THE UPND says the national dialogue bill is a “still born process” which it cannot support, even if its more than 50 members of parliament were handcuffed or a gun pointed at their heads.
But Milenge PF member of parliament Mwansa Mbulakulima says there is need to “perfect” the Republican Constitution through amendments because going to 2021 with the current document is a recipe for violence.
Debating a motion moved by justice minister Given Lubinda that the national dialogue (Constitution, electoral process, public order and political parties) bill, National Assembly bill No. 6 of 2019 be read for a second time in Parliament on Tuesday evening, 10 members of parliament, in emotive debates, argued for and against the bill.
An electronic voting was called by Speaker Dr Patrick Matibini at 23:20 hours where 91 lawmakers (PF) voted for the national dialogue bill, 52 (UPND) voted against and three abstained.
This meant that the bill had passed second reading and supplementary debates around it continued at 24:10 hours on Wednesday.
Parliament adjourned sine die at 24:25 hours on Wednesday.
Leader of the opposition and Monze Central UPND member of parliament Jack Mwiimbu recalled that the issue of national dialogue emanated from the events of 2017 after incarceration of Hakainde Hichilema, president of the UPND.
“Mr Speaker, as a result of that incarceration, there was external intervention to ensure that the country returns to normalcy,” Mwiimbu told Parliament.
“I want to state very clearly here that history is repeating over the issue of refining the Constitution of this country. I do recall that the PF boycotted the National Constitution Conference, raising various issues. One of the issues which they had raised was that lack of inclusiveness pertaining to the process. At that time, they aligned themselves to the Church…. Us we went to the NCC and the results are known; the whole process failed.”
Mwiimbu indicated that when Lubinda went to the House with a roadmap pertaining to the refinement of the Constitution, the minister’s proposal had nothing to do with national dialogue.
“Unfortunately, he has somersaulted; he has now come up with a bill talking about national dialogue, Constitution, public order Act and political parties,” Mwiimbu said.
“It is my first time in this country to hear of regulating dialogue through an Act of Parliament. It is my first in my life to hear the government criminalising dialogue – they want to punish people if you don’t dialogue. What sort of dialogue is that?”
Mwiimbu, who is a lawyer, stressed that dialogue was voluntary and that it emanated from the inner feelings of an individual or an organisation.
“You can’t force somebody to dialogue with you. If you do that then it’s a farce. It’s like taking a horse to the river and you expect the horse to drink the water! Mr Speaker, this is a still-born process. You can arrest us and do whatever you want, but you’ll never force us to support this process. You’ll not do it,” he charged.
“The PF government is criminalising dialogue and they expect us to go to this particular dialogue in handcuffs and with a gun on our heads. [But] we are not going to do that! You can take us in handcuffs to wherever you want us to meet but we’ll not be with you, we’ll not support the process.”
Mwiimbu said the UPND was aware of the intention of the PF government over the national dialogue process and that such intention was to embarrass the Church.
He reminded the PF that because of its numerical advantage in the House, it could pass the national dialogue bill but that “there will be another bill that will be brought to this House that requires two thirds majority to pass it.”
“Mark my words, we are not going to support any constitutional amendments that are not arising from national consensus. As members of the opposition, in particular the UPND, we are not going to support any constitutional amendments that will not emanate from a national dialogue, which we have been urging the nation to undertake. I want to state very clearly that this is a stillborn process,” emphasised Mwiimbu.
“On that, we are very firm! If you want genuine dialogue that will be led by the Church, we are all prepared.”
Mazabuka Central UPND member of parliament Gary Nkombo told the PF to re-think on legislating national dialogue bill.
He argued that the ruling party could not force him to go to attend national dialogue when “I do not agree on the processes that you have embarked on”
“This is a clear matter of deceit; I feel deceived myself! I don’t trust them. I do not have an inch of trust in this process. My leader (Mwiimbu) already indicated that there is simply no way under the sun that if I refuse to talk to you, then I must be criminalised. What if I don’t trust you, as the case is now?” debated Nkombo.
“Where governance is concerned, the issues that sit in the dialogue process, to us in the UPND, we don’t trust PF. It must be known by the whole world that we have no trust in PF. What we want is for them to have a re-think. Don’t be dictators! It will backfire on you; this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mr Speaker, as they pass this law you know that PF is broken. I thank you.”
The opposition party’s Liuwa and Choma Central members of parliament in Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane and Cornelius Mweetwa, respectively, also debated against the bill – mostly echoing Mwiimbu’s stance.
But PF’s Mbulakulima observed that while in many countries citizens complained about lack of participation in national programmes, “in this country you’ll find that it is the government that begs the citizens to come and participate.”
“Here we are today, compatriots, the government has opened its hands and say ‘we have heard the grievances that have been going on’. There is no one who can dispute that they have all been aggrieved by the public order Act,” said Mbulakulima.
“We all agree that let us have a perfect system in terms of electoral process and arising from the 2016 general elections, we all know that going to 2021 with the current Constitution is a recipe for violence. So, there is need to perfect this document.”
Bwana Mkubwa PF member of parliament Dr Jonas Chanda, Stephen Kampyongo (home affairs minister and Shiwang’andu MP) and Makebi Zulu (Eastern Province minister and Malambo MP) are the other ruling party officials who debated in favour of the bill.
And nominated member of parliament Raphael Nakacinda said: “As Movement for Multiparty Democracy, as well as a member of parliament, I want to state that we support the bill.”
“We support the bill because we can rely on the leadership of President Edgar Chagwa Lungu who has demonstrated political will to undertake reforms that will help this country,” debated Nakacinda.
Meanwhile, Mwembeshi independent member of parliament Machila Jamba advised Lubinda to negotiate with UPND members to vote with the ruling party on the national dialogue bill, for its success.
“Let me tell you; if the UPND are not agreeable to this process and they say they are not going to vote with us, what are we going to achieve at the end of the day? Negotiating is a very good art…” noted Jamba.
“My solution, hold the bull by its horns; you negotiate with your friends (UPND members of parliament) because at the end of the day, whether we like it not, we’ll need them. I know someone is saying it’s impossible to negotiate but there is always a way.”