TRANSPARENCY International Zambia (TIZ) says Zambia needs a constitution that commands trust and respect and not a legacy document of the PF.

Speaking during a joint briefing with the Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD), and Operation Young Vote (OYV), Friday, TIZ executive director Maurice Nyambe said CSOs in the country were concerned with the manner Cabinet Ministers were seen not to tolerate divergent views on the discussion of the Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 of 2019.

“We take this occasion to equally raise our concerns at the manner in which Bill 10 is being discussed, especially by Cabinet Ministers, who, as political leaders, should seek to unify the people of Zambia in order to achieve success at constitution-making. The growing intolerance for divergent views is unacceptable and we are exceedingly worried that our Ministers are even willing to show uncharacteristic disrespect to church leaders, as we witnessed a few days ago by a group calling themselves the ‘Association of Catholic MPs,’ all in the name of Bill 10. The mere fact that Bill 10 is bringing about so much division in the country is a strong indication as to why it should be taken back to the drawing board. A constitution forged from adversity is surely not going to stand the test of time,” Nyambe cautioned.

“For the avoidance of doubt, we reiterate our call for Bill 10 to be withdrawn in its entirety in order to make room for a more consultative process and not the rushed document that has been circulated to the public. Zambia needs a constitution that will command the trust, respect and obedience of all Zambians and not a legacy document of the PF!”

He said what was being witnessed in the Bill 10 debate was a desire by the PF government to come up with a document that was politically-compliant with their agenda, and an altered document meant to promote partisan interests.

“The PF government are essentially committing the same mistake that we have seen past governments commit, and the end result is predictable – Zambia will yet again not get a constitution, which is a reflection of the people, a constitution which is a living embodiment of the aspirations of the Zambian people. What we are witnessing in the current Bill 10 debate is a desire by the PF government to come up with a document that is politically-compliant with their agenda and a document fundamentally altered in ways that promote partisan interests,” Nyambe observed.

He insisted that Bill 10 fell far short of promoting good governance and accountability.

“As CSOs represented here, our position on this matter, therefore, has not changed. Bill 10 falls short of promoting good governance and accountability. As a matter of fact, in some instances, the Bill reduces the oversight functions of Parliament. Allow me to cite a few examples: We are worried when we read the proposed changes in Article 81 where the dissolution of Parliament before the general election is done away with. This does not promote fairness in elections and it is an attempt to allow Ministers and MPs to continue in office, drawing emoluments, even during the electoral campaign period. Please also note that this particular provision goes against the recommendation of the Parliamentary Select Committee, which proposed the dissolution of Parliament 60 days before the general elections,” Nyambe said.
“We do not agree with Article 113 that still includes the Chief Whip as an ex-officio of Cabinet despite the Parliamentary Select Committee’s recommendations not to do so; (3) Bill 10 still proposes that the President may create or divide a province without being subject to the approval of the National Assembly; (4) We are concerned with the insistence to repeal Article 68, which provides for the elections and composition of the National Assembly. Rather, Bill 10 relegates this important aspect to subsidiary legislation rather than it being in the supreme law of the land. These are just a few of the examples, which fortify our position that Bill 10 does not address the fundamental weaknesses of the 2016 (Amended) Constitution and we question the apparent ‘pass-it-at-all costs’ approach that the Executive appears to have adopted over this Bill.”

He said the government should focus on pertinent government issues that will help revive the country’s economy rather than pushing for the adoption of a piece of legislation that has bitterly divided Zambians.

“Our leaders are focusing on Bill 10, when small and medium entrepreneurs are suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We, the citizens of Zambia, need explanation on the debt status; comprehensive updates on the management of COVID-19 donations; status of the Access to information Bill; Forest 27; the Mukula Tree saga, among others,” Nyambe said.

Meanwhile, Nyambe said CSOs were concerned with the continued threat of freedom of expression in the country.

“We want to state that it our considered view, as TIZ, and collectively as CSOs represented here that, any well-meaning Zambian that has the country at heart should take keen interest in our country’s governance practices and also play an active role in providing checks and balances to those in leadership at different levels of our society. We firmly believe that one of the main pillars of any democratic nation is freedom of expression, which should be promoted and protected for all citizens. Freedom of expression is not a favour granted to us by the government; it is an inherent component of our democracy. In recent times, we have noted with deep concern, the disposition of some leaders in government and the ruling party, who have become allergic to divergent views and criticism. When Zambia returned to multi-party democracy in 1991, we invariably also accepted that the people were free to hold divergent opinions and positions on national matters,” said Nyambe.

“We are worried with the culture of intolerance where those who do not support the Patriotic Front (PF) and its positions, are threatened with violence, while others are arrested on trumped up charges. It has become a permanent feature of our democracy to hear a Minister or, indeed, the Inspector General of Police (Kakoma Kanganja), warning people whose only crime is a desire to express their opinions on matters of national importance, such as corruption and governance. We would like to underscore the point that Zambia, as a country, does not belong to any one political entity. It belongs to every citizen and as citizens, we have the right to be heard when we notice that those we have entrusted with power through the ballot, are seemingly not serving our interests, but rather their narrow political and other interests.”