Justice Minister Given Lubinda on Tuesday presented the National Dialogue, Constitutional, Electoral Process, Public Order and Political Parties Bill to Parliament for First Reading, which are aimed at implementing constitutional and institutional reforms.

At the same time, Lubinda also presented the Electoral Commission of Zambia Amendment Bill Number five of 2019 with the intention of enhancing people’s participation on the Commission and also to create space for people to gain experience in the running of elections in Zambia.

The ECZ Amendment Bill, which was actually brought back to the House for second reading after being submitted to stakeholders for consultations and fine-tuning, was supported by Livingstone UPND member of parliament Mathews Jere.

In supporting the motion, Jere, who is also Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on legal affairs, human rights, national guidance, gender matters and governance presented his Committee’s report on the Electoral Commission of Zambia Amendment Bill, National Assembly Bill No 5 of 2019, which was referred to the Committee on Thursday, February 28, 2019 for perusal.

Jere notified the First Deputy Speaker Catherine Namugala of the recommendations that the Committee had come up with in consultation with its stakeholders.

“Madam Speaker, the objective of this Bill is to amend the Electoral Commission of Zambia Act number 25 of 2016 so as to; revise the functions of the Commission; revise the qualifications of the members of the Commission; revise the procedure for the removal for a member of the Commission and provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing. Madam Speaker, the findings and recommendations of the Committee are well tabulated in the Committee’s report and I believe the members of parliament have acquainted themselves with the report. The Committee supports the Bill, but has made a few proposals, which I will now highlight. Madam Speaker, clause three of the Bill seeks to amend section 52 of the Principle Act so as to revise the qualifications of members of the Commission. The Committee welcomes this amendment as it will enhance the quality of the members who serve on the Commission. The Committee has, however, noted that the amendment has removed the requirements for the Chairperson and the vice-chairperson to qualify to hold the position of judge of a superior court,” Jere notified the House.

“In this regard, the Committee recommends that the existing provision of in the qualifications of the chairperson and vice-chairperson be retained. Madam, clause three of the bill also seeks to amend section 53 of the Principle Act so as to provide for the term of office of members of the Commission to serve for seven years, which may be renewed for a further seven years. Almost all the stakeholders were of the view that the seven years with the possibility of renewal for a further seven years term potentially gave members of the Commission a 14-year term. Stakeholders submitted that the period was too long for a member to serve on the Commission and maintain objectivity and would also deprive other qualified Zambians from serving as members of the Commission. The Committee agrees with the stakeholders who made the foregoing submissions and, therefore, recommends that a member should only serve for a single term of seven years so as to avoid a situation of overstay on the Commission at the expense of other Zambians qualified to serve the Commission.”

And with regards to clause six, which seeks to amend section 16 by empowering the Commission to appoint an external auditor to carry out special audits, Jere said stakeholders had welcomed the amendment, but raised some concerns with respect to the independence and integrity of the auditor to undertake such audits without undue influence from the Commission.

“Stakeholders were of the view that the appointment of such auditors should be done through a transparent process. In light of the stakeholders’ submission and in supporting the amendment of section 16, the Committee recommends that the appointment of an auditor by the Commission should be subject to approval by the Minister of Finance so as to protect the independence of the auditor and integrity of the audits to be performed,” said Jere.

But debating the motion after the presentation of the report, Leader of the opposition in the House Jack Mwiimbu opposed the second reading of the Bill, saying it needed further consultation with the stakeholders.

“Taking into account what transpired today vis-à-vis the introduction of a Bill purported to be the National Dialogue, Constitutional, Electoral Process, Public Order and Political Parties Bill 2019, I would like to oppose this particular Bill. Madam Speaker, it is right to state that the management of the Bill that is being envisaged by the Minister of Justice will be done by the officers whom we are now considering under the Electoral Commission. It is my considered view that the stakeholders who will be meeting, if it will be agreed under this process, are the ones who should agree as to the terms and conditions of these electoral commissioners. Why would you want to discuss the electoral process without looking at the other component. You have left out the component from stakeholders who are supposed to look at these issues and see the best way forward,” argued Mwiimbu.

“I am not against the contents of the Bill, but these issues must be discussed by the stakeholders and agreed upon. That is my earnest appeal to the Minister of Justice if he means well. If the intention is to come up with a proper electoral law in this country that will be accepted by every stakeholder, defer this matter, take it to the stakeholders and let them agree. If they agree to give them 100 years contract, we will come and agree here and adopt it because it would have been agreed on as stakeholders. What will be the point of us being called stakeholders if we are just here to endorse what is being proposed? I earnestly [appeal] to the Minister of Justice to defer this matter for the sake of giving credence and confidence in the process.”

But Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo, who is also the ruling party’s member of parliament for Shiwang’andu, felt that Mwiimbu’s arguments were unjustified.

“Madam Speaker, this is a very known arm of government, the Legislature. We come here to perform the function, which is on the floor, and we are not going to abdicate our work to any other institution. We are here to legislate and to question a report from your own committee, Madam Speaker? It is not surprising, but shocking, especially coming from the senior member of this August House. Madam Speaker, there is no other arm of government in this country, which has to perform the function that we are supposed to perform here. To think we can shelve this work for another unknown institution for whatever consultation, which is not provided for in the law. What kind of country are we running? We have got a State, which is functional in this nation, and this August House forms part of the State, and Madam Speaker is the organised authority. So, to start thinking the Ministry of Justice should go and start calling people to come and deliberate on the report of the Committee is misplaced! They came within the structured process of the Legislature and anyone who wanted to contribute to this report was given an opportunity to come and do so,” insisted Kampyongo.

After various deliberations on the matter, Deputy Speaker Namugala subjected the Bill to a vote, and it was passed.

But members of the opposition challenged the results and it was agreed that the voting be done electronically, after which the Bill still passed to go to the Third Reading.