Justice Minister Given Lubinda says members of parliament are not allowed to shun the Dialogue Forum because the process is part of their parliamentary duties.

Last week, Chirundu UPND member of parliament Douglas Syakalima petitioned the Lusaka High Court to declare certain parts of the National Dialogue Bill that infringe on his rights to association unconstitutional.

As an interim relief, Syakalima asked the High court to grant him an order suspending the operation of the National Dialogue Act No. 1 of 2019 pending determination of his petition.

In his petition filed in the High Court Principal registry on April 18, Syakalima stated that he debated against the bill in parliament because it is an affront to Zambia’s constitution, democracy and constitutionalism.

He stated that the bill forced him to the part of the National Dialogue Forum, a body established for the purposes of amending the constitution, which was in violation to his right and freedom of expression and association.

But speaking when he featured on ZBNC’s Sunday Interview programme, Lubinda said members of parliament could not shun the forum.

“The only people who are not allowed to stay away from this process are members of parliament, why? Because this process is part and parcel of the duty for which a member of parliament is elected. As a member of parliament for Kabwata, it is my constitutional duty to be in Parliament to legislate. It is my constitutional duty to sit on Committees of Parliament, to receive views from the public. This is a forum used to receive and review views, submissions on the Constitution. It is, therefore, an inalienable duty of a member of parliament to sit in that meeting. Members of parliament have no option but to attend this meeting, just like they don’t have an option but to stay away from Parliament,” Lubinda said.

“The others are at liberty to stay away, the only thing I can do myself on behalf of government is to appeal to them to say this is of national importance, come! However, if you don’t come, don’t come and obstruct those who are coming.”

And Lubinda said President Edgar Lungu was set to launch the Forum on Thursday.

“On Tuesday itself, we are also going to be registering members of the public who intend to witness the elections that will take place on Wednesday when the Chairperson of Forum and vice-chairperson will be elected. Then on Thursday, His Excellency, the President, shall officially open the dialogue process and on Friday, the Chairperson of the process will take over leadership of the Forum. So, discussions shall commence on Friday,” Lubinda said.

Asked by show host Grevazio Zulu if it was necessary for dialogue be regulated, Lubinda said any form of dialogue was regulated to avoid confusion.

“Are we dialoguing now? Yes, we are. Do we have any guidelines on this dialogue? Of course, we do. You are the one who is asking me questions, and when you ask questions, I must listen. So, just this dialogue on your television set is regulated. I can’t just come here and start dancing. Even when you go to church, isn’t that dialogue in church? You respond ‘Amen’ in church, but the preacher is the one who takes the floor. And in Parliament, Parliament is about dialogue, are there no regulations on that? Isn’t that legislated upon? Of course, it is. You legislate any kind of dialogue for it to have meaning,” Lubinda said.

“You can’t just go and say: ‘we shall talk as we wish’, no regulations, no guidelines, no! And over and above that, can you imagine if we didn’t have a legal framework and we just said: ‘okay, the government will decide when to start and when to stop. The government will decide who to invite and who not to invite’, people again would have been saying the process is not protecting content. Now, we are saying, we have a piece of legislation, which is predictable, anyone can read and see ‘has this one made an offence by not doing this and that, which is provided for in the law?’ So, this law is meant to govern the process, to protect everybody who will be taking part and to protect the interests of the Zambian people so that nobody is accused of using underhand methods.”

Lubinda also insisted that critics were commenting without reading the bill.

“People should not comment on matters that are based on rumour. Let them refer to the law, let them read the law. To say that President Lungu wants to stop people who have never been MPs from standing as presidents, where is it written? Isn’t that dangerous? It’s extremely dangerous and that’s the reason I’m appealing to Zambians,” said Lubinda.