Alliance for Community action (ACA) executive director Laura Miti says the Constitution Bill No. 10 of 2019 is detrimental to Zambia’s common good and will fundamentally harm democracy and nationhood if passed.
And Miti has said the government has no mandate from the people of Zambia to change the Constitution of the Republic in the manner being proposed through Bill No. 10.
Appearing before the Parliamentary Select Committee at parliament buildings, Tuesday, Miti called for the total withdrawal of Bill 10 until a constitutional review process supported by the people was carried out to remedy agreed ills and advance the common good.
“It is our understanding that constitutions should only be changed to remedy an ill or strengthen the ability to protect the national good. Government had no mandate from the people to change their constitution to the extent being proposed in the Bill under discussion,” Miti told the committee.
“When government unilaterally decided to change the constitution, it used the controversial process of the National Dialogue Forum (NDF) that left out a large part of the country. We submit that a constitutional review that results in fundamental changes, such as set out in Bill 10, must seek consensus from the wider public. It is reckless for government to push forward constitutional amendments via a process being rejected by whole sections of the country as the NDF was, because a constitution must hold a nation together and not divide it. The ACA therefore would like to call for the total withdrawal of Bill 10 so that a constitutional review process supported by the people, that seeks to remedy agreed ills and advance the common good, is carried out. Most importantly, this process must be mandated by the people.”
She said Bill 10 included provisions that were not agreed at the NDF, saying the government had betrayed the trust of the people.
“After government decided to go with the NDF, it should at least have kept its word and abided by the provisions of the National Dialogue Act that provided that any changes not agreed at the NDF would not find themselves in Bills. That Bill 10 includes provisions that were not agreed at the NDF, as announced to the public by Forum chairperson, Patrick Chisanga. [This] means that government has betrayed the trust of the people,” Miti said.
She cited clause 15 which repeals Article 68 of the current constitution, which sets out the maximum number of elected and nominated Members of Parliament at 156 and no more than eight respectively, stating that this will be prescribed.
“Subject to the test we set out above, the ACA is of the view that this change does not remedy any understood ill or mischief in the current constitution. Instead, it seeks to create a larger harm by allowing Parliament to create itself. As Parliament is a creature of the Constitution, the Constitution cannot allow it to change its essential being via a simple vote. The ACA is of the view that the largest harm that this would create is that a President and ruling party could increase their representation in parliament thus creating a majority, even a two third majority, which would allow them to change the very constitution that creates parliament. This provision, in our view, makes general elections academic as a ruling party could give itself a parliamentary majority by creating seats in its strongholds or increasing nominated numbers without limit. We are of the view that this destroys our democracy and should not be passed. The biggest harm to democracy of this proposal will be the weakening of the separation of powers as parliament will be as pliable as dough, in the hands of the Executive,” Miti said.
The ACA also opposed, among others proposed amendments, Clause 30 that seeks to amend Articles 101,102 and 103 of the current constitution.
“This amendment allows for a presidential candidate that does not receive more than fifty percent of the valid votes cast, but achieves the highest number of votes, to negotiate and form a coalition government with a presidential candidate that participated in the initial ballot as long as the combined vote meets the more than 50 percent threshold,” Miti said.
She said any provisions in the bill that sought to benefit only the Executive were harmful.
“If so many provisions in the Constitution Amendment Bill 10 fail the simple principle of ‘do no harm’, if they can only benefit the Executive, when democratic principle suggests that Executive powers in a democracy must be to be limited and subjected to oversight by the two other arms of government, then the Constitutional Amendment Bill is harmful,” said Miti.
“Most importantly, those portions of the Bill which are widely regarded as flawed or retrogressive are also extremely injurious to our democracy. Passing into law a Bill that legitimises a self-creating parliament, weak central Bank, all powerful president and executive, among other undemocratic features, is very dangerous and risks destroying our democratic gains in ways we cannot imagine.”
And Select Committee chairperson Raphael Nakachinda assured ACA that their submissions would be considered.
“I want to thank you for appearing before this committee. We will definitely benefit from your submissions and obviously take into consideration what you have submitted before this committee as we make recommendations to the House,” assured Nakachinda.