A consortium of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) say Justice Minister Given Lubinda has introduced new proposed amendments to Bill 10, which were not in the select committees recommendations, and they are detrimental to democracy.

Speaking on behalf of Caritas Zambia, ActionAid Zambia, GEARS Initiative and musician Fumbe Chama, Alliance for Community Action (ACA) executive director Laura Miti insisted at a media briefing, Monday, that Bill 10 should be withdrawn from Parliament because it is aimed at weakening the country’s democracy.

“Following the publication of the proposed changes to Bill 10, the CSOs represented here carried out a preliminary review of the proposed amendments, reading the proposed changes against the original Bill 10, the recommendations of the select committee as well as the 2016 amendment of the Constitution. Our review of the document unfortunately revealed that the Minister was not being honest with the public on both the intention and the content of the proposed changes to Bill 10. Our reading of the draft changes reveal that they maintain the unstated intention of Bill 10, which is to weaken the democracy of the country and Parliament. It is particularly disturbing to note that the proposed changes include bringing changes which were not part of the original Bill 10 or the select committee resolutions. Many of these changes are detrimental to democracy beyond the harm already proposed in the original Bill 10,” Miti said.

“On Parliament, the Minister makes the following changes that were not proposed by the Parliamentary select committee; (a) article 47 is amended to allow Parliament to prescribe how the mixed member electoral system will be implemented, that is to say Parliament will decide how it will itself be elected and operate. On this, the Parliamentary select committee recommended that the mixed member system be adopted for election to the national assembly. But it emphasized that this mixed member system should be clearly defined in the Constitution and not through an Act of Parliament as the Minister of Justice proposes. Further, the Minister proposes that article 68 that sets out the election and numbers of members of Parliament should be repealed and this be prescribed by an Act of Parliament. Regarding this, the select committee recommended and we quote ‘the committee is of the view that the composition of the National Assembly including the composition of members of parliament is fundamental and should not be relegated to an Act of Parliament where it can be revised. The committee therefore recommends that the provisions of article 68 should be retained in the Constitution in order to be insulated from frequent amendments’.”

Miti expressed concern that Lubinda was introducing totally new sub-articles which had not been subjected to public debate.

“The Minister of Justice recommends that a member of parliament lose their seat if they are convicted of an offence or sentenced to death or convicted for a period exceeding six months by whatever term. This issue was not in Bill 10 and therefore not discussed by the committee. Civil society would like to repeat that Parliament is a creature of the Constitution, it cannot be allowed to change itself at will, that would make Parliament a creature of the ruling party whose members could change the Constitution via a simple majority vote. Allowing Parliament to easily change its own makeup would also make elections academic. Regarding the new clause C, we would like to state that it is totally unacceptable that the minister would be initiating new clauses at this point which have not been subjected to public debate while claiming to be amending the controversial Bill 10 according to public sentiments,” Miti said.

“It is also worrying that this clause C will make it very easy for MPs to be removed from Parliament by use of trumped up charges that can lead to a suspended sentence. The minister proposes the stay of ministers and MPs in office against the sentiments of the public and the recommendations from the committee that propose that Parliament should be dissolved 60 days before an election but MPs receive their emoluments for their full term. In this proposal, the minister goes against one of the issues that have been central to the public’s objection of Bill. Number three, the proposed changes to reduce the Mayoral term from five to two and half years, again making a new proposal not suggested by the public or the select committee. We have presented only a few problematic changes to an already problematic Bill 10 made by the Minister of Justice. We have done so in order to reassert our position that the current amendment to the Constitution has the objective of weakening Zambia’s democracy.”

Miti further called on MPs to save Zambians from harm by rejecting Bill 10.

“It is for this reason that the civil society organisations represented here insist that Bill 10, however named should be withdrawn. If Zambia needs to address lacunas in the 2016 Constitution as agreed by the public, it should be done through a new process that sets out only the clauses that need addressing. Zambia has not asked for a fundamental review of their Constitution and have certainly not asked for this confusion in the Constitution. We therefore call on all members of parliament to save Zambia from the harm intended by this Constitutional amendment and reject Bill 10 however represented,” said Miti.