibility for it. The debate on the draft constitution and its enactment are the next stages, which are often considered the final ones. But the adoption of a new constitution is only the beginning of the task of establishing a new political and social order, and it is extremely important to consider strategies for implementation as part of constitution-making.

A special issue in sequencing is whether constitution-making should follow or precede elections. Scheduling the process before regular legislative elections may be helpful, as delegates are less likely to know what their positions would be in subsequent electoral contests or in government. They are likely to take a longer view and attend to a range of interests broader than their narrow personal interests.

Another general sequencing issue is whether the people should be consulted before or after the preparation of a draft. Subsequent consultation gives the public a chance to comment on concrete proposals, but prior consultation provides greater scope for the expression of public views and the enhancement of people’s initiatives. It is possible to have public consultation both before and after the draft is prepared, which is becoming the common practice (as in Kenya and Bolivia).

Throughout this constitution-making process many individuals, parties, communities, and interest groups play a part, give of their time and engage their passion, lobby for different values, institutions, and procedures, teach or learn about constitutions, deliberate, and decide. So when planning different stages, it is necessary to agree on the role of these actors: how they are to be represented, how they will express their views, and what part they will play in the actual decision-making.


1.4.3 Deadlines

It is useful to have deadlines for the different stages of the process; these are usually set out in legislation or in a founding document. But deadlines must be carefully considered, for too- short deadlines may limit public participation and may give the impression of the process being manipulated, while long deadlines may stretch the process unduly when the need is to provide closure and establish a new order. Processes tend to exceed original estimates or stipulated deadlines. There are various reasons for this: the complexity of the process, a slow start, a genuine underestimation of the time required, procuring financial and other resources, emergencies, and the selfish interests of delegates, commissioners, and the staff of associated institutions in prolonging the process.

Deadlines can be useful, but they require an enforcement mechanism—some way to penalize those who do not meet them. The reality is that deadlines are often missed because political will is lacking or some outstanding questions from the past have not been dealt with. (A good example is the Nepal process.) Constitution-making processes are now quite complex, requiring consensus at different stages for them to move on, but it is easy to assume erroneously that the process will be smooth.


1.4.4 Agreeing on an agenda for constitutional reform

Sometimes the most difficult task in constitutional reform is building consensus about the need for reform, the type of reform, and the process for achieving reform. In some situations the need for reform is obvious to all—for example at the moment of independence, or after a revolution (e.g., as in Spain, Hungary, and Poland). Often reform is resisted by those in power, such as Marcos in the Philippines and Moi in Kenya from 1991 to 2000—they took office and attained power through the existing constitution. Sometimes a minority, excluded from government, wants reform but the majority resists it (if necessary by force of arms), as in Sri Lanka from the 1980s to 2009. In these situations the agreement to reform (or talk about reform) comes only after an intense conflict in which many lives may have been lost (as in South Africa, Sudan, and parts of India). These days it is not unusual that an agreement to consider or negotiate reform is the result of external pressure (as in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Kenya, Sudan, and Timor-Leste).

The agreement could be no more substantial than a decision to meet to consider reform, or it could be quite wide ranging, touching the areas of reform, the principles underlying reform, and the institutions for negotiation and the making and approving of reform measures. In conflict or postconflict situations, parties are unlikely to agree to talk about reform unless they feel that their critical interests will be protected. Thus, a prior agreement or understanding about the safeguarding of these interests, and about the fundamental constitutional principles to be incorporated in the final constitution, is often a precondition for negotiations. If the international community becomes engaged, then the incorporation of human rights as expressed in international treaties is likely to be mandatory.


1.4.5 The form of the agreement

An agreement on constitutional reform can take various forms, depending on the context. When the international community, especially the United Nations, becomes involved, there may be a multilateral treaty or a Security Council resolution (as in Cambodia and Timor-Leste). When the debate is among political parties—a common occurrence—there may be one or more agreements among the parties (as in Nepal and South Africa). Even in such cases, it may become necessary to have some legislation to give effect to the agreement, as it may affect the power of an existing institution (e.g., the legislature) or even the normal method of amending the constitution. Legislation (even entrenched) may also be required if there is little trust among the key parties, as was the case in Kenya [2010] following the undermining of the 2005 process, which was attributed in part to the lack of entrenchment. Legislation will also be required if new institutions are to be set up for the process (e.g., an independent commission, although this may be done under an existing law authorizing the head of state or the government to set up such bodies administratively). Legislation, especially if entrenched, reduces flexibility, but adds security to the process (which is sometimes more important than flexibility). Under exceptional circumstances, the whole process, which entails fundamental constitutional changes, can be carried out purely on the basis of mutual understandings. (Hungary and Benin are good examples.)


1.4.6 Scope of reform: Interim, minimal, or complete?

One of the initial choices countries face is whether to engage in incremental constitutional change or to replace an existing constitution with a wholly new document that reflects a new order. In reality, however, countries that initially decide to embark on one approach often eventually change, and instead adopt the other—for example, when the incremental change required is found to be so extensive that a whole new constitution is required, or when major changes prove impossible to achieve but gradual change proves possible. (See part 2.1.2.) In the incremental approach, the drafters must confront outstanding problems, remove the most offensive passages of the existing constitution, and address glaring omissions, and at the same time generate momentum for continuing revision. Chile has pursued this strategy to some degree, as has Indonesia; Israel did so as it set about establishing a new state. An advantage of this approach is that it can lessen the drama surrounding the constitution. In some settings, creating a constitution de novo and using the constitution to solve a range of difficult problems can raise political stakes and may increase societal or political divisions. However, incremental approaches are most workable when there is significant trust among political representatives and between representatives and their constituents. The contexts in which the United Nations and others work generally do not display this characteristic. There is a belief that the incremental option may not be available outside stable, liberal democracies—although the case of Indonesia suggests otherwise.

An interim constitution has some resemblance to incremental change, but the former is clearly accepted as transitional, leading to full reform, while there is no such promise in the incremental approach. On the other hand, when supporters of reform settle for incremental change, they anticipate that the logic of the change will most likely lead to further reform (without prompting resistance from the existing regime).