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CHURCH, OPPOSITION REJECT DIALOGUE BILL

(By Masuzyo Chakwe and Oliver Chisenga)

THE three church mother bodies say it is now clear that the government intends to maintain control of the national dialogue and reconciliation process, which is supposed to be linked to reconciliation between political parties and the creation of a permanent peace-building institution.

In their submissions to the Legal Affairs, Human Rights, National Guidance, Gender Matters and Governance Parliamentary Committee on the National Dialogue (Constitution, Electoral Process, Public Order and Political Parties) bill 2019, Zambia Conference for Catholic Bishops president Bishop George Lungu, Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia board chairperson Bishop Paul Mususu and Council of Churches in Zambia acting president Bishop Charles Nseemani stated that they were not in support of the bill in its current form and would therefore not participate in proceedings of the National Dialogue Forum it proposes.

“It is now very clear that government intends to maintain control of the national dialogue and reconciliation process, which in our humble view is supposed to be linked to peace-building and reconciliation between political parties and the creation of a permanent peace-building institution similar to the one in Ghana as recommended by the Church in its proposed National Dialogue and Reconciliation Framework. We are surprised that the whole idea of peace-building has totally been removed from this process, and concentration made on the political resolutions of the Siavonga meeting,” they stated.

The bishops stated that the draft bill proposes to establish a dialogue forum to make amendments to the 2016 Constitution, the electoral process, the public order Act and political parties bill, premised on the Siavonga resolutions of political parties.

“At the outset, we would like to state that we the three Church Mother Bodies [Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), and the Evangelical Fellowship in Zambia (EFZ) have been facilitating a process of national dialogue and reconciliation which speaks to socio-economic, political, cultural and religious issues. While we appreciate the fact that this bill attempts to give legal backing to the process of constitutional amendments and legal reforms, we are concerned that the bill itself does not recognise or take into account the efforts being made by the Church,” they stated. “Thus far we have conducted wide consultations with various stakeholders such as political party leaders, civil society organisations, media, labour unions and other religious mother bodies. Arising from our consultations, we have developed a comprehensive national dialogue and reconciliation framework as well as guidelines for the proceedings of the process and terms of reference for different administrative organs of the framework, such as the Technical Working Groups and committee of experts. All these efforts are aimed at promoting reconciliation, peacebuilding and national healing.”

The bishops stated that it was their impression that the bill was giving extremely short time (10 days) which robs the whole process of a meaningful and comprehensive, constitutional, institutional and legal reforms.

They expressed disappointment that they had been listed under the schedule to the bill as one of the organisations that submitted to the Constitutional Refinement process and yet they had never made any such submissions as reflected on the dates in the schedule.

“Secondly, we are concerned with the manner and speed with which the bill has been introduced. No sufficient time has been given for stakeholders to study, consult among themselves and have enough time for them to prepare substantial and comprehensive submissions to this committee.

Thirdly, the bill does not provide a guarantee for the protection of the contents that will be generated by the proposed National Dialogue Forum (NDF), because it will be subjected to further parliamentary deliberations and scrutiny,” they stated.

The church bodies stated that they were seriously concerned with the proposed provision that all members of parliament shall participate in the NDF deliberations and yet they would have undue privilege at the end of the NDF process, to alter the agreed contents of the bills, and enact them into law at the end of the whole process.

“We find this anomaly to be against the rules of natural justice, where in this case, the same people who will participate in the initial discussions will be the ones again to scrutinise the same contents. Fifthly, we are concerned, as a matter of procedure with the simultaneous handling of the constitutional refinements together with the other laws which must derive from the Constitution as a supreme law. We find this to be extremely strange,” they stated.

“Sixthly, learning from other jurisdictions, it is best practice, especially in constitutional making process, to put in place an independent committee of experts that would review and refine all the submissions of the NDF before they are taken to Parliament for enactment. This way the Constitution will avoid having inconsistences and lacunas.”

On the contents, the church bodies stated that the preamble clearly suggests that there would be no changes to the Bill of Rights by way of a referendum. They feel that the bill of rights was too cardinal to leave out in this process because it was essential to enjoying rights under the Constitution and every other law in Zambia.

The church bodies stated that the forum was highly dominated by members of parliament and government officials.

“Our fear is that when it comes to voting on particular issues not agreed by consensus, the government will always be in the majority. The foregoing is compounded by the fact that the chairperson of the Forum (who is critical to the management of the process) shall be appointed by the President and merely ratified by the forum. We are very concerned that this may compromise the outcome of the process. It is also odd that the vice-chairpersons have to come from outside the forum,” they stated.

They also expressed concern on the punitive actions provided in the bill, some of which were too severe and go against the spirit of genuine dialogue and freedom of expression. The church bodies stated that the deliberations should not be in camera.

“We believe that the proceedings should mandatorily be broadcast live on TV and radio. This is in line with the values of transparency and accountability mentioned in Section 3 of the Bill,” they stated.

They stated that they find it strange that under Section 19, the President was given the power to dissolve the Forum before it completes its work.

“This completely undermines the purpose of this whole process. The real danger is that due to political interference, members of the Forum will not be free to debate in case they say something the President doesn’t like,” they stated.

 

They recommended that the process of national dialogue and reconciliation be delinked from the proposed NDF and be left to a competent, neutral and credible mediators. The church bodies stated that sufficient time should be given for internal and external stakeholder consultation for effective engagement in the process. They also recommended that members of parliament should not be part of the NDF.

 

“In as much as we appreciate the apparent government political will in constitutional and legal reforms, our position as the three CMBs in this case, is that we are not in support of the bill in its current form and therefore we will not participate in the proceedings of the NDF. We will however, exercise our right to comment on emerging matters of national significance,” stated the Church. “It is our considered view that the process of National Dialogue and Reconciliation led by the Church should not be derailed. This is because we believe that this process will lead to a conversion of hearts and minds, leading to a united, reconciled and peaceful Zambia where all citizens freely participate in governance within a thriving social and economic environment and this is the Zambia we want!”

 

Meanwhile, the alliance of opposition parties has described the National Dialogue Constitutional Electoral process public order and political parties bill of 2019 as a sham and act of cowardice by the PF administration.

 

And UPND president Hakainde Hichilema says the PF sponsored national dialogue amendment bill is illegal and will not be supported.

 

Chipimo, as Opposition Alliance vice chairman, said the bill and process that was being adopted by the Patriotic Front was illegal, ill conceived, and ill intended, and designed to deceive Zambians.

 

“I want to state from the onset that this bill, specifically the process that is being adopted by the Patriotic Front through Honorable Given Lubinda…and I want to be clear about this, what he is attempting to do is illegal, ill conceived, ill intended, designed to deceive the Zambian people and quite frankly cowardly,” Chipimo said.

He noted that the composition of the forum tasked to look at the said bill had been deliberately bloated with public officials. Chipimo added that there was no way public officials on the forum would be expected to give a different view from that of their paymaster, the government.

“So out of the 30 to 40 people that will make this so-called forum, a significant number are civil servants. And as you know if you are really a civil servant, you can’t be expected, especially under this current administration of the Patriotic Front to voice an opinion, which might not favour the master’s voice. We see this with the behaviour of certain officials in the civil service, certain officials within the police service that due to no fault of their own, they are simply looking for their own survival, they are having to respond to instructions given to them unofficially and illegally by the so-called superior individuals within the ranks of the civil service.”

Chipimo further said the PF had designed the process deceitfully to give the impression that somehow they were trying to develop broad consensus when in fact not.

 

“For example, there are representatives from the Office of the President, the Judiciary, Defence, Home Affairs, Higher Education, Commerce and Industry, local government, Anti Corruption Commission…the list goes on. Can you really expect that with the composition of individuals that are on the government payrole and understand how this particular Patriotic Front administration operates that they will be free to express the true views on an issues as fundamental as the constitution, the Electoral reforms and how political parties operate in this country? It will not be possible and the PF knows this very well and that’s why they have designed this process fraudulently to give the impression that somehow they are trying to develop a broad consensus by engaging NGOs, Civil society and other representative groups. Its a sham and like I said before, cowardly,” Chipimo said.

 

He lamented that the act breaches the fundamental freedoms of citizens.

 

“If you examine sections 15 and 18 of this proposed bill, it’s actually making it an offence to undertake certain activities which would show that we are objecting to what the forum is intended to achieve. For example, if president Hichilema, who has representation in Parliament has a meeting or issues a statement requesting that his members do not participate in this fraudulent process, he will be guilty of an offence under this proposed bill…that’s how serious this is. If Elias Chipimo decides to speak out against anybody participating in this process, I can do it now because it’s not yet an offence but once this bill is enacted that could constitute an offence, the police can come knocking at my door on instructions of somebody like Mr Kampyongo on the basis that I have breached this fraudulent statute. That’s how serious this is…why does this constitute a problem?”

 

Chipimo further noted that if the bill was allowed to pass and amendments were made to the constitution, the damage to the nation would be inexorable.

 

“If this bill is allowed to pass and amendments are made to the constitution are made to consolidate the stranglehold that the PF has been placing around the neck of this nation, around the neck of this economy, neck of this economy of each individual then not only will you be getting more and more plunder but the level of impunity with which the PF will be able to do even greater damage to us as individuals, our economy and our nation as a whole will be unstoppable,” said Chipimo

 

And Hichilema said the proposal by President Edgar Lungu and his PF was a fraud and non-inclusive. He further said the proposed bill was meant to illegally give President Lungu another seven years as President of Zambia. Hichilema said the Alliance has had meetings with members of parliament asking them not to support the a bill which he said was meant to stifle people’s rights and the country’s democracy.

 

“We are aware that this bill is meant to stifle freedoms such as freedom of association, assembly, expression and speech. Other than that, this proposed bill is meant to illegally give Mr Edgar Lungu another 7 years as President of our country. This proposed bill is illegal and as a people that want democracy to continue flourishing in our country, we will not allow it to go ahead. In order to stop this illegal action by Mr Edgar Lungu and the PF as they dearly need numbers of members of parliament to pass this law, we have since held meetings with our members of parliament not to support such a bill meant to stifle people’s rights and our country’s democracy.”

 

“We however as an alliance partner remain committed to an open and church led dialogue which will encompass among other things electoral reforms, public order Act, and all fundamental rights,” said Hichilema.

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