THE Lusaka High Court has declined to grant Musicians Chama Fumba, popularly known as Pilato, Maiko Zulu, Brian Bwembya and others leave to commence Judicial Review proceedings against the Electoral Commission of Zambia’s decision to compel duly registered voters to present themselves before registration officers for verification under a new register for the 2021 general elections.
High Court judge Gertrude Chawatama said in her ruling that the reliefs which Pilato and the others were seeking are similar to those in another case where UPND deputy secretary general Gertrude Imenda has sued ECZ over its decision to commence online voter registration without authority of law and further, to give a 30 days cut-off time for the voter registration.
She said allowing the proceedings to continue might lead to conflicting decisions by herself and High Court judge Mwila Chitabo who is presiding over the UPND matter, a situation that would bring the integrity of the court into disrepute.
But one of the applicants, Muleta Kapatiso who spoke on behalf of Pilato and the others said the Court’s ruling came to them with shock, but added that they would continue to pursue other avenues to ensure that come 2021, their voter’s cards can still used to vote and that no registered voter would be deregistered without following the law.
In this matter, Pilato, Maiko, Bwembya aka B Flow and two youths – Nawa Sitali and Kapatiso – on behalf of the people, were seeking an order quashing ECZ’s decision for being irrational, procedurally improper and illegal and an order, compelling ECZ to re-take its decision and act within the powers vested in them by the law.
They further wanted if leave was granted, hearing of the Judicial Review application should be expedited and that it should operate as a stay of ECZ’s decision which requires already registered voters to present themselves before a registration officer again or be precluded or prevented from voting in the 2021 general elections.
The applicants had argued that the decision by ECZ which required currently validly registered voters in terms of the law to participate in a process that amounts to re-registration of voters in a period of one month was illegal.
They have further argued that ECZ’s decision amounted to deregistering voters without notice and following laid down procedure, which was contrary to the law.
However, when the matter came up for hearing of the application for leave to apply for judicial review yesterday before judge Chawatama, ECZ through its counsel Bob Musenga informed the court that there was a similar matter before judge Chitabo.
He argued that the court in question has equal jurisdiction with this court and that they were aware that courts frown upon different courts having similar matters as it had the potential of causing embarrassment to the judicial system.
But in response one of the applicants’ lawyers Mutembo Nchito contended that ECZ was raising the issue prematurely as this was an application for leave for judicial review.
He submitted that his clients were registered voters who were complaining about the acts by ECZ which according to them would have the effect of de-registering them as voters thus disenfranchising them.
“The other case that has been referred to which is before Justice Chitabo is brought by a political party in furtherance of their political gains. The political party is complaining about a level playing field for their political activities. In this case, our client’s complaint is sacrosanct. It is that the decisions ECZ is taking have unlawful effect of disenfranchising them,” Nchito said.
He said in the UPND case, leave had been granted and hearing commenced, adding that even if there were similarities in the two matters, the point was that there was no res judicata in judicial review as every aggrieved person was entitled to seek redress.
But in her ruling delivered in the afternoon, judge Chawatama said the decision which would be made in the matter before judge Chitabo though brought by UPND would resolve the issues before her in this matter, as the reliefs sought in that case will have an effect on all the citizens including the applicants herein.
She therefore declined to grant the applicants leave to apply for judicial review.
“This court enjoys wide discretion to make any order in order to do justice. It is in the interest of justice that an order to stop these proceedings at this point as allowing these proceedings to proceed might lead to conflicting decisions by my learned brother Justice Chitabo and myself, a situation that would bring the integrity of this court into disrepute,” judge Chawatama said.
“As I have stated earlier, this decision is also determinant on the issue of leave to grant judicial review. Leave for the application for judicial review is equally declined for the reasons stated in the preliminary application. Considering the nature of this application, each party will bear its own costs.”
She granted leave to appeal against the ruling.
However, speaking shortly after the ruling was delivered, Kapatiso said the Court’s ruling came to them with shock.
“It comes to us with shock because in our view this amounts to telling us that until one case which is being handled by judge Chitabo is heard and finalized, no other citizen, will raise anything on similar grounds,” he said.
Kapatiso said they would not be forced to join the UPND case because the reliefs they were seeking and the route that they took by way of judicial review were different.
He said they would continue to pursue other avenues to make sure that come 2021, their voters cards can still used to vote and that no registered voter would be deregistered without following the law, as provided for under the electoral process act.
“And that there is going to be free, fair and credible elections anchored on the law and the Constitution,” said Kapatiso.