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High Court removes Mweetwa’s petition against Speaker from active cause list

THE Lusaka High Court has struck out from the active cause list the matter in which Cornelius Mweetwa petitioned it over the National Assembly’s decision to subject him to disciplinary hearing for refusing to apologise to Vice-President Inonge Wina for describing her as shallow minded.

Mweetwa in July 2020, during a TV programme dubbed Costa, said it was shameful and shallow for Vice-President Wina to frame the UPND with the gassing of schools and homes that hit the country last year.

Judge Charles Zulu in an order gave Mweetwa a one month ultimatum in which to restore the matter.
“Given the inexcusable non-attendance of the parties, in particular the petitioner, the matter is hereby struck out from the active cause list with liberty to restore within 30 days from the date of this order, in default the matter shall stand dismissed for want of prosecution,” said judge Zulu.
Mweetwa had cited the Attorney General in the matter seeking an order that the pending disciplinary actions against him were illegal for being in violation of Articles 11(b), 18, 20 and 21.
In his petition, Mweetwa said that he was entitled to protection of his rights in accordance with Article 11(b) and as enunciated under Articles 18, 19, 20 and 21 of the Constitution.

He said section 3 of the National Assembly (powers and privileges) Act violates the fundamental rights of freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 20 by restricting the freedom to express views and opinions.

Mweetwa said the purported disciplinary action pursuant to a ruling of the Speaker violates his freedom of expression, association and assembly as a member of the largest opposition political party (UPND).

He said the intended disciplinary action which was slated for December 2, 2020 violated Article 18 of the constitution and the rules of natural justice as it violates his (Mweetwa) entitlement to a fair hearing because the National Assembly would be acting as a judge, jury, and executioner.

Mweetwa explained that on July 10, 2020, Dr Matibini in his ruling on a point or order raised by Mandevu member of parliament Jean Kapata that he attacked the persona of the Vice-President on Diamond TV, found him out of order, in breach of parliamentary privilege and in contempt of the house.

He said Dr Matibini reprimanded him as punishment for the same and asked him to apologise but he refused to apologise as his reaction to the Vice-President’s statement was within his privilege of freedom of expression, assembly and association as guaranteed in the constitution.

“On July 14, 2020, the petitioner wrote to the clerk of the National Assembly seeking to challenge the decision of the Speaker for admonishing him as punishment for an offense he did not accept liability for,” Mweetwa said. “On July 17, 2020, the clerk of the National Assembly wrote to the petitioner asking him to exculpate himself for refusing to apologise and for engaging the Speaker of the National Assembly on the same subject matter as he forced him to apologise.”

Mweetwa said on October 15, 2020, the clerk of the National Assembly wrote to him declining to table his motion to challenge the decision of the Speaker to reprimand him and compel him to apologise against his will.

In its answer to the petition, the state said freedom of speech and debate in Parliament was limited and was only guaranteed within certain parameters in line with parliamentary practice and procedure.
The state said that the disciplinary action against Mweetwa which was scheduled for December 2, 2020 was as a result of his failure to follow laid down rules of parliamentary practice and procedure.

Deputy clerk of the National Assembly Cecilia Sikatele
claimed that Mweetwa was given an opportunity to be heard, as he was requested to exculpate himself for refusing to apologise to the house and the Vice-President in a letter addressed to him by the office of the clerk dated July 17, 2020.

Sikatele stated that Mweetwa’s right to a fair hearing was never violated because he was invited to appear before the committee on privileges, absences and support services to give his side of the story as dictated by the rules of natural justice.

She confirmed that Dr Patrick Matibini in his ruling found Mweetwa in breach of parliamentary privilege and contempt of the house.

Sikatele further admitted that Dr Matibini reprimanded Mweetwa but he refused to apologise.

“The petitioner will be put to strict proof with regard to the assertion that his reaction to the statement was in exercise of his constitutionally guaranteed rights, when in fact it was in breach of the rules of the National Assembly,” Sikatele stated.

She said the office of the clerk did not demand but requested Mweetwa to exculpate himself for refusing to apologise.

Sikatele conceded that the petitioner’s request to table motion challenging the Speaker’s decision was declined and the said decision not to entertain Mweetwa’s request was made by the committee on privileges, absences and services after due consideration in line with the Rules of the National Assembly.

“All actions taken by the National Assembly were within the scope of its mandate in line with its practice and procedure. The petitioner is not entitled to any of the substantive reliefs sought.” Said Sikatele.

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