THE Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 of 2019 must be withdrawn because it still contains several retrogressive proposals which undermine Zambia’s democracy, says NGOCC board chairperson Mary Mulenga.
Speaking during a press conference in Lusaka, Thursday, Mulenga urged parliamentarians to withdraw the controversial piece of proposed legislation owing to its several anomalies and inconsistencies.
“Tomorrow (Friday), members of parliament will once again be called to make an important decision on the Constitution, as they vote on Bill 10. Having reviewed the re-gazetted Constitution (Amendment) Bill with NGOCC’s submission to Parliament and the recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee report, in line with the current developments in the country, NGOCC concludes as follows: The re-Gazetted Bill does not address the many concerns by stakeholders and also does not necessarily reflect all the recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee and in some instances, there is a contradiction between what is proposed and what the Select Committee recommended. The constitution reform process continues to be a source of discontent in the country and it is important that this process is focused on building a strong foundation for national development. The Women’s movement has been advocating for a people-driven constitution for a long time, and one that will address the many shortcomings in the country’s constitutional order. Our analysis of Bill 10 in its original form, and now the re-gazetted Bill with proposed Parliamentary amendments, highlights the many shortcomings with the whole constitution-making process and it is important that there is still need for broad-based consensus on the way forward,” Mulenga said at the NGOCC secretariat.
“On 12th June, 2020, government, through the Ministry of Justice, published Government Gazette No. 534 Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019 with proposed Parliamentary Amendments. It is, however, our considered view that the document does not address the many concerns that stakeholders have been raising about Bill 10 and the whole constitutional reform process. Therefore, as NGOCC, we reiterate our position that Bill 10 should be withdrawn in its entirety together with the re-gazetted Bill. The Constitution should not be a product of coercion and manipulation; it should be a product of consensus and nation-building.”
Mulenga added that provisions that were raised in the NGOCC submission were still not adequately addressed by the re-Gazetted Bill with proposed parliamentary amendments.
“Article 68 – Election and Composition of National Assembly: NGOCC recognizes the role of the legislature as an important aspect of governance of a country and the composition and functions of such a body should not be the subject of frequent changes by being relegated to subsidiary legislation. The Parliamentary Select Committee report acknowledges this principle which, sadly, is missing in the re-Gazetted Bill with proposed Parliamentary Amendments; Article 81 – Term and Prorogation of Parliament: NGOCC has observed that there is an apparent inconsistency on the question of dissolution of the National Assembly. In the re-Gazetted Bill, there is a reversal of the earlier decision in the original Bill 10 to repeal Article 72 on Vacation of Office as members of parliament,” Mulenga observed.
“The proposed amendments to Article 81 starting with 81 (1) indicate that the term of Parliament shall be five years commencing from the date that the members of parliament are sworn into office after a general election and ending on the date of the next general election. Consequently, Article 81 (3), which provides for Parliament to stand dissolved 90 days before the holding of the next general election is proposed to be repealed in the re-Gazetted Bill with proposed Parliamentary Amendments. The implication of this is that both Members of Parliament and Ministers will stay in office even during the election campaign period.”
On Article 154 (2), which touches on the election of mayors, among other local government and civic leaders, Mulenga said that the proposal to reverse their election undermined effective service delivery.
“Public service delivery takes place at the local level and civic leaders are important in fostering development. Zambia has over the years witnessed the erosion of the roles played by Mayors and Councillors and the politicization of local government. The 2016 amendments to the Constitution, which allowed for direct election of Mayors or Council Chairpersons, was an important forward step. These elected officials serve with full confidence of the people and are in some ways insulated from political interference. The proposal for Mayors and Council Chairpersons to be elected from among councillors changes the loyalties of these officials back to their political parties and not the people. Mayors and Council Chairpersons will be more aligned to serving the interests of the party and not the people,” she said.
“Further, election of these civic leaders using internal processes will make it hard for women to be considered for these positions and this will most likely lead to an even lower number of women in such positions. The second issue of concern and whose basis is difficult to see, is the proposal for mayors and council chairpersons to serve a two and half-year term. The Constitution and the original Bill 10 have a five-year term of office. The Select Committee did not address this issue of varying the term of office. We note, however, that the re-Gazetted Bill on proposed Parliamentary Amendments have introduced a new provision under Article 154 (2) (b) and we wonder where this proposal is coming from and what its basis is?”
And Mulenga observed another inconsistency on the dissolution of Parliament in the re-Gazetted Bill, which pointed to the implication that both MPs and Cabinet Ministers would remain in office even during an official election campaign period.
“Article 81 – Term and Prorogation of Parliament: NGOCC has observed that there is an apparent inconsistency on the question of dissolution of the National Assembly. In the re-Gazetted Bill, there is a reversal of the earlier decision in the original Bill 10 to repeal Article 72 on Vacation of Office as members of parliament. The proposed amendments to Article 81 starting with 81 (1) indicate that the term of Parliament shall be five years commencing from the date that the members of parliament are sworn into office after a general election and ending on the date of the next general election. Consequently, Article 81 (3), which provides for Parliament to stand dissolved 90 days before the holding of the next general election, is proposed to be repealed in the re-Gazetted Bill with proposed Parliamentary Amendments. The implication of this is that both Members of Parliament and Ministers will stay in office even during the election campaign period,” said Mulenga.
“NGOCC reiterates its submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee that the practice of dissolving Parliament during the electoral campaigning period assists to ensure fairness among competing candidates. Left in this proposed state, the ruling party members of parliament will have an unfair advantage against other persons standing in their constituencies, particularly women, as they would have access to all state resources and systems. This also takes away the internal democratic processes, which in most cases negatively impact on women comparatively to their male counterparts. It is NGOCC’s considered view that, left in its proposed state, this provision puts to question how the adoption processes will be conducted if other candidates are already ministers during the process of campaigns. NGOCC, therefore, supports the Parliamentary Select Committee’s recommendation that Article 81 be amended to provide for the National Assembly to be dissolved at least 60 days before the next general election.”