[By Thomas Ngala and Emelia Phiri]
JUSTICE minister Given Lubinda says Dipak Patel has not derailed Bill No. 10 of 2019 because it will be debated on when Parliament reconvenes.
“Don’t give him unnecessary credit,” he said. “So it’s mischievous for anyone to say Dipak Patel has derailed Bill 10. That’s extremely mischievous because Dipak Patel has not derailed Bill 10 at all.”
On Wednesday, Patel petitioned the ConCourt demanding an order compelling Minister of Finance Bwalya Ng’andu and Attorney General Likando Kalaluka to present to the National Assembly a complete statement of the state of public debt contracted from 2016 to date, including the terms and conditions of the loans; within 14 days or such other timeframe that the court may prescribe.
When the House begun to deliberate on Constitution (Amendment) Bill No.10 of 2019, Mazabuka Central UPND member of Parliament Gary Nkombo rose on a point of order on continued deliberations on Bill 10 in view of former commerce minister Patel challenging the legality of the government procuring public debt in contravention of the Constitution.
He argued that the constitutional provision before the court was the very provision that Bill 10 was trying to reverse.
Nkombo said continuing to discuss Bill 10 in view of the matter in the ConCourt was subjudice. At this point proceedings of the House were stood down to allow the Speaker to study the matter raised in the point of order.
After five hours of studying Nkombo’s point of order, Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Matibini invoked statutory instruments banning public gatherings in view of the coronavirus outbreak to move the House to adjourn sine die.
Dr Matibini said he needed more time before he could render a ruling on Nkombo’s point of order.
Addressing a joint press briefing at Ministry of Information, Lubinda said Patel’s petition did not derail Bill 10, adding that the bill is not dead.
“The court has not even received the court papers and how can anyone possibly say he has derailed… the court has not heard the petition yet. The Speaker hasn’t read the petition. How could someone just come up with that strange notion that Dipak Patel has derailed Parliament? Don’t give him unnecessary credit. He has gone to court and his matter will be determined by competent courts of law. Let us not judge that matter in the press. Leave it to the courts,” he said.
Lubinda said the National Assembly was not part of the matter as petitioned by Patel.
He added that it was mischievous for people to say Patel had derailed Bill 10.
“Members of the press, with regard to that matter, all I would do is to refer you to a similar matter that was brought before the Constitutional Court. You may recall that the Law Association of Zambia brought an action against the President, Attorney General and the National Assembly again over Bill 10 and the court pronounced itself very clearly that nobody can stop Parliament in its legislative programme,” Lubinda said. “It was very clear: the court said to the petitioners if you want to challenge the Bill wait until Parliament has debated it. Only then can you challenge it. And what are doing now in Parliament? We are looking at Bill 10. And if you are going to follow the precedence, the precedence is there. It is very clear. So I don’t think this is a matter which should create any panic. Any citizen has a right to challenge any part of the Constitution or any wing of government and Dipak is in his own right to go to the court and say can you please cite this one and this one of breach of the Constitution, then the courts will handle that matter. But that is not a matter that brings in the National Assembly…The National Assembly is not part of that matter. From what I understand that matter is Dipak Patel suing the Minister of Finance and suing the Attorney General. The National Assembly has not been joined to the matter. And I’m sure that the right Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly today will study that matter and at his own time he will pass his ruling on the matter.”
He said that ruling would be made in Parliament.
“And this is the reason I’m saying to you that if indeed Parliament is going to debate Bill 10, the instruction will not come from outside Parliament. The instruction will be made within Parliament by the authorities of Parliament, not any other person,” Lubinda said. “So it’s mischievous for anyone to say Dipak Patel has derailed Bill 10. That’s extremely mischievous because Dipak Patel has not derailed Bill 10 at all.”
He however explained that there are special circumstances under which proceedings of Parliament may be stopped adding that “when Parliament resumes you will be informed whether this is one of those circumstances”.
Lubinda said Bill 10 has been consultative and that it has a lot of support from citizens.
He said the bill was for the current and future generations of Zambia.
“Yesterday [Wednesday], Parliament adjourned on a matter of emergency. It was not prolonged. Meaning therefore, that when Parliament reconvenes, the order paper of yesterday, shall be the order paper of sitting of Parliament. Simply put, the consideration of second reading of Bill 10 will be on the order paper on the first day when Parliament is reconvened,” Lubinda said.
He accused those who have been campaigning against the bill of panicking.
“No one must have any imagination that the consideration of Bill 10 has been removed from Parliament because it has not. I’m very excited to see the level of panic amongst those who have been campaigning against Bill 10,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that there have been several attempts, there has been panic and that panic excites me. It excites me because it is clear that them too are not convinced with what they are doing.”
Lubinda appealed to citizens to inform each other on the good intentions of Bill 10.
He also appealed to his colleagues in Cabinet to go out and inform citizens about the goodness of Bill 10.
“Now I want to appeal to all of them [Cabinet ministers], this is a God-sent. The government as far as I am concerned is a God-sent. During the time now from the adjournment of Parliament to the next sitting of Parliament, this is our time to go out to the people. Over the past three years we were quiet. And we were just informing the people through Parliament. Now it is our time also to engage the citizens and tell them about the good intentions of Bill 10,” Lubinda said. “Let us go out there and tell the disabled people that Bill 10 intends to provide for them space, seats in Parliament. The women of Zambia for a long time have spoken that they are not adequately represented in the institutions of governance. If we don’t start with them being included in Parliament, we cannot possibly expect them to be included in councils. The youths, this is the right starting point. The youths, this is the time for you to be heard. We will use this period to make sure we will do what I say we will do, to campaign, for the good intentions of Bill 10.”
Meanwhile, Lubinda bemoaned the “harassment” of the differently abled people which happened on Wednesday.
“In winding up let me just join all the other in commiserating with the differently abled people who were harassed yesterday in a democracy such as the one we run. It is totally diabolical for anyone to hurt either in spirit or indeed physically the person who simply lobbies you to see their view of matters. Democracy is all about exchanging ideas, not fists,” he said. “Those disabled people on their wheelchairs, with their canes, with their walking sticks, people who can hardly defend themselves, all they wanted was to appeal to the leaders of the country to see things from their perspective. For them to receive insults and physical abuse is totally regrettable. And I pray to God that He will give all of us the strength to engage in civil dialogue over these matters.”
He said no one should possess an opinion which they do not want to expose to other people’s criticism “because that opinion is useless.”
He advised such people to bring their opinion to the public scrutiny if they want to maintain them.
Lubinda said no one should make the mistake of thinking that the adjournment of Parliament means stoppage of the process of Bill 10 as the process can only be stopped by only Parliament itself. Information minister Dora Siliya said the headlines claiming that Patel derailed Bill 10 were not factual.
“I was in Parliament the whole day yesterday and I don’t remember any ruling by the Speaker that Dipak derailed Bill 10. The Speaker reserved the ruling on a point of order raised by Honourable Gary Nkombo but actually presented a ruling on two points of order raised on Tuesday by Honourable Jack Mwimbu and yesterday by Honourable Malozo Sichone on the coronavirus. And that on those two matters, the Speaker was very clear and made a ruling,” said Siliya. “So the headlines today are not factual and I wish to appeal to my colleagues in the industry that even if your wishful thinking to have those headlines, but at least wait until the facts come out. Let us not create facts that are not there, that are not true, because as far as I am aware and government is aware, the Speaker made no ruling relating to Dipak for him to be able to derail as the headlines are saying.”