We will leave the debate around the contents of the National Dialogue Bill to highly qualified technocrats like Professor Muna Ndulo who says the whole charade is a scheme by PF to manipulate the Constitution; and State Counsel Wynter Kabimba who says people like Professor Ndulo are nothing more that mischievous critics.
As these two groups of learned advocates lead or mislead the nation with their interpretation of the law regarding the proposed Constitutional amendment process, we would like to highlight a few submissions, which if we ignore today, will come back to haunt our country through a pointless waste of resources.
This government has just passed a Bill that (once assented to by the President) will give authority to an appointed Forum to act on behalf of the people of Zambia in making amendments to the Constitution, Electoral Process, Political Parties and Public Order Act.
So far, the church mother bodies and 11 NGOs have categorically said they will not accept to be part of this forum, citing procedural impropriety, among other flaws. All members of parliament from the UPND have also rejected the Bill, and have refused to be coerced into being part of what they are describing as an draconian constitutional amendment process.
As one would expect under this leadership, President Edgar Lungu says he will not hesitate to assent to the Bill so that the Forum can get to work. To us, this is déjà vu, as the French would say. This is exactly what happened in 2016 when the Head of State approved the same bad document that he is now seeking to correct because he did not consult. We recall that he said he would even close his eyes when assenting to the 2016 Constitution; he didn’t care.
Today, Mr Lungu is reminding Zambians about the mistake he made, by repeating it. Why would a President go ahead to assent to a Bill which the Church, civil society organisations and the entire opposition has rejected? This is not a PF Bill that will dictate how the Central Committee of the ruling party will conduct business, it is a national governance Bill. This is the point when a president is supposed to remove himself from political affiliation and stand with the wider society because he is not governing PF but the whole nation.
There is a reason why the law requires the Executive to be the final authority in signing Bills and approving recommendations from the Legislature. The President is not supposed to be influenced by his members of parliament, but interrogate their actions. He is supposed to play an oversight role by making his own Executive consultations before approving what comes from Parliament. Citizens want to know Mr Lungu’s own reasoning on the National Dialogue Bill, rather than just saying “I will not hesitate to sign”. A president must, at all times, avoid being a rubberstamp leader, and doing what is right for the greater good of the country.
Lee Habasonda is saying, “please Mr President, donot rush in assenting to this Bill so that, as a country, we can arrest any implications of this law. It is important to ensure that it has legitimacy; majority of the people and that it is in the best interest of the citizens. The fact that there is contestation even outside Parliament means that the President needs to take his time and probably consult other actors outside Parliament who may not necessarily be part of the political alignment.”
We don’t see the President listening to anyone who disagrees with his pre-determined position. This arrogance is not new at all and we are very certain that he will assent to the document, if he has not done so already. But as we consider that done, the question remains, how will President Lungu and his Patriotic Front pass these constitutional amendment proposals from the Dialogue Forum without the required two-thirds majority in Parliament? This is the question that Mwembeshi Independent MP, Machila Jamba is asking.
“Me as a patriotic Zambian I would rather move out and not vote because this thing is taking us nowhere! Mr Speaker, they say that we learn from what happened in the past. I was not MP when they were enacting the Constitution in 2015. I was at home. Some people zeroed in and pushed that Constitution and it has brought us where we are. Justice Minister, please negotiate with your colleagues so that when we reach June, we can look at it properly. Clearly, you need the UPND MPs, even if you got all of us as independent MPs, we can’t pass it!” Jamba told Parliament during Third Reading debate.
Indeed the PF does not have the required numbers to amend the Constitution without the support of the UPND, and they know this fact. What is shocking is the language that is being used in condemning the stance taken by the opposition party, instead of negotiating for a win-win situation, where their views are also taken into consideration.
With this arrogance, we can see already that this exercise will be another useless venture that will add stress to the already gasping Treasury. Huge amounts of money will be spent to pay sitting allowances to this multitude of Forum members, mineral water and food will be dished out, but in the end nothing will be realised.
We urge Zambians to ask the right questions. If the church, NGOs and the opposition have all rejected a law, why must it be implemented? Citizens of this country need to stop spending so much time posting jokes on social media and start challenging our political leaders when they are making decisions which have life-long implications. This Dialogue Forum shall be useless, because PF and Independent MPs put together, still can’t amend the Constitution without UPND.
We already tried this method under the National Constitution Conference in 2007 and the Constitution Review Commission under Michael Sata. Both processes failed to provide a durable Constitution. How does the PF expect to do the same things over and over and expect to get different result? Stop wasting our money!