THE National Assembly has adjourned indefinitely in view of the coronavirus pandemic, consequently shelving the Constitution Amendment Bill number 10 of 2019.
Meanwhile, Mazabuka central UPND member of parliament Gary Nkombo has pushed Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Matibini into a tight corner with a point of order for which he failed to come up with a ruling despite a four-hour break.
When Parliament resumed, Wednesday, Chipata central PF member of parliament Moses Mawere was just about to start his debate on Bill 10 when Muchinga Province Minister Malozo Sichone rose on a point of order, wondering whether it was permissible for business in the House to go on, given the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Are we in order to continue sitting amidst the scare that is there and also the possibility that the virus can easily spread amongst honourable members?” asked Sichone.
Speaker Matibini said he understood the gravity of the matter but reserved his ruling.
As Mawere was about to resume his debate, Nkombo rose on a point of order, wondering whether debates on Bill 10 could continue when one of the proposed amendments was a subject of litigation.
“Mr Speaker, there has been precedence in this House where when a matter that is under discussion is admitted in a court of law, to continue that matter being deliberated in the House becomes sub-judice. I am aware of the precedencies that I am referring to and for ease of reference, this member of parliament here, assisted by the member of parliament for Roan at that time moved a motion to impeach the President. A motion which was admitted for deliberation; during the course of the deliberation, or when [we wanted to] bring this motion on the table for debate, some citizens decided to approach the courts and I, as mover of the motion, was informed by your office Mr Speaker that as a matter that I brought before the House had become a subject in the courts of law, it becomes difficult for the assembly to proceed because the two could not run side by side. Mr Speaker, I am aware that your office today the 18th of March, 2020 has been served with court documents which have in my hands and will lay them on the table as I finish. They are duly received, stamped by the office of the clerk and this is in a matter of the following parties; Mr Dipak Patel, citizen as a petitioner and the Minister of Finance as the first respondent and the Attorney General as the second respondent in this matter that is before the Constitutional Court of Zambia as a petition. And for ease of reference, I will go ahead and deal with just the first copy of this particular matter but it will be subject for you Sir to go through and hopefully decide whether to halt the proceedings of Constitutional Amendment Bill number 10 which is on the order paper and on the floor of the house right now as you have done before in the case where I intended to move a motion to impeach the Republican President, Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu,” Nkombo said before going further to quote parts of Dipak Patel’s law suit.
“…Mr Speaker, would this House therefore be in order to continue to deal forthwith with the issue of Bill 10 which contains this particular Article that I have quoted in this document from court? It is my prayer that in your ruling after you’ve studied the matter, you will as you’ve done before halt the proceedings of the Constitution amendment Bill 10 until this matter is disposed off in the court of law. I thank you Sir.”
In his immediate ruling, only 14 minutes into Wednesday’s national assembly proceedings, Speaker Matibini adjourned the House, saying he needed to study the matters raised before making a ruling.
“Very well, I must state form the outset that the process that has been referred to me now, I have not had a look at it. I don’t know at what point it was served this morning, but I can confirm that for most of the morning, I was actually presiding over the standing orders Committee and we completed our business very late this afternoon. I am also mindful that the point of order that has been raised touches on business that we are just about to commence. So in order for me to exercise my judgment properly, I want to briefly look at the process in question. I will therefore stand down the proceedings and when I return, at least I will have an idea of what this process is all about so that I can finally take a position, that’s my ruling. So the business will be adjourned briefly,” Speaker Matibini said.
Speaker Matibini only reconvened the House about four hours later, saying he needed more time to study Nkombo’s point of order.
“Honourable members I have since studied the point of order and given the issues raised and other documents and precedents both judicial and those founded on Parliamentary practice and procedure, I need to further study to enable me render a measured response. I require more time to ponder over the point of order,” he said.
But on Sichone’s point of order which the same point of order raised by Monze Central member of Parliament Jack Mwiimbu on Tuesday, Speaker Matibini called on Vice-President Inonge Wina to move a motion to adjourn, saying a decision had been arrived at after consulting public officers on coronavirus.
“Mr Speaker, in accordance with standing orders 33 (1) of the National Assembly standing orders 2016 and in view of the Coronavirus I beg to move that the house do now adjourn sine die,” said Vice-President Wina, without any opposition.
The House then adjourned sine die.