National Dialogue Forum (NDF) Spokesperson Isaac Mwanza has clarified that NDF’s appeal to repeal the colonial Public Order Act and replace it with an Act that will contribute to people’s enjoyment of their rights and further contribute towards the growth of the country’s democratic dispensation, shall not apply to religious gatherings and traditional events held at places of worship, just as much as it do not apply to funeral processions.

At a pressing briefing in Lusaka, Sunday, Mwanza told journalists that the forum recommended the reintroduction of deputy ministers and the election of Mayors and Council Chairpersons by councillors and from amongst themselves and also the financing of political parties with representation in parliament from public funds.

“In order to clean up the lacunas, inconsistencies and ambiguities, and make the constitution short and precise, the Forum has for instance adopted resolutions that affirms that Zambia remains a Christian nation by deleting the phrase ‘multi-religious’ in paragraph 2 such that it would now read: ‘recognise and uphold the multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-cultural character of our nation and our right to manage our affairs and resources sustainably in a devolved system of government’. For avoidance of doubt, the preamble of the Constitution of Zambia will still retain the wording that ‘Zambia is a Christian Nation’ but also agreed that the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation should further be provided for in Article 8 under part 2 of the Constitution. Notwithstanding this proposed amendment, the Constitution shall continue to uphold other people’s freedom of conscience,” Mwanza explained.

He further said delegates at the NDF unanimously agreed that Mayors and Council Chairpersons should be elected by councillors from amongst themselves and not through a general election.

“Further, there is general consensus to remove detailed provisions on nominations, commissions, the form of electoral system, qualifications of certain office bearers such as councillors and others to be provided by subsidiary laws to be enacted by Parliament rather than populate our Constitution with such details. Among the contentious issues which have been settled by consensus of the Forum is for election of mayors and council chairpersons by councillors from among themselves. This will ensure that councillors who are elected by all people within the district and those who lead the Council as mayors and Council Chairpersons become accountable to each other on the running of Councils and to the people who elected them in the districts,” Mwanza said.

He also said the Forum resolved to bring back deputy ministers.

“By consensus, the Forum also resolved to refine the Constitution by reintroducing deputies for ministers to ensure that the gap that was created in management of ministries is resolved. The Forum is exploring at strengthening the position of these deputies to act in the absence of their superiors than the current or former situation where deputies would not do so. This resolution was adopted based on very compelling arguments by those who argued in favour of reintroduction or not. The Forum also adopted resolutions to amend Article 60 of the Constitution to be relegating some of its provisions to subsidiary legislation but also by deletion on the provision that provided for financing of political parties with seats in parliament from public funds.”

Meanwhile, Mwanza went further to explain the proposed replacement of the ‘repealed’ Public Order Act.

“On Thursday, 9th May, 2019 and Friday, 10th May 2019, the NDF finalised its examination of the Public Order Bill, 2019, by provisionally confirming 80 of the proposed amendments to the Bill, and amended – by way of deletions or additions or varying the other proposed provisions in the Bill. In examining the work on the Public Order Bills, the Forum members are constantly keeping in mind the need for coming up with a Bill that must promote the primary object of the Bill to guarantee the enjoyment of the Constitutional freedom of assembly, expression and conscience in the maintenance of public order, health and safety of the Zambian people as a whole. In pursuit of these goals, the Forum has for example amended provisions that only exempted indoor meetings of trade unions from falling within the ambit of the Act by extending the provision to indoor meetings of all lawfully registered unions which include students unions. The indoor meetings of organs of political parties and civil society organisations are also exempted from provisions of the Bills,” explained Mwanza

“We also confirmed the Public Order Act shall not apply to religious gatherings and traditional events held at their places of worship much as they do not apply to funeral processions. Allow me at this point to allay fears by emphasising that this exemption effectively implies, as an example, once this law is passed by Parliament, it will still not be mandatory to sing the national anthem at any religious gathering, and the punitive sanctions for those exempted groups who decide not to sing the national anthem shall not apply. The forum also adopted resolution to remove provisions requiring conveners of a meeting to furnish the police with a list of persons who may need to speak at a public meeting, the requirement for disclosure of issues to be discussed at public meeting, and has asked the drafters to recast provisions that gives power to police officers to prohibit a public meeting from going ahead as that would be tantamount to asking people to obtaining permission rather than notifying the police of the meeting to be convened.”