Law Association of Zambia president Eddie Mwitwa has insisted that government should withdraw Constitution Amendment Bill number 10 of 2019 because it threatens the country’s democracy.
Speaking when he featured on a Pan African Radio programme, Sunday evening, Mwitwa wondered why government was in a hurry to amend the constitution, insisting that some clauses would have dire effects on Zambia’s democracy.
“Our view as the Maw Association of Zambia is that if there is a genuine case for amending the Constitution, Bill 10 should be withdrawn and let’s go back to the drawing board. Part of that drawing board could be, let’s look at what the stakeholders that participated or made representations to the Select Committee said about Bill 10, take out those issues or contents of Bill 10 that the majority of the stakeholders that appeared before the Select Committee said they did not agree with and the text that you have, take it back to the people and let the people say whether they agree with those contents. I am not sure why the government is in a hurry to amend the Constitution,” Mwitwa wondered.
“I do not know what challenges or how adversely affected the people will be if Bill 10 is not enacted into law. So yes, there will be a lot of problems if Bill 10 in its current form is enacted into law and I think the report of the Select Committee has made it very clear that there are a number of things that need not be in Bill 10. But the Select Committee report is just a recommendation to Parliament. The Minister of Justice has been very sincere that there is no guarantee that the recommendations in the Select Committee’s report will be taken on board.”
Asked if he was implying Zambia would no longer be a democratic state if Bill 10 went through, Mwitwa said; ” Not as it is now because what Bill 10 is potentially going to do is to give the ruling party of the day an upper hand over other political parties. There are provisions of the creation of Parliament, Bill 10 is saying create Parliament but don’t say how many seats you are going to have. So a ruling party with the majority members of parliament in power can simply decide, ‘guys, let’s create such and such seats in this particular province where we have a stronghold. Let’s remove certain seats where the opposition have a stronghold, reduce their chances of being elected by increasing our chances of being elected’.”
He insisted that Bill 10, if enacted, would allow government officials to campaign using government resources.
“And remember, this issue about deputy minsters, there is another provision which talks about ministers remaining in office until the date of the next general election. What this means is that these ministers will have unlimited access to government resources. They will be allowed to campaign freely until the date of the next election which will disadvantage other political parties. The current constitution says Parliament will dissolve 90 days before the general election which according to the ConCourt judgement in the LAZ Vs the 64 ministers said even Cabinet ministers must vacate office when parliament is dissolved. But Bill 10 is saying ‘No, Constitutional Court, I think you were wrong, we will amend the law and give ourselves the right to exist until the next election. What this means in practice is that ministers will be driving their GXs, flying the national flag to their campaign areas, whereas opposition political parties will not have that benefit. So Bill 10 threatens our democracy and also increases the chances of the ruling party manipulating the electoral system,” Mwitwa said.
“There is also a provision where the President is being given power, unrestricted by Parliament to create provinces and districts. I mean, all those are things are things that have a danger of giving the ruling party, on whatever day it will be an advantage over other political parties.”
He highlighted other Bill 10 proposals which LAZ believed were problematic.
“There’s a proposal to expand Cabinet by including provincial ministers, that means again more money being paid to the Ministers, there is even a proposal to include government Chief Whip to be part of Cabinet, again that’s a bloated Cabinet. I have concerns also with the proposal to declare Zambia a Christian in Article 4(3). That for me is a dangerous path because you are potentially promoting one religion over other religions and we know what happens in the Middle East, in Islamic states where you cannot express your religion freely. If you are not a Muslim in a Muslim state, you are not allowed to practice your religion freely and we may be thinking that we have got a government that right now is caring, is liberal, it allows other religions to come and say what they want but what if you have a dictator who will want to come and ride on the christian nation provision to promote one religion over other religions?” asked Mwitwa.
“The Executive will be allowed to borrow freely without parliamentary oversight. You’ll have an increased Executive, Cabinet will be bloated, I have talked about the challenges that you’ll have with political parties disseminating their own information on social and economic programmes, Bill 10 will in the long run make our constitutional order different from what we know it. This issue of a President being elected by majority citizens as we know it, will no longer be there. Right now, we decide as Zambians who our President should be but Bill 10, if it goes through as it is means a coalition government. What does that even mean in our context?
We have a presidential system so how do we move into a coalition government?”