UPND deputy spokesperson Cornelius Mweetwa says it is illegal and discriminatory for government to start forcing members of parliament to attend the National Dialogue Forum even when they do not agree with its grounds.

And Mazabuka member of parliament Gary Nkombo has written to the Chairperson of the National Dialogue Forum informing him of his intention to stay away from the Forum, stating that he could not waste tax payers’ money by getting allowances in a process he knows would not attain genuine dialogue.

In an interview with News Diggers! Mweetwa felt it was wrong for him to receive huge allowances at a time when government was failing to pay civil servants and other workers of parastatals, adding that the Zambian economy was bleeding.

“I cannot speak for everyone. But there are those of us who feel that we swore to defend the Constitution of Zambia as members of parliament and we feel that the Constitution is about to be breached and we must take the first line in defending the Constitution because that’s what we swore to go and do: to protect, uphold and defend the Constitution of the Republic of Zambia. So, this National Dialogue Forum Act is subservient to the Constitution. Therefore, as an individual myself, I feel that I cannot be compelled to attend a workshop called ‘National Dialogue Forum’ wherein I am precluded from resigning when other members are allowed to resign. I find that to be discriminatory and in terms of the Constitution of Zambia, it does not allow such kind of discrimination. Further, I note that Mr Speaker’s Committee recommended unanimously to withdraw the Bill before it was passed as an Act, but our colleagues in PF, using the arrogance of numbers, went through to enact it! This time around, I am making a very conscious decision that I don’t want to be part and parcel of a process, which I find fraudulent,” Mweetwa said.

He argued that genuine dialogue should not be regulated.

“First of all, there is no dialogue which I see there because you cannot legislate dialogue. Dialogue should be a voluntary act where you aim for a win-win situation, not one where you legislate, you choose members and you create an in-built majority to carry the day. Then you want to say: ‘we did it together with the MP for Choma Central’, no! I refuse myself to be part of that. The Church said that they did not want to participate because there was already a process of dialogue, which was supposed to be led by the Church who are non-partisan, but then, our colleagues in the PF refused! As a Christian nation that Zambia is said to be, we expected that the ruling party should have been the first ones to ask that the process be chaired by the Church. Therefore, I see this National Dialogue Forum to be a reinstatement of ZCID, which we had said was not the right institution to chair the national dialogue because of the composition of ZCID. Here we are now, the Chairperson of the Forum has been handpicked by the President! We wanted a forum, which could be chaired by the Church because they don’t belong to any political party,” he said.

Mweetwa insisted that it would be wrong for any well-meaning Zambian to attend the National Dialogue Forum.

“I enjoy my freedom of conscience as espoused and provided for by the Zambian Constitution. I find it, therefore, illegal to force me to attend a forum for which my conscience tells me is not the right thing to do. I hold the opinion that it is wrong for me to be there and to be able to receive an allowance at such a time when government is failing to pay the many civil servants and other workers of parastatals, the economy is bleeding! Then I should go there and receive an allowance when my contributions are a not valid because of the in-built majority? Whatever is going to come out of that forum is a reflected desire of the ruling party! If they wanted to fulfil the desires of the Zambian people, they would have allowed a neutral body to be able to superintend over the affairs of Constitutional amendments and other legislation. So, I want to run away from the burden that I participated; the same way they are placing the burden on us that as UPND, we participated in amending the Constitution, which is defective. So, I am standing with the Church Mother Bodies, I am not going to participate. But I wish them well,” explained Mweetwa.

Asked if there was any directive from the UPND for all its members of parliament to shun the controversial Forum, Mweetwa said: “there is no such kind of a directive, members are making independent decisions. I think some of our members have actually gone to the Forum because there was no directive.”

He, however, said that there would be no repercussions on anyone shunning the National Dialogue Forum because everyone had the right to either attend or not.

Meanwhile, in a letter dated April 22, 2019, addressed to the Chairperson of the National Dialogue Forum and copied to the Speaker of the National Assembly and acting Secretary to the Cabinet, Nkombo also explained why he was skipping the indaba.

“I write to advise that in keeping with the undertaking for the government and the National Dialogue Forum not to interfere with anyone’s freedom of expression and conscience relating to the Forum as provided in section 3 (2) D of the National Dialogue (Constitution, Electoral Process, Public Order and Political parties) Act No 1 of 2019. I wish to exercise my Constitutional right not to participate in the National Dialogue Forum because it conflicts with my conscience. I cannot in good conscience participate in a process that does not seek to foster genuine dialogue and that is only meant to foster partisan interests of a few people and which does not include the three Church Mother Bodies who started the process,” wrote Nkombo.

“I stand ready to participate in any other forum that genuinely seeks to bridge the differences between the various political players. In the premises, I cannot in good conscience attend the Forum and waste the Zambian peoples’ money by receiving allowances in a process that I am certain will not achieve genuine dialogue, particularly in this time when we, as leaders, should be doing all we can to save money due to the very poor state of our economy.”