Former Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande says it is difficult for government to account for the purported lockdown in Zambia in the absence of invoking the necessary provisions of the law required to declare an emergency.

On Wednesday, President Edgar Lungu announced that the country was already on lockdown based on government’s recently outlined science-led disease outbreak preparedness and contingency plan in which measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were highlighted.

The President said this in a statement shared on his Facebook page, where he noted concerns by people calling on him to declare a lockdown, saying the measures put in place fitted the definition of a lockdown.

But in an interview, Magande said making public pronouncements was not enough in this case because revoking the laws that guaranteed citizens to enjoy certain rights would legalise the pronouncements and make it more practical for the enforcers.

“That is one of the issues that have become difficult with colleagues in government now, they don’t realise that certain actions are already covered in the laws of the country. A lockdown where you are telling on people [for example in Lusaka’s] Bauleni compound not to move is provided for under the Emergency Law. So you have to revoke that. Then if you bring up a new Statutory Instrument (SI) like they have brought the ones under health, those are under health alone. Therefore, what would have been preferable is to call Parliament and let Parliamentarians vote on a proposition to invoke the Emergency Laws of the country. But the way it was said, there is nowhere anybody can quote to say ‘the President used these powers’. I don’t even think himself (President Lungu) when he was saying that there is lockdown, he said ‘under these powers’. So because of that, people are still moving and they are opening bars,” Magande said.

“And very soon somebody who is perhaps mistreated for opening their business will go to court and say ‘but this is not the law’. So what is the problem of just using something under the Emergency Act and then you make provisions under that? Right now we are being told this disease has not left Lusaka; so if it hasn’t left Lusaka then there must be somewhere where there is a regulation issued that ‘Lockdown will only affect Lusaka’. If this is done then people will not even try to get to Kafue Bridge or travel to Kapiri Mposhi to go to the Copperbelt because they will know they have been locked down in Lusaka.”

Magande also condemned President Lungu for confirming the presence of a lockdown in the country through a Facebook Post, saying not every Zambian had access to Facebook.

“I am hearing of people talk about lockdown in their countries everywhere around the world and we are hearing it from Heads of States who are invoking provisions of their laws. So if he (President Lungu) did that [announcement of a lockdown] and put on Facebook, some people don’t go on Facebook. So I don’t know when they will know about it. There is a radio station which is a public radio station and there is a national broadcaster in Zambia, but I didn’t hear the President use any of those [to make his announcement]. So that’s where the problem is and I am really surprised because for all these things, there must be a gazette notice. There must be a gazette notice published in Newspapers which can be used in a court of law,” said Magande.

“It’s not an announcement on the Television by the President, it is not an announcement by the President at a mass rally in Samfya as he is inspecting the floods there. There must be something written down for the people that are interested in following it. Even me for example this issue of bars, it’s an issue that affects me. If I want to carry out a citizen arrest of a bar owner next to me who is opening their bar during this period, I can wave some document to him. But if I just go to this bar owner and say ‘didn’t you hear the President saying this in Samfya’? He will say ‘but I wasn’t in Samfya’. So these pronouncements need legal backing. After the President has made his declaration, he should expect people who are following him to help him implement it.”