A CONSORTIUM of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) say there is a danger that Parliament could adopt the original Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 of 2019 or include harmful clauses.

But another group of CSOs has urged members of parliament intending to walk out of Parliament when the Bill comes for Second Reading in the current session to remember that they are denying the voice of voters who elected them.

Speaking on behalf of Alliance for Community Action (ACA), Caritas Zambia, Chapter One Foundation, CiSCA, Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD), NGOCC, GEARS Initiative, Zitukule Consortium and Transparency International Zambia (TI-Z) at a press briefing in Lusaka, Monday, ActionAid executive director Nalucha Ziba, insisted that the Bill must be withdrawn.

“We note that Cabinet has changed its position on some of the controversial provisions in Bill 10. However, as admitted by Honorable Lubinda, Bill 10 will still be presented to Parliament for Second Reading in its original form with all the contentious issues tomorrow (today). It will not have been amended to include the progressive recommendations from Cabinet nor the parliamentary Select Committee. Most concerning is that it will not be mandatory for Parliament to adopt the Cabinet proposals just as the parliamentary report has not been adopted in its entirety in the announced Cabinet proposals despite many individuals promoting the report suggesting it was a replacement of the Bill. It will still be up to the MPs to either accept the proposals from Cabinet, the parliamentary Select Committee, or pass Bill 10 as it is. That means there is a real danger that Parliament could adopt the entire content of Bill 10 or include harmful clauses Cabinet has proposed to be set aside,” Ziba cautioned.

“We would most importantly like to draw the attention of the nation to the fact that Honourable Lubinda’s ministerial statement neglects to mention that by implication, government is still in full support of the following controversial provisions and proposes that they be passed: the provisions in the Constitution providing for the removal of the Speaker, judges and the Republican President on the basis of mental and physical disqualification to be replaced with the term ‘legally disqualified,’ which may lead to judges, the Speaker and the President being easily removed on an unclear and subjective basis; the inclusion of Chief Whip and provincial ministers in Cabinet, which will lead to a bloated Cabinet. The Chief Whip has no place in Cabinet as he holds that position as a party official and not as a member of government and mayors and council chairpersons to no longer be elected by the public.”

Ziba said it was misleading for government to claim that it had “heard the cries of the people.”

“The repeal of the challenge to the nomination of a candidate in the Presidential election clause in Article 52, among others. What this means is that even if all of Cabinets’ recommendations on Bill 10 were accepted by Parliament, a lot of dangerous clauses that will fundamentally harm the tenets of good governance in Zambia’s democracy will remain in Bill 10. It is, therefore, disingenuous of the government to claim that it has heard the cries of the people. The clauses would make it concentrate power in the Executive, and particularly, the Presidency,” she added.

The Consortium appealed to members of parliament to reject the Bill to uphold and protect the Constitution.

“In the event that Bill 10 is not withdrawn, we call on each and every member of parliament to do their civic duty to uphold and protect the Constitution to protect Zambia’s valued democracy and reject Bill 10 completely,” said Ziba.

But another group of CSOs said said the contentious clauses were removed

“Based on the above, and taking into account that contentious clauses will be removed from Bill 10 at the Committee of the whole House, we have every reason to call upon our MPs to now discharge their duty to unmake and make laws, which includes the Constitution. We believe well-intentioned members of parliament will give this Bill a chance to see if the Bill can be amended at the Committee of the whole House stage, but will also fully support these positive clauses, such as Mixed-Member Proportional Representation system whose details will be spelt out in the new Electoral Systems Act. As CSOs, we, therefore, call on our MPs to recognize that they, and only them, are legitimate representatives of the 17 million Zambians when it comes to altering our Constitution. Our MPs must discharge this onerous, but noble duty, by participating in debating Bill 10 and cleaning it up to represent the views of the people who elected them to come make laws from our Parliament,” the statement read.

“The Constitution, which MPs will be debating is not for the PF nor the UPND, it is not for those who took time to make submissions to the Ministry of Justice or those who crafted it at NDF, and the Constitution is not for us civil society leaders, who spoke the loudest or lowest on radios and TVs over the last three years. The Constitution is for that old lady in Mugubudu; it’s for the young man in Bweengwa; it’s for that youth in Chilubi: The Constitution is and must be an embodiment of the aspirations of all the people of Zambia regardless of ethnicity and, indeed, political affiliation. The Constitution is for all 17 million Zambians, who are represented by the 167 members of parliament. We, therefore, call on members of parliament to fully participate in discussing Bill No. 10 and in amending it. We ask them to stay in the House tomorrow (today) until when the right law comes out of Parliament than walk away from Parliament. Those who walk away must remember that they will be denying the voice of those voters who elected them to go to Parliament to make laws on their behalf.”

Their statement was signed by Southern Centre for Constructive Resolutions of Disputes (SACCORD), MISA – Zambia, Zambian Institute of Governance and Civil Liberties Advocacy Platform (ZIGLAP), National Youth Anti-Corruption Movement (NYACM), Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), Common Grounds Network (CGN) and Constitutional Reform and Education Coalition (CRECO).