CHAPTER One Foundation (COF) has dragged the State to the Constitutional Court, seeking an interpretation on whether the requirement for public office holders to declare their assets is in conflict with the provision which requires them to abide by the code of conduct prescribed for their office.
The organisation wants the ConCourt to determine whether Article 263 of the Constitution as amended by Act No 2 of 2016 which provides that holders of public office may declare their assets upon assuming or on leaving such office is in conflict with Article 261 of the Constitution which requires that a holder of public office must act in accordance with the code of conduct and ethics prescribed for that office by statute.
According to an affidavit in support of originating summons filed in the Constitutional Court, COF director Suzanne Matale stated that on January 13, 2021, the organisation made a formal complaint to the Chief Justice regarding the failure of named Ministers to comply with their obligations under section 10 of the parliamentary and ministerial code of conduct Act Chapter 13 of the Laws of Zambia to annually declare their assets, liabilities and sources of income.
She added that the foundation requested her Ladyship the Chief Justice to constitute a tribunal to investigate the failure of the Ministers to make statutory declarations.
“That by a letter dated 11th February 2021 the Honourable Chief Justice responded to the request and stated that she was constrained from appointing a Tribunal as section 10 of the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct Act was overtaken by Article 263 of the Constitution as amended by Act No.2 of 2016 which only requires holders of public office to make declarations before assuming or upon leaving office,” Matale stated.
She argued that although Article 263 only requires holders of public office to make declarations before assuming or upon leaving office, Article 261 of the Constitution requires holders of public office to abide by the code of conduct prescribed for their office.
Matale submitted that the interpretation of provisions of the Constitution is the preserve of the ConCourt, and that the court should interpret Article 263 of the Constitution and particularly whether the provision is in conflict with Article 261.
“That the applicant is desirous for this Honourable Court to interpret Article 263 of the Constitution and particularly whether the provision is in conflict with Article 261 which requires all holders of public office to abide by the code of conduct prescribed for that office which in the case of Ministers includes the prescription of the standard and frequency with which they ought to make disclosures of their assets, liabilities and sources of income,” read the affidavit.
Matale stated that there was a need to interpret the Constitutional provisions to ensure accountability and transparency in governance.