[By Chambwa Moonga and Oliver Chisenga]
CHAPTER One Foundation chairperson Linda Kasonde says Bill No. 10 of 2019 will compel Zambia to turn into a one party dictatorship because the powers vested in the President will be so excessive.
Meanwhile, Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) president Eddie Mwitwa says any member of parliament that will vote for Bill No. 10 is not worthy Zambians’ vote in the 2021 general elections.
Meanwhile, Bishop Joseph Kazhila says majority Zambians, through various representations, have made their position clear on Bill 10 that they do not want it.
And Zambia National Students Union says parliamentary debate on Bill 10 should be deferred to allow public access to the report of the Parliamentary select committee.
Kasonde, a former LAZ president, and Mwitwa were speaking on Prime TV Oxygen of Democracy programme on Monday night.
Kasonde explained that the Bill No. 10 seeks to increase the chances of elections being manipulated because: “the President can now increase the number of MPs and ministers can stay in office during the elections.”
“So, with the power of incumbency they can influence things. There is also the re-introduction of deputy ministers…. There are now excessive powers of the President,” Kasonde said, adding that it was unfair for the PF government to fundamentally change the Republican Constitution without adequately consulting Zambians.
“I mean, I have listened to many media reports, read many newspapers about what’s been going on around Bill No. 10 and I’m yet to hear a single government official educate the Zambian people on how the contents of Bill No. 10 will be beneficial to the Zambian people.”
She noted that the bill just seemed to be advancing a very selfish agenda for “people” to remain in power.
“There is nothing in Bill No.10 that helps the Zambian people; there is nothing that puts food on their table, there is nothing that gives them more rights. If anything, it is taking away rights, it is taking away the power of the people to govern themselves properly,” Kasonde indicated.
“That cannot be something that the people of Zambia want to partake in. All the clauses in Bill No.10 act towards entrenching the current government in power and making it difficult to remove them.”
She underscored that there were: “just so many things that are wrong with this Bill No. 10.”
“There is nothing in there; it’s all leading towards the general elections. It’s all about increasing the powers, making it easier [for the ruling party] to get elected, making it more difficult for people to challenge what goes on in the Executive. There is nothing of any benefit to Zambia,” she stressed.
“We can only appeal to their (members of parliament) conscience that enacting Bill No. 10 will only disadvantage the people in every regard. So, please, please side with the people of Zambia; do not pass the bill and posterity will judge you favourably.”
Kasonde pointed out that government had used a pretext that the Constitution was merely being refined to remove lacunas, when in fact the document was about to be completely changed.
“They have just taken advantage of the Zambian people,” Kasonde said.
She added that if Bill No.10 was enacted, it would just change the face of Zambia’s democracy.
“We’ll essentially be moving toward becoming a one party dictatorship because the powers vested in the President will be so excessive. There will be very little room for anyone to challenge what the President or anyone in the Executive says,” Kasonde cautioned.
“Things will change and they are not things that can be reversed easily. Even if somebody else was elected into government, there’s no guarantee that they will reverse all these things that would have been brought by Bill No. 10. So, it’s really important that this bill doesn’t pass because we won’t be the same. We’ll not be a democracy in truth and word!”
She further indicated that Bill No.10 was fundamentally unconstitutional and illegal.
“So, this idea, for example, that Cabinet ministers have collective responsibility, that is only insofar as what you are doing is legal. So, you are not mandated to vote for something that is illegal,” said Kasonde.
“I would caution all members of parliament that you may find yourself in a very awkward situation, should you decide to vote for this bill.”
On his part, Mwitwa explained that there was a provision in Bill No.10 which talked about Article 47 (2) of the Constitution being amended to provide for mixed member system of electing members of parliament.
He is alarmed that Bill No.10 does not define what the mixed member system means.
“But it says ‘as prescribed.’ So, the President and his Cabinet can decide ‘this is how we want this mixed member system to be.’ Politicians being what they are, that particular provision can be used to perpetuate existence in power,” Mwitwa said.
“There are so many other provisions in Bill No.10 that talk about ‘as prescribed’. Bill No.10 is altering the basic structure of the Constitution. You are essentially tampering with the fabric of the Constitution.”
He noted that Zambians could do without Bill No.10 becoming law.
Mwitwa added that Bill No.10 did not mean well for Zambia.
“We do not need it. We’ve got so many other problems in this country. If Bill No.10 becomes law, it will cause us problems. If Bill No.10 becomes law, personally I would want to campaign against anybody that will vote for Bill No.10,” he said. “Anybody that is going to vote for Bill No.10 is not worthy your (Zambians’) vote, come 2021. My prayer is that we should not even get to third reading; the bill must fail at the second reading. But if it does not fail, and God forbid, and goes to third reading, we’ll be appealing to the President not to assent to Bill No.10.”
Mwitwa charged that Bill No.10 would only: “mess us up.”
“It will destroy our democracy,” warned Mwitwa.
And Bishop Kazhila of Life Gospel Fellowship Ministries Church warned the PF not to ignore the voice of the majority as that could be the voice of God.
“Sometimes the cries of the majority of the people in a society can be the voice of God speaking to rulers. Ignoring such cries can therefore have ghastly consequences with God. Majority Zambians, through various representations, have made their position clear concerning bill 10. They don’t want it. Parliamentarians don’t represent themselves but their voters,” Bishop Kazhila said.
The clergyman insisted that Bill 10 had been widely opposed by the majority Zambians and that its sponsors should not harden their ears and hearts to force a position anathema to the majority people.
“We are therefore appealing to our parliamentarians; please open your ears and eyes to the cries of your voters and take into account their opposition to this bill 10 and do them some pride,” he said.
“As you debate, it is the eyes and ears of the majority Zambians and generations yet to be born are on you expecting you to be honourable enough to do them justice and thus safeguard their interests,” Bishop Kazhila said.
Bishop Kazhila further appealed to the sponsors of Bill 10 to withdraw it for the sake of unity in the nation.
And Zambia National Students Union (ZANASU) acting president Steven Kanyakula said his union had, in the last few days, been interacting with members of parliament from both opposition and the governing PF on the enactment of Bill No. 10.
Kanyakula said it was becoming clear from the MPs that the parliamentary select committee’s report seemed to have addressed a number of concerns from both those against the bill and those in favour.
“[But] ZANASU calls on government to postpone the enactment of the bill to allow the public access to the report, and to engage each other on the way forward in view of recommendations that have been made by the committee,” Kanyakula said.
“…ZANASU further calls on the Speaker of the National Assembly, Honourable Patrick Matibini to immediately publish the report of the [select] committee which should be used for engagement among different sides who have a problem with the current bill.”
He said messages the ZANASU leadership were receiving from UPND and PF members of parliament were that the parliamentary select committee’s report was: “progressive and has narrowed the differences.”
“In the same vein, we call on civil society organisations from the two conflicting sides (Chapter One Foundation and the Law Association of Zambia) to show leadership and sit down and reconcile their positions before the bill can be enacted,” noted Kanyakula.