AMOS Chanda says there should be no limits placed on freedom of expression because that threatens the very existence of freedom itself.
And Chanda says the UPND administration has an opportunity to benefit from mistakes made by previous governments by allowing criticism as early as possible.
Commenting on Information and Media Minister Chushi Kasanda’s remarks that citizens should exercise restraint as they exercise their “newly found” freedom of expression to avoid injuring others or causing acrimony in the country, Chanda urged Kasanda to emulate President Hakainde Hichilema who had declared that criticism would not be stamped upon.
“I think the Minister obviously was speaking for the first time and she was trying to lay down operating procedures in terms of engagement. What I suspect is that she was overcome by the pressures of government, straight from the opposition she is in government. She is seeing this government that has done, if you like, nothing wrong yet and there is this criticism. That is exactly the burden of government we used to talk about some of us to say that, when you are in the opposition you do not have a burden of responsibilities like those in government have. So, she actually thinks the criticism is unjustified,” Chanda said.
“The determination whether criticism is justified or unjustified is for the people of Zambia to make, it is not a call for a Minister to make. What the Minister needs to do is to take a cue from the President who has said that criticism as long as it is within the law will not be stamped upon. What she says in view runs counter to what the President is saying. When that criticism is genuine it should be made and there should be no limits placed on freedom of expression because that threatens the very existence of freedom itself.”
Chanda urged the Minister to also promote internal criticism, from within the UPND.
“It is the opportunity for the UPND government, an opportunity for the new government spokesperson, they can actually go on month after month with a clean sheet of zero mistakes if they take on those criticisms and they deal with it tomorrow. They shouldn’t wait until the criticism mounts because then they will be unable to deal with it. So respectfully, I disagree with the honourable Minister, I totally disagree with her position. That must be made by the Zambian people, that call must be made by the opposition actually,” he said.
“There ought to be, if I may speak now with my experience in government, I can advise that the honourable Minister must not constrain but actually promote even internal criticism. That must be promoted rather than constrained. When these avenues are, the safety valves are open, then there will be no pressure. But when they are tied and locked, then there will be the ballooning of this pressure that will eventually make it difficult for the honourable Minister to deal with that criticism. So otherwise, she must do the opposite of what she is saying. She must take a cue from President HH who actually wants as much criticism as possible and that no person will go to jail for criticizing the government. I must emphasize that there must be a based agenda from within the UPND to allow internal criticism.”
And Chanda said the UPND should learn from the mistakes of previous governments by allowing criticism as early as possible.
“The value of democracy actually lies in debate. Who determines when the government will be criticised, it is the very day they are sworn in. The very minute the government is sworn in, the opposition should begin to hold that government accountable. If you ask me with the benefit of eyesight, the earlier the criticism sets in the better, it is like building immunity. If you have never suffered from Malaria and it hits you for the first time then the consequences are usually fatal. So, the UPND has an opportunity to benefit from the mistakes that other previous governments have made by allowing criticism as early as possible and as much as possible,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chanda urged technocrats in Ministries to ensure that new Ministers were properly oriented.
“I would also want to urge my colleagues in the technocratic team that media training is essential for all new Ministers. We have a Commonwealth tradition, which unfortunately in this country is not practiced that one Minister ought to hand over to another Minister. So, there is value in the benefits of institutional memory that Ministers should get from their predecessors. So, in the absence of one Minister handing over to the other, you get Ministers thrown at the deep end. I sympathize with her and therefore I urge the technocrats to do the decent thing, make sure that the Ministers are properly oriented,” said Chanda.