Zambia is heading towards an authoritarian’s system of rule as the country’s democratic space keeps on shrinking under the current leadership, says Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) executive director Wesley Chibamba.

Commenting on the decision by the Zambia Police to deny Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) the right to demonstrate at Parliament Building during the budget presentation this Friday, Chibamba said the decision was clear example of an infringement of citizens’ rights.

“It’s really sad that Zambia Police decided to deny the Civil Society Organisations the freedom, their rights to demonstrate and bring to the fore pertinent issues pertaining to public resource management. I followed the due process of the law by informing the Zambia Police using the Public Order Act that we will be conducting a peaceful demonstration around Parliament Building when the budget is being presented. What we have witnessed is that the democratic space has really shrunk during the PF administration than in any other administration! We don’t need to get Zambia into an authoritarian state, but right now, all pointers are pointing in that direction and if we continue like this, if we continue with that negative direction, if you don’t allow people to [demonstrate], then we are heading towards an authoritarian system,” Chibamba said in an interview.

“Of course, the purpose of this demonstration is to encourage government to be prudent in the way they manage public resources, but also for them to adhere to the provisions of the budget. You know, we should raise issues of misapplication of funds and all those things. But then we were denied, we needed to bring this to the attention of the public; we needed the public to rally behind us because we are all concerned. These are tax payers’ funds and we just wanted to remind the government of their responsibilities and to be accountable to the people. So, it is really sad that the democratic space in this country is shrinking to that extent and that is a typical example. Because when you want to use democratic means to demonstrate yourself, these spaces are closed, I mean we have been issuing statements to the government, but it doesn’t work.”

He said he did not understand why the CSOs were not allowed to demonstrate, nor the time of security needed to monitor the activity.

“So, we thought maybe we should raise the profile of our grievance by conducting a peaceful demonstration, you know, by way of raising placards, but we were denied and the reason we were given is very confusing. We were told that this is the day that the national budget is going to be presented to Parliament and the security situation will not be conducive for us to do this. I mean, we know the day that the budget is bring presented, that is why we choose this particular day because the issues we are debating are related to the events that will be happening. And we were very categorical that this is going to be a peaceful demonstration. We don’t know what security situation they were referring to, but in essence, we think it is just an infringement of our civil rights because constitutionally, we have the right to demonstrate on issues that concern us and that we are not happy about. And currently, as CSOs, we are not happy with the management of public resources,” added Chibamba.

“We can see the number of scandals that have ceased the nation [when] it comes through public resource management. It is unfortunate that we were denied, and we are very sure that they are itching for us to go ahead and demonstrate so that they can arrest us. As CSOs, we should not be treated as political parties. I think our agendas are different. Ours is public interest so we should not be put in the same basket. But if the government knows what is good and they want to put public interest, we would urge them to reconsider the way they are applying the Public Order Act. They need to let people exercise their freedom and enjoy their rights. This is an infringement and if they continue doing that, then people begin to get frustrated. So demonstration is the best way to air grievances so that the powers that be can attend to those grievances and, collectively, you seek redress to correct those grievances that are there. But if those democratic spaces are closed, it means that you are closing the avenues are people will start to link up and the situation becomes volatile. We would urge the government to reconsider the way they are applying the Public Order Act, especially to the CSOs.”