CONSTITUTIONAL lawyer John Sangwa says as a lame duck President, Edgar Lungu must focus on consolidating his gains rather than pushing for constitutional amendments.
And Sangwa says the gazetting amendments to Bill 10 is madness, unlawful and crazy.
Meanwhile, Sangwa says other than telling lies, those advocating for Bill 10 have failed to justify it to the masses.
Speaking on Radio Phoenix’s Let the People Talk, Tuesday, Sangwa said because President Lungu’s term was almost coming to an end and he is not eligible to re-contest, his agenda in trying to amend the constitution cannot be trusted.
“Is President Lungu the right messenger for Bill 10? That is what we should be talking about. Is he the right person, can he sincerely be the advocate for the amendment of the Constitution? In my view, I will tell you no. Why? Because he is a lame duck President. We are talking about, he has 13 months before he leaves office and he is not eligible for re-election and the question is, Should he be the face of trying to amend the Constitution? The answer is no! Because what will be his agenda?” Sangwa asked.
“When you are in that position and you are going towards the end of the term, the issue is to consolidate on your gains, the issue is to focus on your legacy. You cannot use the Constitution as a political tool, you can’t! It has been used before, we shouldn’t allow it to be used again. We cannot allow for a Constitution to be used as a political tool to favour a party in power against its opponents. That has never been the objective of the Constitution. The Constitution has to remain politically neutral.”
Sangwa insisted that Zambia should be more focussed on fixing the economy.
“There are always priorities in a country, I can’t believe that anybody who is sincere and is in this country can say amending the constitution is a priority for this country, it is not. We have far more complexed and pressing issues. We have a situation where in 2011 the country’s external debt was less than a billion dollars that is what we owed, total external debt. Today, that debt is projected to reach $20 billion, it’s crazy! How are you going to pay back that sum of money?” he asked.
And Sangwa described gazetting of amendments to Bill 10 as crazy and illegal.
“Whatever is going on is crazy, it is unbelievable that with nearly 100 years of legislative experience, we are going through the crazy situation that we are in. First of all, there are two things, there is a bill which is already in the National Assembly, it stopped at the second reading, then there is another bill which was gazetted in June issued under a special gazette signed by the Secretary to the Cabinet. A country like Zambia where we have had 60 years of independence we know better. Whatever has happened is madness, no sane people could do what they have done. First of all, there is no provision in our laws that in the middle of the legislative process, that you can gazette another bill seeking to amend the bill that is in the assembly outside the assembly. There is no such a law. In any case, this is lawlessness. In fact, it violates the constitution. We have a procedure and that procedure for amending laws is provided for in the Constitution,” Sangwa said.
“If they want to change, they can pull out the one which is before the assembly pending a second reading then they can now re-present the one which was gazetted in the National Assembly. Then that becomes the official bill. Now the implication will mean that restarting the process all over but they can’t do it both ways. This is an unofficial document, it has no legal foundation whatsoever, but the official bill is what is in the National Assembly.”
He said the gazetting of amendments indicated that the President was intervening with the legislative process.
“The decision to make laws, especially government bills starts with the President. The President makes a decision ‘we need a bill’, a bill is formulated. Before the bill is passed onto the assembly, it has to be signed by the Attorney General, then it is passed on to the assembly. Now clearly, the one who issued that memo does not even understand how this country is supposed to work, does not even understand what Parliament is. Parliament is not a body, it is a concept. You have the National Assembly and the President working together and the product of that cooperation is always an act of parliament. So, the President generates the bill, it is received by the assembly and the assembly debates that bill. Once the assembly debates that bill, it can approve it with or without amendments. Once the bill has been passed on to the assembly, the only time the President will see it is after the process in the National Assembly is complete, then the bill is passed. When it is passed, it is taken to the President and then the President will now look at ‘it is this what I sent you’, if he agrees with it, he gives it assent, he signs it then it becomes law. If the President does not agree with what the assembly passed, he sends it back with his recommendations, that is the procedure we have. There is no provision to pull out a bill in midstream, it’s lawlessness. The President has to wait until the assembly finishes its job and that is the only time he can have a say,” Sangwa said.
“There is no provision that you can pull it out, [pull] whatever they have written out, that is crazy! They wrote with parliamentary amendments, there are no Parliamentary amendments, there is nothing like that in any law. There is a procedure in how the National Assembly makes its decision. If you are going to say these are parliamentary amendments, it pre-opposes that they were agreed upon in the National Assembly. No! There has been no such a procedure, the only way the assembly does that, the assembly must have a quorum and depending upon the nature of the issue it has to receive support of a requisite number of votes. This Bill 10 hasn’t gone through that process. So this is interference by the President in the legislative process, in the work of the assembly; what the assembly is supposed to do is simply reject that because then the assembly is being treated like a rubber stamp. It clearly shows that the President has no respect for the assembly.”
Meanwhile, Sangwa said other than lies, those advocating for Bill 10 had failed to justify it.
“So far, I have not heard any convincing cases other than lies. For instance, nowadays you don’t know how accurate information is but the President is on record having said we support Bill 10 because it will stop chiefs wrangles, and so forth. Those arguments are crazy, totally insane because there is nothing in Bill 10 which addresses that issue and anybody who goes on that path basically doesn’t understand how the institution of chiefs work,” he said.
Sangwa said PF had complicated the process because they were not being sincere.
“Really, in all honesty, I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution and I stand by that because I have carefully looked at it and there is nothing good in it. They have further added to the confusion; the publication of the gazette in June just adds to the confusion. The whole process of amending the Constitution should be simpler for the people to understand to know what is at play. Do you know what you need to do? You need the Constitution as amended in 2016, you will need to have Bill 10, which was gazetted last year, you also need to have this fake document which was published in June, three documents in order to make sense out of it who does that? Yet, if you are sincere and honest, you simplify the process, you don’t complicate because you want a buy in from the people,” said Sangwa.
“Even I was struggling to make sense out of it. My job is all about reading, what about the common on the street because that Constitution is also being amended in his name. Where does he first of all derive the time and expertise to be able to go through that exercise? How do we even relate to these two documents? What is the significance of the June one? What is the significance of the original Bill 10? All these things ought to be explained.”