WE would like to draw the attention of our readers to the Constitutional Court judgement in the case of National Democratic Congress (DNC) president Chishimba Kambwili and Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Patrick Matibini. In this matter, Mr Kambwili petitioned the Constitutional Court for a declaration and order that the Speaker exceeded his powers when he declared the Roan Parliamentary seat vacant.
On February 18 this year Constitutional Court president Hildah Chibomba ruled that Speaker Matibini exceeded his powers when, in his ruling declaring Chishimba Kambwili’s Roan seat vacant, he proceeded to interpret statutes in order to “cure” the lacuna he identified in Article 72 of the Constitution as amended. The court noted that the function of interpreting the law and the Constitution was vested in the Judiciary.
Justice Chibomba, observed that while Dr Matibini was well within his power to respond to the point of order that was raised on the floor of the House, he exceeded his constitutional power as he strayed or encroached into the adjudicate function of the courts of the land which were mandated to exercise judicial authority of the Republic by interpreting the law and the Constitution.
“We find that the Speaker exceeded his power as the function of interpreting the law and the Constitution is vested in the Judiciary as provided by Article 119 of the Constitution. The interpretation of the Constitution as a legal instrument is the function of the courts, the branch of Government to whom is assigned that delicate task,” ruled Justice Chibomba.
This ruling from the Constitutional Court is very revealing. For some time now we have been complaining about how the Speaker handles business in the House; how he metes out punishments to erring members and how he exercises his discretion in general. In our view, he is not a fair Speaker. From the time when MPs were slapping and pouring water on each other, we have observed how he treats cases which involve members of the opposition and how he treats cases which involve the party in power and those in government. It is not fair.
The most recent case where we think the Speaker made an unfair ruling is the debate on Bill 10 in August 2019. Responding to a letter from LAZ lawyers Simeza Sangwa and Associates, who asked the House to halt proceedings given that the matter had been petitioned before the Constitutional Court, Clerk of the National Assembly Doris Kapumba stated, on behalf of the Speaker, that the debates would continue on account of the doctrine of exclusive cognizance, which provided that the House enjoyed exclusive and unfettered jurisdiction in the conduct of its internal proceedings.
But when the UPND moved a motion to impeach President Edgar Lungu in 2018, the same Speaker said the National Assembly could not table the impeachment motion because some of the grounds advanced by the opposition were before the courts of law. In the Lungu impeachment case, the Speaker never mentioned that the National Assembly makes its own rules and its debates cannot be interfered with by the proceedings in the Judiciary.
This ruling from Justice Chibomba which has exposed Speaker Matibini for overstepping his authority to act in the interest of the ruling party is a sign that things are not as they ought to be in the Legislature. It would appear that the Speaker and the Patriotic Front don’t mean well for the people of Zambia. We are seeing a pattern where those in positions of influence are trying to use their power to give undue advantage to each other.
Now, if this was any other Speaker, there would no problems. But coming from this highly academically accomplished man, this behaviour makes sad reading. Dr Matibini is supposed to be a good man, a fair man, a man of the people. Dr Matibini is supposed to be the last man in defence of Zambia’s democracy. Given the security of tenure that he enjoys, this is the last man who was expected to be easily cowed down by political pressure. Something has changed this man.
The Matibini we knew would not have destroyed his name like this. The Matibini we knew always acted to protect the weak against the powerful in society. Mr Speaker Sir, you ascended to fame as a media freedom lobbyist and lawyer for journalists who were persecuted by previous governments in court during your practising years. When did you change, Mr Speaker Sir? What went wrong? Where is the justice you stood for. Who are you afraid of? How can we help you?
You are the master at law and there is nothing we can share with you about separation of powers that you don’t know already. But look now, your fellow judges are now calling you out for basically being overzealous. For what good Sir? Any way, good luck on the legacy you have chosen to adopt.