There is no true democracy in a country where a sitting Head of State is made aware of court rulings before matters come up for hearing, says Laura Miti.
And Miti says appearing before the courts of law has become dangerous because the Executive has been interfering too much with the Judiciary, thereby creating an impression that it could use its powers at any given time to arm-twist judges in order to change their ruling.
Miti, who is Alliance for Community Action (ACA) executive director, was commenting on revelations from President Edgar Lungu’s press aide Amos Chanda that in 2016, State House was aware of the ConCourt ruling about the nullification of ministers stay in office a day before it was delivered.
“The revelation from Amos, which was actually inadvertent, because I don’t think he meant to tell the nation what has been happening. But I think he’s under so much pressure that things that probably should be secret are beginning to come out as usually happens. So, this is one shock of a situation that sends a lot of anxiety, because if that is the situation, then it means that citizens do not have an independent Judiciary to act as final arbiter between the State and citizens. So, I would think that in a functioning democracy, the Constitutional Court judges involved in that matter would resign and explain to us exactly how the President ended up with information on a ruling before a matter came up in court and was actually acting on it before it was delivered in court,” Miti said.
She observed that there was no true democracy in Zambia, but a pretence of democracy, where there was no clear separation of powers.
“This one for the ACA is the second major encroachment of the Executive on another arm of government. Because not too long ago, we wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice for him to explain how an audio in which he was heard planning with the PF caucus to order the Speaker [of the National Assembly] to pass a predetermined ruling. Now, we have a case in which the President knows exactly what happened in a ruling. It means that we really don’t have a democracy; we have a pretence of a democracy because in the absence of separation of powers… separation of powers is not academic. The reason why we have separation of powers is so that one arm of government can act as a check on another. But when the Executive is in control of all arms of government, whatever is happening is really a fuss, and it’s something that Zambians should be very worried about because it means that whatever we do is really a joke. We have no place to run to in whatever we do. The DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] has shown herself to be somewhat compromised, we now have the judges, we have the Speaker of the National Assembly, we have the National Assembly. Where do citizens run to now? It seems to me that this is something that needs an urgent response,” she lamented.
“The revelations simply mean that State House is informed of judgment before the ruling is made, which makes it a very dangerous situation because then, the Executive can use its power to arm-twist judges in order to change their ruling. In this case, you keep seeing cases that go on and on. You have, for example, the cases of the petition of Munali and Lusaka Central [constituency] seats. Those don’t seem to be disposed of and fortunately the situation is that the public cannot trust the Judiciary. And that trust is vital, when you go to court, you should be able to trust that what is happening there is in your best interest and is independent, fair and balanced. Right now, it feels as if when you go to the Judiciary, you are going before the President. And, maybe, if you are standing against the President or bringing a matter in which you feel your rights have been abused, how then do you expect a fair judgment?”
She prodded the Law Association of Zambia to give a position on the matter.
“I hope that the Law Association of Zambia does come in to say something about this because citizens have their hands tied. We don’t know where to turn to. Civil society organizations (CSOs) right now are responding to almost everything every day. But the way the organ is structured is that we have institutions that should respond to this. We should have an independent police, Parliament and an independent Judiciary. Right now, what CSOs can do is to rise; the masses of people [should] stand up and respond to this, but why should we get that when we have judges who are supposed to protect the Judiciary. Our appeal to the Judiciary is to put the national good above themselves,” said Miti.