ALLIANCE for Community Action (ACA) executive director Laura Miti says President Edgar Lungu should understand that the loyalty of senior lawyers is not to the sitting government, but to the Republican Constitution and Zambians who own it.

Commenting on President Lungu’s directive to new Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) president Abyudi Shonga to ensure that his Association deals with lawyers who openly oppose government when elevated to the status of State Counsel, Miti said the President should allow lawyers to operate independently.

She observed that by asking Shonga to deal with State Counsel, President Lungu was trying to dictate to the Association how to carry out its mandate just like he and his government had done to several other governance institutions in the country.

“Lawyers are only made State Counsel because they are of independent mind; because they are professional and because they understand that their duty is to uphold the Constitution and to defend law and order. So their loyalty is to the Constitution only. State Counsel have the duty to criticise government and to hold government accountable; they have a duty to call government out when it’s in breach of the Constitution. And the State Counsel are doing a very good job and we expect that all lawyers will be able to stand up and ensure that the government is always accountable for its actions and to always uphold the Constitution and what is good for Zambia and its people,” Miti said in an interview.

“So the President needs to understand that loyalty of the State Counsels and, indeed, all lawyers, is not to the sitting government, but their loyalty is to Zambia. The Constitution is there for the people of Zambia, not the sitting government. The sitting government is only one creature of the Constitution that is owned by the people. So, the President needs to stop asking LAZ to go against its ethics and the principles that govern the profession because that is unacceptable.”

And Miti said by asking Shonga to silence lawyers and State Counsel in particular, who were critical of government, President Lungu was trying to silence the Association and lawyers just like he and his government had done to other governance institutions in the country.

“What the President is asking Mr Shonga to do is exactly what he has done to so many institutions in this country, which fail to do their mandate. They have done this to everybody; when you look at the Judiciary, look at the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) and all these other government institutions, none of them is performing according to the expectations of the people because of this same thing of ‘you must uphold the sitting government.’ I think what the President is asking the Law Association of Zambia president to do to the lawyers and to the profession itself is space to bury the professional body along with the reputations of the people in that Association just like what has happened to many other governance institutions in this country,” Miti said.

She insisted that it was not the duty of any lawyer to sing praises to government, but to offer checks and balances by ensuring that the rule of law was always upheld.

“State Counsel are public prosecutors, [they] have a mandate to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. Therefore, they should be able to criticise government where they believe government has not performed to its expectation. But I think the President does not seem to understand that. He seems to not to understand that the duty of every public officer is to Zambia and not the sitting government because governments come and go, but the nation remains the same. So, you cannot have public officers who sing praises to the government of the day when they have a duty to uphold the Constitution on behalf of the people of Zambia,” said Miti