We’re descending into anarchy – CSO

WE are descending into anarchy, say several civil society organisations. This is according to a joint statement in support of LAZ president Eddie Mwitwa, in condemning the proposed amendments to the Constitution as contained in the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2019 which is currently before Parliament, signed on behalf of the CSOs by Chapter One Foundation Limited executive director Linda Kasonde.

The CSOs include ActionAid Zambia, Alliance for Community Action (ACA), Caritas Zambia, Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD), Civil Society Constitution Agenda (CISCA), NGOCC, Zambia Council for Social Development, WaterAid Zambia and Transparency International Zambia (TIZ).

Kasonde stated that Mwitwa’s statement puts the national interest above self-interest and the CSOs were confident that the LAZ Council would support that view.

She stated that the alternative was to be unpatriotic and to be on the wrong side of history.

“As stated by Mwitwa, the proposed amendments to the Constitution will have the following effect: Reintroducing Deputy Ministers: This is a proposal that the people of Zambia rejected in the last constitutional review process. This amendment would be costly to the Zambian people at a time when the country should be taking austerity measures given the high levels of debt in the country. It comes at a time when many Zambians are struggling to make ends meet due to the high cost of living. These resources could be better used to meet basic services such as health, education, water and sanitation. We are aware that schools have not been receiving their funds and that funding to the health sector is equally erratic. And even if there were no cost attached to it, having a bloated Cabinet would mean that things would run less efficiently,” she stated.

“Removing the constitutional limit on the number of constituencies and therefore the number of members of parliament: This will have three effects. Firstly, the party in power, which normally has a majority in Parliament, will be able to increase the number of members of parliament and constituencies at will, meaning that they can ensure that they always have a majority in Parliament and therefore make it easier for them to pass any Act of Parliament and even to reach the two thirds threshold to change any provision of the Constitution outside of the Bill of Rights. A ruling party with that much power is essentially tantamount to a one-party dictatorship. Secondly, the ability to increase the number of members of parliament will come at a cost to the Zambian people who have to pay the salaries of these MPs at a time when money is hard to come by. Thirdly, it will increase the likelihood of the party in power remaining in power indefinitely.”

Kasonde stated that the proposed introduction of coalition governments in the event that the party leading in a general election fails to meet the current 50 per cent threshold to form government undermines the will of the people as stated in the final draft constitution drafted by the Technical Committee, to have a government elected by the majority of the people in Zambia (over 50 per cent of the electorate). Kasonde stated that this also means that a political party could form government by partnering with another political party that was largely rejected by the electorate.

She stated that this means that the power of the people of Zambia to elect a government of their choice would be undermined.

“Additionally, as stated by Mr Mwitwa, coalition governments are only suited to a parliamentary system of government. Zambia currently operates under a presidential system of government where the electorate votes for the President directly unlike in a parliamentary system where the ruling party selects who the head of state will be. This is problematic not only because the people of Zambia have consistently opted for a presidential system of government but also because the framework of the Constitution, even with the proposed amendments, does not support a coalition system of government,” she stated.

Kasonde also stated that Mwitwa was correct in saying that the fact that the government was proposing an unlimited number of judges that make up the High Court, Court of Appeal and Constitutional Courts meant that the party in power could pack the courts with judges that were sympathetic towards them subsequently interfering and undermining the independence of the judiciary.

“The fact that the powers in the constitution are being wrestled out of the hands of the people of Zambia, who are the true owners of the country and its Constitution, shows that we are descending into anarchy. We support the LAZ president’s statement as it is the correct position at law. His statement puts the national interest above self-interest and we are confident that the LAZ Council will support that view. The alternative is to be unpatriotic and to be on the wrong side of history,” stated Kasonde.

Mwita in a statement dated July 9 stated that he had noted with grave concern the proposed amendments to the constitution.

He indicated that LAZ would issue a comprehensive statement on the proposals, which he said raise grave concerns.

Mwita stated that the cry of most Zambians had been to reduce the bloated government expenditure so that savings could be applied to improve service delivery to the majority poor.

“It is of concern therefore that the amendments seen to reintroduce the position of deputy ministers which will increase expenditure,” Mwita stated. “I have also noted with concern that the Constitution Amendment Bill creates Parliament but does not prescribe the number of members of parliament and leaves this very important task of stipulating the number of members of parliament to an Act of Parliament. In essence, Parliament has been empowered to create itself. This is anomalous as Parliament is a creature of constitution and its composition cannot be left to an Act of Parliament.”

Mwitwa stated that in most jurisdictions the integrity of elections is negatively impacted by the creation of parliamentary constituencies in strongholds of one political party or another, which was technically referred to as gerrymandering.

“And it is a matter that raises serious concerns wherever it rears its head,” Mwitwa stated.

He also noted that the Amend Bill does not stipulate the number of judges that should constitute the courts, presenting the possibility that successive governments could interfere with the composition to suit their sectional interests.

“Finally, the issue of a coalition government in a presidential system such as ours is very curious because coalition governments are only workable in a parliamentary system where the head of the executive is chosen from Parliament,” Mwitwa stated.

“In a Parliamentary system the people therefore elect political parties who in turn select a leader to lead the political party in power and consequently the government. In Zambia, the people elect their President directly and to give the political parties the choice of selecting a president for the people of Zambia through a deal made between them would be to rob the Zambian people of the chance to elect their President. It is these and other issues that raise serious concerns over which the LAZ Council will be deliberating and issuing a comprehensive statement in due course.”

Mwitwa stated that a constitution must stand a test of time and must not be tailored to suit present interests of any section of society.

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