Speaker calls for urgent reform of “controversial Public Order Act”

Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Patrick Matibini says it is imperative that the Public Order Act is reformed and modernised to international standards and best practices around the world, lamenting that the Act had been a source of controversy for too long.

And Justice Minister Given Lubinda has reiterated the Patriotic Front government’s commitment to ensuring that the legal framework that supports freedom of assembly, association and inclusive participation in politics is put in place to support the growth of democracy in Zambia.

Speaking during the official opening of a two-day Public Order Act review workshop for members of parliament, Wednesday, Dr Matibini noted that the Act was not only essential for the maintenance of public order in the country, but also levelling the political field for fairer participation in the country’s democratic dispensation.

“The Public Order Act has been a topical and controversial issue in Zambia for a very long time both in and outside the House. It is, therefore, imperative and befitting that the Act is in the coming two days subjected to a critical review and eventually reformed and modernised. I am quite optimistic that this workshop will provide a very useful platform for members of parliament to effectively analyse the Act in light of international standards and best practices around the world. These international standards and best practices should eventually inform the reform and modernisation of the Act. The Act is not only essential for the maintenance of public order, but also levelling the political field in a multi-party political dispensation such as ours. The Act has for many decades now been perceived by many Zambians and especially political actors, an infringement to the enjoyment of the right to expression, assembly and association,” Dr Matibini noted.

“Further, you are aware that the Act was initially promulgated as a Public Order Ordinance of 1955. The Ordinance was then meant to primarily contain nationalist movements in the colonial era. Since its enactment, it has been subjected to some sparing amendments. In spite of those amendments, the Act continues to be a subject of intense public debate, controversy and even court challenges. To attest to this assertion, the following seminal incidents have been yielded in those court challenges; first, the Mulundika and Others versus the Attorney General (1995, 1997), found at page 20; second, the Resident Doctors Association of Zambia and others versus the Attorney General in the year 2003 found at page 88 and in most recently the case of the Law Association of Zambia and the Attorney General appeal number eight of 2014, this case is unreported. In addition, political actors, the Church, Non-Governmental Organisations and the civil society have also over the decades always expressed concern about the selective application of the Public Order Act. It is against this background that loud and repeated calls have been made for the comprehensive reform and modernisation of the Act.”

Dr Matibini also urged participants to note that the enactment of the Public Order Act was one of the output indicators in the Seventh National Development plan, which is aimed at promoting an inclusive and democratic system of governance.

“Honourable members, you should take full advantage of this two-day consultative workshop, not only to inform the reform of the Act, but also to provide the necessary impetus for the entire reform process. This workshop, honourable members, will present with rich and insightful information regarding the best practices obtaining at international and regional level, especially in keeping with the 10 principles for proper management of assemblies. The principles guarantee the protection of the rights to expression, association and assembly. It is also gratifying to note that the workshop facilitators possess rich and diverse knowledge in legislative framework for public order and mismanagement. Therefore, I have no doubt in my mind that the knowledge and expertise that they will bring to the discussion,” said Dr Matibini.

And speaking earlier, Lubinda assured participants that once the revised Public Order Act had been enacted by Parliament, the Ministry of Home Affairs would ensure that adequate time and resources were mobilised for capacity-building and sensitisation for law enforcers.

“The Patriotic Front government promised that once elected, it would revise the Public Order Act in order to ensure that it addresses the concerns raised by various stakeholders over a period of time and so that it meets the aspirations of the people of Zambia. Today, I am delighted that the consultative process on the review of the Public Order Act has been extended to members of parliament who, as lawmakers, are critical stakeholders to the legislative process of our country. The Public Order Act is one of the laws in our country that has generated a lot of interest from stakeholders, such as political parties, interest groups, cooperating partners, parliamentarians and others who have all called for it to be reviewed. The PF government is up to this task and remains committed to ensuring that the legal framework that supports freedom of assembly, association and inclusive participation in politics is put in place to support the growth of democracy in our country,” said Lubinda.

“Wide consultation of stakeholders is important to government and is in line with Chapter 22 of the Patriotic Front party manifesto, which states that government will consult all stakeholders in the review of legislation so that no one is left behind. Fellow parliamentarians, the outcome of this meeting shall fit into the national dialogue, the Constitution, the Public Order Act, the Electoral Practices Act and the Political Parties Bill, whose Bill I presented for first reading yesterday (Tuesday). I would like to assure you that once the revised Public Order Act has been enacted by Parliament, it is the intention, especially of the Ministry of Home Affairs, to ensure that adequate time and resources are mobilised for capacity-building and sensitisation, particularly for the enforcers of the law.”

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