UNLIKE other associations, the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) does not belong to its members alone. It is composed of lawyers, and its leadership is elected by associated legal practitioners, but the association itself was established to serve the interests of the people of Zambia, thereby making the citizens of this country interested parties of the organisation.
This is so because the Law Association of Zambia does not draw its mandate from the elected executive, but from an Act of Parliament through which it was established. Parliament, being an assembly of the people’s representatives, we can safely say that the leadership of the association is, therefore, also answerable and accountable to all the people of Zambia rather than just lawyers.
According to the LAZ Act, the association was established for the following (top three) reasons: (a) to further the development of law as an instrument of social order and social justice and as an essential element in the growth of society; (b) to provide a means by which all lawyers, whatever their particular field of activity, can participate together fully and effectively in the development of society and its institutions; and (c) to encourage lawyers as individuals to join actively in the life of, and identify themselves with, the people, and to utilise their skills and training in their service.
The above stated terms of reference for the establishment of LAZ are the reason why the people of this country gather around when the association pronounces itself on a matter of national governance. People want to see LAZ utilize the law as an instrument of social order and justice; they want to see LAZ members identify themselves with the people and use their training to help develop society and institutions of governance.
We feel it is very important for the newly elected LAZ executive to understand our future praise or criticism of their work from that point of view. It is not just us; many beneficiaries of the legal system in Zambia expect a lot from the LAZ Council when it comes to interpreting the Constitution and fighting against the arbitrary exercise of power among those who have it. This is even accurate for politicians. All eyes will be on LAZ.
The Abyudi Shonga-led LAZ executive assumes office at a very critical time. State Counsel Shonga grabs the mantle of leadership of this critical organisation at the time when Zambia will be going to the polls in less than 12 months. By this day next year, Zambia would be electing new office bearers.
It is very important that you play a professional role of stewardship in advocating for constitutionalism. Never make a mistake of hurriedly endorsing either what the masses say, or what those in power pronounce; sometimes, both might be wrong. The law cannot be what someone says it is or what a politician desires it to be. The law is simply as it has been enshrined in the Republican Constitution.
In this country, State Counsel Shonga, we have heard and seen many self-proclaimed legal experts get things wrong and misleading the masses. Some of these so-called learned experts occupy extremely powerful positions in society that when they interpret the law, no matter how wrong they are, no one is able to gather the courage to challenge them. These people have caused a lot of embarrassment to the Judiciary, loss of public resources and loss of integrity to the offices they hold. They are a very dangerous people to themselves and society because they place the law beneath them.
These people can be brave and shameless sometimes. From time to time, you will hear them attempt to impose their will power on your executive, such as telling you who to gag or discipline. If you are not careful, you will fall for their canning mouths, but in the end, they will leave you in trouble while they enjoy the protection of the same Constitution they were advising you to overlook.
There will be many temptations along the way. Politicians will, if they have not already done so, approach you with an agenda to help them win the next elections. In some cases, they will want the Association to exercise a certain bias towards their interest. There will be disagreements among members of your Council and sometimes, you will stand divided after failing to reach a mutually agreed conclusion on an issue.
More is expected from you than was expected from the previous LAZ executive because your reign starts on the fringes of the general election campaigns. There are serious questions that you must answer: What legacy do you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered? Which direction do you wish to drive? Left, right or center?
Remember, you are in that office to exercise the powers given to you by the people of Zambia. You have to put people before self, you have to demonstrate that you are State Counsel worth your salt. Remember, you may be popular among the most vocal members of your association, but if your deeds fall short of integrity, you will receive disapproval from the public.
Congratulations on your election, you are now on trial before the people of Zambia. Good luck!