GOVERNMENT Parliamentary Chief Whip Brian Mundubile says holding a referendum just to determine the popularity of Constitution Amendment Bill Number 10 of 2019 is not tenable because it runs contrary to procedure.
Responding to calls by some opposition members of parliament that Bill 10 should be subjected to a referendum to determine its popularity, Munduile argued that a referendum would be unprocedural.
He, however, wondered why certain stakeholders wanted to depart from the already-established laws and bring in other suggestions, insisting that Zambia was not short of laws that provided for how the Constitution should be amended.
“I find that suggestion very unusual; it’s a very strange suggestion. I don’t know why people want to depart from the already-established laws and bring in other suggestions. Zambia is not short of laws that provide for how a Constitution should be amended. Article 79 of the Zambian Constitution is sufficient to deal with amending of the Constitution. You only bring in issues of the referendum when you want to amend Article 79 itself the Bill of Rights, as provided for by the law. So, for one to suggest that to establish whether Bill 10 is popular or not, we must go to a referendum, I think it’s a very strange proposal and it is not tenable at all. It’s just not tenable to go to a referendum just to find out its popularity, it’s unprocedural and it’s not part of the laid-down process. So, let’s stick to what the law says about this,” Mundubile said.
He said enactment of laws remained a preserve of the National Assembly.
“We must understand that when we talk about enactment of laws, that’s a preserve of Parliament. So, in Parliament, to pass an ordinary piece of legislation, an Act of Parliament, you only need a simple majority and the assumption is that those are people’s representatives. So, if the number of those that say, ‘yes’ is bigger than those that say, ‘no’, you are saying the majority of the people of Zambia have said, ‘yes’ because these are people’s representatives. By the same token, for the Constitution, the threshold is even higher because it goes to two-thirds majority. So, if two-thirds of MPs in Parliament support the Constitution Amendment, then that is the position. But then to put things straight, I think we have really missed the rail on the issue of Bill 10. I don’t agree with the phrase to say, ‘do you support or not support Bill 10?’ My own opinion is that there should be no question like that because what is Bill 10? Bill 10 is a collection of proposals. So, if you are presenting a collection of 79 proposals, how possible is it that you can disagree with all these proposals and yet they came from other Zambian people?” Mundubile asked.
“So, if you ask ‘do you support Bill 10?’ You actually make it very difficult for the person that you are asking. Assuming out of 79 clauses, this person is opposed to 10 of them and feels very strongly against these 10, he’s unlikely to say, ‘yes’ because of these 10. So, if you rephrase the question to say, ‘how many clauses in Bill 10 are you objected to or are you supporting?’ Then the debate around this issue would be different altogether. So, I think people must only competently comment on proposed clauses that affect them, not rejecting the whole Bill because the clauses contained in Bill 10 affect every one of us differently. So, the people who would want to propose on Bill 10, they should come up with counter-proposals against these proposals and be able to debate. But suggesting to go to a referendum? I think it’s a shortcut way of looking at things because even if we did go for a referendum, then what? Using what law? I think let’s not be lazy, as Zambians! We should not be lazy to think, thinking comes naturally and we just have to apply ourselves a little bit more to say… And assuming we went to a referendum and then you came up with a position that those that are for Bill 10 are more, then what? You will be again on the same process.”
He argued that stakeholders calling for a referendum were the same parties who had been changing goal posts since the Bill was introduced on the floor of the House.
“We all have different views on these particular clauses. But if you get one champion saying, ‘I don’t like everything,’ I find that unusual. You can’t amend laws with a defeatist approach and if that is the way we are going to approach the Constitution-making, then it becomes difficult. So, if you look at what is provided, what we are supposed to be doing now is that political parties, those with representation in Parliament speak to the MPs; walking away is not the solution because when voting in Parliament, there is ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and there is a record as to who voted how. So, even those opposed should just go and vote and shoot down the Bill with reasons so that the Zambian people can judge for themselves,” argued Mundubile.
“Otherwise, the people who are changing statements are people who committed themselves to what they didn’t want in Bill 10 at first, they had come out in the open, but now, they’ve stopped talking. If you look at our position, we have never changed. But our friends have been shifting goal posts, which is very worrying.”