Parliament should protect citizens’ rights

IN its 2010 study report on The Role of Parliament in Promoting Good Governance, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa acknowledged that, “Governance entails a series of decision-making and their implementation. It is the quality of these decisions and the manner by which they are implemented that determines the effectiveness of governance. The quality of decisions and the effectiveness of their implementation will depend on a variety of factors, ranging from the constitutional/legal and ethical, the human and material resources, the working environment, leadership, commitment and the political will, as well as the pattern of decision-making and its management,” says the ECA. “The parliament as an important arm of the State has a crucial role in promoting and protecting democracy and good governance, thereby establishing not only the necessary checks and balances, but also developing norms and standards for institutions of democracy and governance. The role and functions of parliament to promote democracy and good governance assume great significance today in view of the basic principles and assumptions associated with parliamentary democracy. A parliamentary democratic system acknowledges the fact that, parliament derives its powers directly from the consent of the people expressed through periodic elections and that parliament is to implement the will of the people, among other functions.”

Last Friday, President Hakainde Hichilema observed that sometimes parliament has been used by its members to block citizens from enjoying their rights.

In his approval message to the election of Nelly Mutti, Malungo Chisangano and Moses Moyo as Speaker, first Deputy Speaker and second Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly respectively, President Hichilema urged the trio to defend peoples’ rights.

“I won’t say much because I’m reminded that this is an independent arm of government. But the important thing is that no matter how independent we are, we work as a collective to serve the people of Zambia. To make laws for the people. May be not to attempt in future to make laws against the people,” said President Hichilema. “We’ve seen this in the past, I won’t be specific. Zambians know that sometimes that House has been used to make laws to block citizens from enjoying their rights. We do not expect this team to do that. Independence is assured in the Constitution. We’ll respect that. Remember, we occupy these offices for the people. The laws we make must make the lives of our people easier so they can advance themselves in society. Protect citizens at all times [with] these laws. If the laws are against the people, I think this House should have the liberty to amend those laws.”

We agree.

Our parliament has on several occasions acted against the wishes of the people who established it. Members of parliament have gone beyond their mandate of speaking and acting for the people who sent them there. In 1996, parliament passed a very bad law that introduced a parentage clause in our Constitution, which later stopped Dr Kenneth Kaunda from standing as a presidential candidate in that year’s general election. The clause entailed that a presidential candidate should be one whose parents were Zambian, yet everyone knew that Dr Kaunda’s parents were Malawian.

A few years later, the same parliament passed a law which made motor vehicle theft an unbailable offence. Again, the target was an individual Zambian perceived to have been an enemy of the State. In the end, that law caught up with some of its proponents as they were locked up for a similar offence without being granted bail.

In November 2020, the PF government wanted to impose another bad law through the Constitution (Amendment) Bill No. 10 of 2019. Fortunately, the UPND as an opposition party stood with the people and rejected the bill. As if that is not enough, early this year, our parliament enacted a controversial digital security law aimed at tackling digital crime, the cyber security and cyber crimes Act 2021. Here again, the target were certain individuals perceived to be enemies of the Edgar Lungu PF administration. We pray that this Act will catch up with some of them so that they understand why the public were against it.

In the current Constitution as amended in 2016, we introduced a Grade 12 clause as one of the qualifications for a parliamentary and presidential candidate. This is a clause that was affirmed by the Constitutional Court through its ruling early this year on the Lundazi parliamentary petition between Colonel Bizwayo Newton Nkunika on one part, and Lawrence Nyirenda and the Electoral Commission of Zambia on the other part.

This is a clause that disqualified a lot of people across all political parties, including the PF. A lot of quality candidates were blocked from aspiring for various positions in the August 12 general election on account of not having a full Grade 12 certificate.

We need to understand that although education is good and important, it nevertheless does not determine one’s leadership qualities. And there is plenty of evidence to prove this argument.

Winston Churchill is best known for his time as prime minister of Great Britain. He also played a major role in World War II. He helped steer Great Britain away from defeat all without a college degree.

Dave Thomas, the man who founded Wendy’s didn’t have a formal education. He left high school to work at the Hobby House Restaurant and then went on to open up his first Wendy’s. He led Wendy’s as their CEO and grew them to the fresh, never frozen beef behemoth they are today.

John Glenn had studied science at Muskingum College. Yet, when Pearl Harbour was attacked by the Japanese, Glenn dropped out of college to join the fight. He became the face of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as the USA raced Russia to become the first to space and the moon. Glenn also played a large part in politics.

Walt Disney: With only an 8th grade education and no potential job prospects, Disney chose to forge his own path. He opened Iwerks and Disney Commercial Artists. Later, he founded The Walt Disney Company. Disney’s lack of education forced him to look at his opportunities in a new way. This allowed him to create his own company that has still delighted young and old in the film industry almost 100 years later.

And despite his lack of education, Ted Turner has built and led a media empire. He is the founder of CNN. His drive and passion basically created 24-hour news (whether or not that is a good thing is up for debate but he did it).

Anthony (Tony) Robbins: Known as one of the biggest motivational speakers around, Tony did not attend college. He chose to read and educate himself in an informal setting. This led him to writing multiple books, inspiring millions, and hosting seminars around the world.

Frederick Douglas: Douglas didn’t let his status as a slave to keep him from learning to read and write. He taught himself how to read and write. From there, he helped other slaves learn these valuable skills. This changed the destiny of many oppressed people.

David Green founded the arts and crafts store Hobby Lobby. With little more than a high school diploma, he started his business. He hasn’t looked back since as Hobby Lobby stores are all throughout the United States.

Brazil’s respected former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had humble education when he transformed the South American nation into one of the world’s economic giants. His rule from 2003 to 2010 is hailed everywhere, in Brazil and in the world.

So, our members of parliament should heed the President’s call to serve the people. It is the people’s parliament and not for individual members. Whatever they do should add to our democracy, not to take away from it. Do not use our parliament to settle your personal scores and disadvantage a lot of citizens. Protect people’s rights through the laws that you make, amend and repeal.

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