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Constitution Amendment Bill not progressive, must be withdrawn – CCZ

 

THE Council of Churches in Zambia says all individuals and parties seeking political mandate in a democracy like Zambia should know that elections must not be a matter of life and death neither should they be a battle of muscles but a battle of ideologies.

 

And CCZ general secretary Reverend Canon Fr Emmanuel Chikoya says the whole Constitution Amendment Bill is not progressive and thus must be withdrawn altogether.

 

In a statement on the constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2019, Fr Chikoya stated that their prophetic voice was motivated by their wish for a just nation in which citizens were guaranteed the exercise of their God-given rights of expression, association and religion; thus, could meet and freely discuss issues of national importance without fear.

He stated that CCZ acknowledge the change in position by the Patriotic Front on some unprogressive resolutions made by the National Dialogue Forum (NDF).

 

Fr Chikoya stated that the proposal for a coalition government was not supported.

 

“In that regard, Articles 101 and 102 are to remain as they appear in the current Constitution. The President should draw his/her mandate directly from the majority of the people. The proposal to amend Articles 112 and include a new Article 117A so as to create the office of Deputy Minister is not supported. The PF government is still committed to a lean government,” he stated.

 

He stared that CCZ was pleased that the PF had finally realised that some proposals to the constitution do not mean well for Zambia’s development hence the conversion of hearts.

 

“We, however, still call upon the ruling party and those that are in support of the Constitution Amendment Bill to extend their convention of hearts to the realization that the whole Constitution Amendment Bill is not progressive and thus must be withdrawn altogether,” he said.

 

“The Bill has too many unfair, ambiguous and undefined pieces thereby not serving the interests of majority Zambians. We further extend our call to all members of parliament not to support the Constitution Amendment Bill 2019 and instead choose to stand on the side of majority Zambians.”

 

Fr Chikoya stated that the Electoral process (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and the Public Order Act Bill, 2019 were, inter alia, the culmination of the recently held National Dialogue Forum, which many considered to be an illegitimate process given the manner it was undertaken and managed.

 

He said the proposed amendment to Section 2 (a) of the Electoral Process Act No. 35 of 2016 to reduce the campaign period from three to two months does not improve the electoral environment in Zambia in any way.

 

“This is because this blanket provision relates to all elections without distinction and without considering the magnitude and importance of the election. It cannot be over-emphasised, given how vast Zambia is, the extent of our rural population and the limitation of resources of most political players outside of the ruling party, that this provision will inevitably deprive the electorate of the benefit of engaging and interacting with all aspiring candidates,” he said. “This is more unjustifiable when related to presidential elections where there is a single constituency because aspirants with limited resources need as much time as possible to canvas their constituencies to compensate for their limitations. The proposed amendment limits that time thus disadvantaging such aspirants and ultimately the electorates.”

 

Fr Chikoya stated that with regards the Public Order Act, there were a bulk of problems that had arisen over the years.

 

He stated that there had been an apparent impression that those applying the law, the Police Service, had under that law an inherent power to either permit or deny an assembly from taking place.

 

“Inasmuch as the law requires that notification be given to the police by those seeking to hold a public gathering, the Police Service have been seen to take the requirement for notification and response thereto as power for them to either permit or deny the going ahead of a public gathering,” he stated.

 

He sated that to that end, and in trying to cure those apparent gaps in the law, CCZ agreed with other stakeholders that the notion of ‘notification’ under the Act needed to be properly spelt out so that both the Zambia Police Service and negatively affected stakeholders, most of whom include opposition political parties during election campaign periods, were properly guided on the proper application of the Act.

 

Fr Chikoya stated that there was need to provide a timeframe within which the Zambia Police Service could respond to a notification of holding of a public gathering.

 

He said such feedback should extend to the availability or non-availability of the police to police the said event.

 

“Further, in providing such feedback, police should avoid being malicious, arbitrary or worse still act according to instructions from the party in power. The police must be professional. In a case where the applicant for whatever reason is denied ‘permission’ to hold a meeting, a demonstration or a procession, the police must be bound by law to give the applicant an alternative day and time not exceeding 14 working days in which the applicant must be allowed to hold the said meeting, demonstration or procession,” he said.

 

Rev Chikoya stated that there was need for the Act to give clear definition of what was termed or considered to be ‘normal’ or ‘customary’ processions contained in Section 4 (10).

 

He stated that the relevance of having a clear guidance of the aforementioned terms was to provide guidance to the implementers and enforcers of the Act – the Police – who might fall into temptation of arresting people on their personal fancies.

 

“The waiver given to government ministers not to notify the police when having meetings is a form of discrimination based on political affiliation or opinion. This waiver by the law gives them an advantage to circumvent the need to obtain ‘Police permission’ even where the minister is doing partisan and political functions. Therefore, a clear distinction must be sought between government functions or where a minister is discharging his employment duties and partisan/political functions,” he stated.

 

He stated that religious gatherings should not be regulated under the Act.

 

Rev Chikoya stated that this should extend to other non-Christian religious activities.

“This clause should be removed as it is potentially addressed by the establishment of a Ministry for Religious Affairs and National Guidance as well as taken care of under the exemptions the Minister is permitted to give to certain organisations under the Act,” he stated.

 

“We feel that unless the points we have highlighted above are considered, the enactment of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2019 into law will not be serving the interests of majority Zambians. We have the obligation to ensure that a Country’s Constitution is clear and easy to understand.”

 

CCZ stated that a country’s constitution must be a public document that must be understood by the ordinary person on the Zambian street.

“We, therefore, suggest that the best course of action is to withdraw it immediately and let Zambia continue with the current 2016 Amendment of the Constitution,” according to the statement.

 

He stated that when the government or any other gets serious about making legitimate changes to the Zambian constitution, they must follow proper procedure, open up a proper national dialogue process like one which was spearheaded by the Church, consult Zambians and enact a Constitution that is in keeping with constitutionalism, common sense and the rule of law.

 

On the Katuba Parliamentary by-election, Fr Chikoya called on all participating parties to ensure a peaceful campaign and ultimately election.

 

“We believe that a battle for ideas is the most ideal form of winning votes from the electorate other than the use of violence and intimidation. Winning an election is not about using hate speech or offensive language but rather it is a contest of ideas, fight for winning majority votes of the hearts and minds of the electorate, the selling of practicable policies and programs for improving the lives of the electorate,” he stated. “A free, fair and peaceful election is not hinged on just one political party alone working to ensure peace but on all political parties participating in an election.”

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