The contentious National Dialogue Bill passed third reading Tuesday evening as the parliamentary session stretched into an overnight session to allow lawmakers exhaust their heated debates on the proposed legislation.
Members of parliament stayed up to 00:25 hours, on Wednesday morning debating the bill before the House adjourned siné dié.
The PF government is in the process of enacting into law a bill to implement the National Dialogue (Constitution, Electoral Process, Public Order and Political Parties.) The draft bill proposes to establish a forum to make amendments to the 2016 Constitution, the Elections Law and the Pubic Order Act on behalf of the people of Zambia.
The Bill further dictates that all members of parliament shall be part of the forum, along with the three Church mother bodies and 11 NGOs who have so far declined their membership, citing procedural impropriety among other irregularities.
A total of 91 MPs, voted in support of the ruling Patriotic Front to pass the Bill, while 52 voted against the legislation, with parliamentarians abstaining from the poll.
Debating against the motion earlier, Choma Central lawmaker Cornelius Mweetwa said the coercion of MPs to participate in the national dialogue forum, was undemocratic.
“Mr Speaker, by virtue of being a member of Parliament, I am forced to be a member of the forum, and in terms of section 6, any other member can resign but because I am an MP, I am precluded from resigning. What drama is this? What kind of circus is this? Can this country surely say it is a democracy? It respects the rule of law? You force MPs to belong to the forum ‘you are going to be a member of this because we have legislated’ how? Did you force me to come to Parliament? I volunteered to stand and I was elected. 55 years after independence Mr. Speaker, Zambia has capacity to deliver better than what we are having Mr. Speaker. PF should not regress us because of their ineptness, their inability and lack of capacity to deliver better. So don’t ask us to reduce ourselves to the level of PF!” Mwetwa exclaimed.
“You cannot just wake up and say ‘let’s craft the Constitution, let’s craft the public order act’ when the challenges of Zambia are more than the Constitution. And the Public Order Act has been identified as a problem; the real problem has been the application of the Public Order Act under the bad leadership of the PF! Because this Public Order Act under the MMD never gave Zambians a headache the way it has given them headache under the bad administration of the PF, a mischievous government ruling upon innocent citizens who want peace and Unity!”
Mweetwa said making good laws would not deal with the challenges facing the country as long as there were bad people in government.
“Mr Speaker, what is wrong about saying that the challenges of Zambia include the issue of electoral violence. And don’t tell me that the laws that we have are not sufficient to deal with this challenge, they are adequate but we have a bad government which has no regard and respect for the rule of law. So we need to talk and say ‘the law can be there, but the law itself cannot be able to effect itself. It has to be put in motion by human beings. Now if you have bad people in government, a good law can end up looking like a bad law. Bad people, PF!” Mweetwa said.
“And I have said Mr Speaker that violence will never end until we have a commander in chief who understands what it means to be a commander in chief. If you don’t know what it means to be commander in chief, you will be pointing fingers because of ignorance! Mr Speaker, coming to the bill, why should a member of parliament be made mandatorily, to be part of the forum? Why should I be forced to belong to a forum when the Bill of Rights says I Constitution. You cannot force me, Mr Speaker, to belong to a forum against my will that is a violation.”
UPND Liuwa MP, Situmbeko Musokotwane said the PF could not be trusted by Zambians because they duped the people during the 2015 constitution amendment process.
“As far as PF is concerned, colleagues, nobody trusts you! This is why even the credible churches have told the colleagues there very frankly, that ‘we don’t trust you, we are not going to participate in this process.’ So if you want to proceed because you want to please yourselves because you are the majority, please proceed! You have the numbers, you will win. But remember, I came from the MMD, we had the numbers, we felt that we were carrying the people with us, and in the end the people showed us the boots. What is remaining is for the people to also give you the boot!” said Musokotwane.
But in winding up debate, Justice Minister Given Lubinda said it was not true that the Bill contained a close that would make MPs prosecuted if they stay away from the process.
“Let me start with the Honourbale MP for Choma. And I am doing this because I am alive to the fact that what has been debated is on record and the people out there are listening and I have a duty as a person who moved this Bill that the people are adequately informed, otherwise they may be totally misinformed. Like you guided, some of the debate were full of sarcasm, denigrating of others. But I will not fall in the trap of bitterness. I will not join those who trade on hate speech, those who have mastered the utilisation of uncouth language. I shall keep my morality and in so doing, I will not kick the teeth of those who have already fallen. We are being called senseless, particularly myself sir who moved this Bill, I have been called senseless; the Bill has been called senseless. Honourable Mweetwa says the bill criminalises absenteeism of MPs from the forum. I want to make it clear, that for those who have had time to read this Bill, there is nowhere where it says ‘anybody shall be criminalised for absenting themselves from the forum’,” said Lubinda.
“There shall be 10 representatives from the Church, there shall be 10 individual citizens, there shall be 10 chiefs, there shall be 66 representatives of NGOs, bringing the total to 96. Compare that to representatives of government; there will be one representative each from the office of the President and the office of the clerk of the National Assembly, two representatives from the judiciary, one representative from the following ministries: Ministry of Defense, Home Affairs, Higher Education, Commerce, Community Development, Local Government, Chiefs and Traditional Affairs. Two representatives from the ACC, the Auditor General’s Office, Bank of Zambia, DEC, ECZ, Human Rights Commission, National Pension Scheme Authority, National Prosecution Authority, Office of the Public Protector, Zambia Police and the Zambia Law Development Commission.”