The Voice of the people is the Voice of God. And the Bishops of Zambia have emphasized this point in their most recent pastoral letter.
They have called on the President to consult most widely when he makes decisions to ensure that the common good prevails.
The Bishops noted that although the constitution gave powers to the Republican President to make decisions even by decree, it is desirable and sometimes necessary to consult as this facilitates prior understanding and appreciation of issues and guarantees success at implementation stage.
That is why it is difficult to understand the decision by President Sata to appoint Acting Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda to the substantive position in spite of the stated position of the Law Association of Zambia rejecting the appointment.
Not only that there is a Supreme Court ruling which clearly states that a retired judge cannot be elevated beyond the position from which they retired, meaning that Justice Chibesakunda does not qualify to be appointed Chief Justice.
The above facts are known and have been common knowledge ever since the acting appointments were made. That is why it is difficult to understand why the President would wish to subject the name to scrutiny by the national assembly.
Only one conclusion can be drawn namely that this procedure is perfunctory, designed to fool the people of Zambia that the national assembly was consulted when in fact the appointments is being made by guile.
We are aware that a certain group of individuals would be more comfortable with Judge Chibeskunda in place because they expect some of their machinations to succeed.
In our view however, the Judiciary as an important arm of our democratic enterprise must be beyond reproach.
Appointment must be transparent and made in the best interest of the country.
We have said before that Justice Chibesakunda has a rich career and she approaches 70 years of age this must be allowed to retire in dignity befitting of her illustrious service.
It should not be mired in controversy as this new appointment might turn out to generate.
Our Judiciary is currently at crossroads and everything needs to be done to strengthen rather than weaken it. Clear cracks and divisions have appeared which call for healing through a very clear process of objective performance appraisal will be required.
We believe that a clearly defined system of judicial evaluation must be put in place as part of the reform process.
Our colleagues in Kenya have already established a Judges and Magistrates vetting board that has demystified the role and practice of the bench in that country.
As late as December 5 High Court judges had been declared unsuitable to continue serving in the Kenyan judiciary by the vetting board.
Mr Sharad Rao, the chairman of the vetting board, said it was the failure of many judges to control their emotions that had led to a large number of complaints reaching the board.
He said that while many judges fulfilled their functions with dignity and fairness, he said, others became identified with arbitrariness and intrigue and that they cultivated an imperial style— exhibiting in every action a hauteur that separated them from ordinary people.
He added that what mattered is that differences of work style and temperament should not transgress certain shared parameters, and in particular they should not be so extreme as to affect the manner in which justice is done, and is seen to be done,” he said.
The reasons for the removal of the five Kenyan judges, ranged from, lack of integrity, temperaments towards lawyers and litigants, disrespect, receiving bribes, and failing to remit client’s money.
That is why in Zambia a new Chief Justice should come with a mandate to champion reforms, a new energetic chief justice should have the capacity to enjoy confidence support and overall consensus to drive the reform programme.