The season is ripe for constitutional reforms

Foundation for Democratic Process executive director George Chimembe is urging the new dawn administration to embark on constitutional reforms and revisit pieces of legislation that inhibit full exercise of citizens’ rights and freedoms.
FODEP is also urging expanding the Bill of Rights.

“The year 2021 closed on a good note with encouraging indicators of the growing democracy. Of course, we can do much better. But we think that broadly speaking, we held very successful and credible elections. And we think that ever since the new dawn government took over, we have regained our civic space where citizens are now able to enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms and they can be critical of government without fearing for their rights,” says Chimembe. “However, there is more work to be done in the democratisation process. There is more work to be done in the years to come beginning with the year 2022 regarding citizens’ participation. We need to begin the process of constitutional reforms and also revisiting some of our pieces of legislation that inhibit full exercise of citizen’s rights and freedoms and also participation in governance processes and development. And we are talking about legislation like the public order Act, including the cyber laws, access to information bill, to mention but a few…In terms of equality, we think we haven’t done well in this regard and there is need to deliberately mainstream gender, youth and persons with disabilities in appointments that will be made going forward…We didn’t do well with regards to political tolerance in the run up to the elections and there is more work to be done so that we shouldn’t be talking about dealing with issues of hate speech, character assassination, maligning one another…I think those should belong to the past regime or regimes.”

The season is ripe for constitutional reforms. The nation is pregnant with expectation and hope of writing for itself a constitution that can stand the test of time. We can no longer continue riding on the goodwill of the leaders – governed by the whims and caprices of man!

Our country needs better – good – laws and not good men. We have seen over the years how supposedly good men turned to badly written laws – our Constitution included – to commit all manner of transgressions. Peace and liberty will never be guaranteed in our Republic for as long as we do not clean up the magna carta. Our Constitution, particularly Edgar Lungu’s 2016 amendment contains embarrassing but dangerous lacunae. This Constitution must be taken before the surgeon to remove all the malignant tumours before the nation start the process of preparing for the 2026 presidential and general elections. Equally we must open up our Bill of Rights to bring on board justiciable rights. And subject this expanded Bill of Rights to a referendum way before the general polls to avoid the infamy of 2016!

The world has advanced. And Zambia has accended to several conventions but we have been shy of domesticating these progressive laws. We need to make education a right, health a right, shelter a right, employment, water and food as rights. Only then will politicians and other public figures become accountable to our people. Why are we insisting on justiciability? Well, for instance, for the right to education to be fully realised it must be effectively implemented at the national level through the adoption of constitutional provisions, legislation, and policies. But it is not enough to have a legal right; enforcement mechanisms must also be in place. This includes the possibility of legal recourse, which requires that the right to education be justiciable. Justiciability refers to the amenability of an issue to be adjudicated upon in judicial or quasi-judicial forum or body. A justiciable right to education means that when this right is violated, the right-holder can take her claim before an independent and impartial body, and if the claim is upheld, be granted a remedy, which can then be enforced.

Next is reforming the obnoxious and antiquated public order Act. Our Constitution must never be an ambiguous piece of legislation that every tongue can interpret otherwise. Let’s clean it up so that it stands all and its virtue is acceptable and its authority radiates all over our land.

Calvin Coolidge dared say, “Men speak of natural rights, but I challenge anyone to show where in nature any rights existed or were recognised until there was established for their declaration and protection a duly promulgated body of corresponding laws.”

While John Adams warned that, “The only foundation of a free Constitution is virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrants.” Adding that, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
It’s time we embarked on serious but transparent constitutional reforms. We can’t afford to miss this season.

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