The State, through the Attorney General, has asked the Constitutional Court to clarify which money former ministers are supposed to pay back for their illegal stay in office after the dissolution of Parliament in 2016. We find this very ironic and unfair to the Chief Government Legal Advisor because this mess could have been avoided if the President and the said ministers listened to his legal opinion on the matter before Parliament was dissolved.

The whole country watched State Counsel Likando Kalaluka on ZNBC Sunday Interview prior to the campaigns and the dissolution of Parliament. He was asked by the interviewer, Grevazio Zulu, to interpret the law as regards the position of Cabinet ministers under the 2016 amended Constitution. The man boldly said the law was very clear that all ministers needed to vacate office as soon as Parliament was dissolved.

Kalaluka was internally lambasted by the Executive for giving a legal opinion that was at variance with the position taken by the Head of State. We recall that the Attorney General had a tough time trying to withdraw his guidance in order to conform with the presidency. But what has happened in the end? The Executive has been humiliated because the court has ruled in line with Mr Kalaluka’s initial legal opinion which was ignored.

It is sad that after rubbishing his legal opinion, the Executive now has to abuse the Attorney General to do the dirty and embarrassing work of protecting the little remaining integrity of those who ignored him. Even as the Attorney General is making this inquiry with the Constitutional Court Registrar, he knows the answer to what he is asking. In fact, everybody knows the answer – the court said everything that each minister earned in salaries and allowances must be paid back in full.

Dear readers, we cannot vouch for for Mr Kalaluka SC and say that he is a good or clean man, but we can say with confidence that he demonstrated goodwill for this country on this particular case. However, his boss didn’t care.

The question we would like to ask President Lungu now is: why have an Attorney General if you don’t want to hear his legal opinion? Why appoint judges to the Constitutional Court if you are not interested in their adjudication of cases? This disrespect for the Judiciary by the Executive needs to be stopped before it plunges the whole country into an irretrievable ditch.

The Edgar Lungu administration’s persistent and unprecedented attacks on the legitimacy and independence of the Judiciary present a serious threat to Zambia’s democracy. Our forefathers gave an independent Judiciary a crucial role in protecting our constitutional order. The courts preserve the intricate balance of power by ensuring that the Executive abides by the law and does not abuse its authority.

We are pleading with President Lungu to realise that the Judiciary has no enforcement capability of its own judgements. In this particular case, it relies on the Executive to obey its orders and enforce them without question. The law is the law; nobody should question the law; not even a sitting Head of State. That’s why it breaks our hearts to hear the President, who is a lawyer, say that “this particular judgment is questionable”. Who are you Mr Lungu to question the final decision of the Constitutional Court? Zambia doesn’t belong to you, sir! And the Judiciary is not serving at your mercy neither.

It hurts that President Lungu has repeatedly shown that he is willing to shatter the norms that protect our democracy when it suits him. Not long ago, it was unthinkable that a Head of State could openly defy a court order. Where does our President get the powers to interpret the Constitution differently from the Court and choose to obey his own interpretation?

These verbal assaults on the Judiciary from the Executive are deeply concerning, especially as we draw closer to 2021 because they seek to delegitimize and intimidate the judges who are charged with determining the legality of the President’s actions and to settle election disputes. Even more troubling, the attacks cast doubt on the courts’ authority to fulfill their core duty of stating what the law is, and to ensure that no one, including the President, stands above the law.

We must say that around the world where democracies have deteriorated into authoritarian states, there is always a common pattern. There are sustained attacks on the Judiciary which lead to diminished independence of the courts. This, in turn, leads to the erosion of democracy. Authoritarian leaders recognize an independent Judiciary as a threat because it restrains their ability to abuse their power. So they neutralize it with disregard and threats. President Lungu’s assaults on our courts follow this international authoritarian playbook.

All Zambians need to understand that President Lungu has created a constitutional crisis which will consume all of us as citizens. He needs to be stopped. If he can’t listen to the Judiciary or his own appointed Attorney General, then he is a bad leader who must be nowhere near that powerful State House position.

We feel pity for State Counsel Likando because his stomach won’t allow him, otherwise there would never be a better time to resign from this scandalous government than now when he is being dragged into the mud by a man who thought he had better skopodonono than any other lawyer. Shame!