(By Malawo Malawo and Mphatso Tembo)
SPEAKER of the National Assembly Dr Patrick Matibini has reprimanded FDD deputy national secretary and spokesperson Antonio Mwanza for contempt of Parliament.
And Speaker Matibini has cautioned the Daily Nation newspaper and other media houses in the country to verify information before publishing it.
Rendering a ruling on a point of order raised by Serenje Central MMD member of parliament Maxwell Kabanda on an article published in the Daily Nation newspaper, issue number 1696, dated Thursday 22nd June 2017 titled ‘Suspended MPs challenge Speaker’ where Mwanza was reported to have published incorrect information on emoluments paid to members of parliament, Dr Matibini ordered Mwanza to stand behind the bar and further requested the Sergeant at Arms to stand behind him.
“Honourable members, we’ll recall that on Thursday 22 June 2017, as the House was considering the ministerial statement presented by Honourable C. Yaluma MP, Minister of Mines and Mineral Development, Mr M. M Kabanda, MP for Serenje parliamentary constituency, raised a point of order…Honourable members, in line with parliamentary procedure, and according to the principles of natural justice, Office of the Clerk of the National Assembly wrote to the Daily Nation, Mr Antonio Mwanza, requesting them to state whether the story was correctly attributed to Mr Mwanza. In response, The Daily Nation confirmed [that] the article had been correctly attributed to Mr Antonio Mwanza and explained that the story was obtained from his Facebook page,”
Speaker Matibini explained.
He noted that the committee on privileges absences and support services met to consider the matter and that Kabanda, Mwanza and a Ms M. Mbewe, the executive editor of the Daily Nation, appeared before the committee.
“The committee observed that the point of order by the honourable member of parliament for Serenje raised the issue of contempt of the House with regard to a person publishing false or scandalous libel against members of parliament,” Speaker Matibini said, adding that in deliberating on the matter, the committee considered Section 25 (b) of the National Assembly (powers of privileges) Act Chapter 12 of the Laws of Zambia.
The Speaker indicated that after carefully examining both written and oral submissions of the parties, the committee established that Mwanza published false and libellous information about the emoluments paid to members of parliament on his Facebook page.
“By publishing the false and libellous information regarding emoluments paid to members of parliament, Mr Antonio Mwanza breached Section 25 (b) of the National Assembly (powers of privileges) Act and lastly, the Daily Nation published what Mr Antonio Mwanza had posted on his Facebook page without verifying the accuracy of the information,” Speaker Dr Matibini noted.
“In determining the punishment to impose on Mr Antonio Mwanza, the committee took into account the following factors: (1). That the offence committed by Mr Mwanza is a criminal offence and Section 25 (b) Act for which he was liable, be prosecuted and (2) that Mr Mwanza was not a first offender as he had committed a similar offence against the House for which he was reprimanded by the Honourable Mr Speaker on Friday 6, August 2010. However, in view of the extreme remorsefulness he exhibited and the unreserved apology tendered by Mr Antonio Mwanza to the committee, the committee decided to exercise leniency, in this regard, the committee recommended that Mr Mwanza be reprimanded before the House in accordance with Section 24 to 28 (4) of the national assembly powers and privileges Act…”
He, then, in line with Section 24 (4) of the Act, turned to reprimand Mwanza before the House, as recommended by the committee on privileges, absences and support services.
“Mr Antonio Mwanza, your conduct of publishing false, scandalous, libellous and misleading information regarding the emoluments paid to members of parliament was a breach of parliamentary privileges and contempt of the House. Members’ emoluments are not a secret but are contained in a Statutory Instrument, which is a public document. The House therefore is perturbed that you made a statement regarding members’ emoluments, not making any effort whatsoever to confirm the accuracy of the account. Your conduct was highly irresponsible and evidently a mischievous and calculated attempt to ridicule members…” Dr Matibini ruled.
“May I also note that this is not the first time that you have published a statement intended to ridicule the House and you have been reprimanded by the House. Ordinarily, the House should have referred this matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. The House has, however, decided, once again, to exercise leniency on you. You should therefore seize this opportunity to introspect and change for the better. Should you in any case commit a similar contempt, you will certainly be liable and prosecuted.”
He said the committee further resolved that the Daily Nation newspaper be cautioned to verify information before publication.
“Honourable members, before I order Mr Mwanza to render his apology to the august House, let me also caution the Daily Nation and all media houses to verify information they obtain regarding the House and its members to avoid spreading falsehood, which amounts to contempt of the House,” cautioned Speaker Dr Matibini.
In his apology, Mwanza said: “Mr Speaker, I Antonio Mourinho Mwanza, in my personal capacity, do unreservedly apologise to this august House and Honourable members of parliament.”