CONSTITUTIONAL Lawyer Rodger Chongwe State Counsel says government is being run by thieves and people should not bury their heads in the sand about this fact.
And Chongwe has wondered why the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) is criticizing lawyers who are speaking against dictatorship.
Meanwhile, Chongwe says it is worse than dictatorship for the Judiciary to bar constitutional lawyer John Sangwa State Counsel from appearing before any court in Zambia without a hearing.
In an interview, Chongwe wondered why LAZ was seemingly siding with oppressors.
“The Law Association of Zambia might be merry with the President of the Republic of Zambia. But Mr Lungu does not respect the rule of law. The Constitutional Court passed a judgment saying the Cabinet ministers who had received money when parliament was dissolved should pay back that money to the government with the connivance of the President of this country. Mr Lungu, because he is the one who told them in spite that the constitution says that when Parliament is dissolved, even Cabinet is dissolved, ‘Me I am the President so you should continue working’. We don’t have a President in his country so that he can break the law. And once they break the law, everybody should shut up and walk away from it. How many ministers have paid back that money? I doubt if five of them have paid. Is that a country under the rule of law? And LAZ now comes up because the President is involved in the issue then you want members of the Association to be inconvenienced? To be demonized? I refuse to do that!” Chongwe exclaimed.
“After all, the history of lawyers in this country and the part they played in bringing about political pluralism is there. The leadership, then, took part; they joined the people of Zambia as lawyers that we want our country to be democratized. And it was and we want it to be so. We did not say things about the rule of law so that when we become leaders, we are the first people to break the rule of law and incarcerate our people for doing nothing. We have masholis (thieves) running the government, why should we be burying our heads in the sand? And they remain so? Why should we have a body of lawyers condemning men and women in the law who are speaking against dictatorship? That they themselves are now sort of supporting the oppressors. Let us not live in castles. If we have positions, let us use those positions to the good our country. When I am appointed chairman, it doesn’t mean that I will always be right, members of that group of which I am chairman are the people who will make sure that that organization is run properly.”
And Chongwe condemned the Judiciary’s decision to bar Sangwa from appearing before any court, noting that it was not the first time he had questioned the ConCourt judges’ credentials.
“Don’t forget that when those judges were appointed, Sangwa in the same opinion which was printed in the papers, it was written by him in 2016 telling us who qualifies to be the judge on the Constitutional Court. So it is not new. He did not write it this year, he wrote in 2016. We read it, the court read it and everybody read it. They did not say that he committed contempt of court. And in any case, even if he was wrong, they should have brought him to the court to ask him to show cause why the court will not take away his practicing certificate. In our language, we call it the right to be heard because he was not heard. He was just told that this is the punishment we are giving you, punishment for what?” he asked.
“This idea that we have heard you have insulted the President in a piece of paper and therefore, we are going to beat you that is conduct unacceptable amongst human beings. Let us treat each other as human beings. I know that the idea is to protect the President but you protect anybody through the rule of law, what the law says. But when you break the law, you are not protecting the person you want to protect. If you want to protect the judiciary, the Judiciary has a way of protecting its own integrity. They would have called Sangwa instead of saying that ‘from now on, you are not going to practice law’, That is the worst type of dictatorship! It has never happened in Zambia and we should never allow that behavior. That is misusing power! They should have given this man the right to be heard. But they did not.”
Chongwe insisted that the decision was worse than dictatorship.
“A court can’t just make a decision taking away someone’s right to survive without hearing him. That is very cruel! That is inhumane behavior. Give him chance to say why he said that before that particular tribunal. Even in a dictatorship, we don’t expect to live like that. This is worse than a dictatorship! Last week we were condemning the President for insisting that he must stand for office and we told him that it was unconstitutional. And we are now condemning the judiciary for doing that to Sangwa. That is misuse of power, misuse of authority! We can’t condone that! People ought to be given the right to be asked ‘why did you do this?’ And if it is proven that they were wrong then we can sentence them. What has he done? That court which has been insulted has got the authority to summon him and to ask him questions to justify what he written about them,” Chongwe said.
He insisted that the ConCourt’s judgment on Lungu’s elidibility was wrong, adding that judges could also make mistakes.
“What I said was that Judges make mistakes and in this case, the judges made a mistake because Mr Lungu has already been twice elected as President and therefore, he was not going to qualify in 2021. And I said courts do make mistakes like all human beings. They are wrong because the point is that if you look at the judgment of the Constitution Court, the issue of holding office by a President, they did not discuss it. And they say so in their own judgment and yet that is the issue that was brought to the court whether President Lungu in 2021 qualifies to seek the office of the President. The decisions they made, they were wrong! In the minds of a lot of people, they think that because the President succeeded a term of someone else before concluding and therefore that he was actually [finishing] the other person’s term of office, that is wrong interpretation. In 2016, Mr Lungu had a running mate, Mrs Inonge Wina, so if something happens to our President today, we will not go for elections because Inonge Wina will succeed him to conclude his term of office,” said Chongwe.
“There is no law which forbids people from criticizing people who are holding public office. Because if you are a public officer you know that you are under the gaze not only of your own family but of all the people of Zambia. And some of them will criticize you wrong, others rightly. If you are a judge, if you are a minister. And people have very wrong concepts about judges that they are always right. No they are not always right, there are times when they are wrong. Judges of courts don’t always make correct judgments even if they are the highest courts. They are human beings and they make mistakes. What the Constitutional Court said they are not going to deal with this matter because it is otiose, that was wrong. It was not otiose and that, in fact, was the matter for the court to deal with whether Mr Lungu qualifies to stand for office of presidency in 2016 because at that time, he already has stood for the Office of the President twice. And according to that side of the constitution he cannot! There are blind spots, it doesn’t mean that the judge is always correct, no. Lawyers make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes. For the ConCourt, they even said we have not looked at this very closely, we have not considered it because in view of what we have already said that this man did not have a full term of office, we are not going to discus the issue of his election to the office of the President and that is why they called it otiose. And that was mistake. I was not insulting the judges.”