By Nicholas Phiri
“.. 98% of our laws are good.. Including the public order act which we said was a very bad law when we were in opposition.. but when you are in government you realizes that it is a good law to maintain sanity and order”.
These were the observations made by H.E. President Michael .C. Sata during the swearing in ceremony of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice Mr. Joseph Akafumba, the Livingstone Central PF losing Parliamentary candidate. Earlier, during the opening of the 2nd session of the 11th National Assembly, the President did not mention anything concerning the constitution making process. The President’s latest remarks on the public order act and indeed his mute mode on the constitution making process are interesting and deserve thorough analysis, Further, statements from top government officials on the constitution making process have evoked a myriad of questions, including questioning government’s commitment to deliver a constitution that reflects the aspirations of the Zambian people.
If 98% of our laws are good, then why are we wasting time and tax payers’ money on the current constitution review exercise? Does the 98% also include the supreme law of the land?
The constitution is a supreme law of the land and all the other subsidiary laws are inspired by and reflect the spirit of the supreme law. Is it possible therefore to have a flawed constitution while at the same time have 98% good laws? It would be interesting for the nation to know how the President came up with the 98% good laws conclusion. What is the Presidents new position on the current Zambian constitution and the constitution making process now that he is in power?
The public order act is just one of the pieces of legislation in our country, how many other laws did the President think were bad while in opposition but now thinks are good because he is in power?
Is the public order act good because it empowers the ruling elite to impose their hegemony on the general citizenry and muzzle perceived opponents? In what ways does it make governance easier? If a given law is bad for the people and good for the government, who prevails over the other?
In life, including national leadership, there is nothing wrong with people changing perspectives, life is dynamic and failing to change may be disastrous. But in leadership, change of positions on critical national issues must be communicated to and clarified to the general public.
Lately, the justice minister Hon. Wynter Kabimba issued a statement to the effect that no parallel public discussions on the draft constitution and the process itself will be allowed other than those organized by the Technical Committee. If we do not allow people to engage, how then do we hope to have a people driven constitution?
How much capacity does the Technical Committee possess to transverse the width and breadth of this vast country and engage citizens? How much time and money will this arrangement gobble and to what extent will people participate? Won’t this be seen as an attempt to muzzle some voices, curtail citizens’ enlightenment and eventually manipulate and doctor the final document to preserve political interests?
What is wrong with people or organizations holding public meetings? Isn’t there any way they can be regulated if there are serious concerns rather than violating their constitutional rights in the first place and jeopardizing the constitution making process all together?
When the PF ascended to power, the nation was full of expectation and anticipation that the era of arrogance, impunity, indifference, and excessive executive control or “big brother” syndrome had given way to a more listing, sensitive and people’s choice regime. There was renewed hope in as far as the constitution making process and indeed many other governance issues were concerned.
Where-as it is not realistic to witness remarkable change within the miraculous 90 days formula, it is possible for a political regime to show the spirit, motivation and political will needed to bring about change in 12 months. It is possible to set the tone and show how a regime aspires to govern the nation.
Whether the spirit and hope that the PF government had instilled and resonated well within the nation still glows is up to the citizens to tell. Whether the PF has remained true to critical campaign promises including the constitution making process is also up to the people to tell.
What is clear for now is that there are several contentious grey areas in as far as the constitution making process is concerned that government has not addressed. Stakeholders have raised critical issues patterning the constitution making process including the composition of the Technical Committee, publication of a clear roadmap vis-a-vis the setting up of the referendum commission, publication of the budget on the constitution making process, and providing a legal framework to protect the technical committee drafting Zambia’s supreme law.
So far, our government has blatantly refused to protect the Technical Committee with appropriate legal framework arguing that such a preposition is not provided for in the PF manifesto; the budget on the constitution making process has not been published.
Infact, no one ever talked about the budget on the constitution making process from government side till the former justice minister Sebastian Zulu made a statement after being put to task by Transparency International Zambia and NGOCC during one of the ZNBC national watch program in what many observers believe was a statement made because he had to say something. This is a statement which also contributed significantly to the fall from grace and whose report on ZAMTEL commission inquiry was rejected by the president earlier on.
Lately, the Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba banned parallel public discussions on the constitution making process and the draft constitution outside the structure of the technical committee. Does the technical committee have the capacity to reach the breadth and width of Zambia to carry out public discussions on the draft constitution?
Zambia has had four constitution reviews between the 1972 and 2005, three of them ended up as wasted opportunities. Many people believe that the previous constitution reviews failed because of the heavy handedness of the executive in driving the process.
The failure of those commissions to deliver to the expectations and aspirations of Zambians stands as an indictment and verdict against negative political interference in the constitution making process on the UNIP and MMD regimes.
Will the PF escape verdict? The Mung’omba constitution review commission attracted massive criticism from civil society organizations, the church and opposition political parties including PF at the time because it was increasingly seen as an executive dominated and driven process among other reasons.
As a result of deep concerns from stakeholders and the MMD government’s failure to respond effectively to the concerns, the PF, the biggest opposition party at the time boycotted the constitution making process and expelled its members of parliament who decided to take part in the National Constitution Conference in a move which was seen as solidarity with the masses.
This move successfully aligned the Patriotic Front with the masses; those who felt that 98% of our laws were archaic and needed overhauling through a people driven process. Throughout the campaign period, the PF showed good will in meeting people’s aspirations in the constitution making process. Is this still the case?
It is erroneous for any regime to think that people vote for them into power because they are likeable or lovable just as it is erroneous to think that regimes are voted out of power because people hate them. The Zambia Electoral College has now matured and cannot be easily dribbled by cheap talk and manipulation regardless of the party.
If the PF regime fails to deliver a constitution that we have always aspired for, a constitution that reflects and speaks to our collective dreams and aspirations as a people, it will be up to us, the employers of all politicians to pass the final verdict when judgment day comes.
For now, people are watching quizzically every move and listening attentively to every word being uttered by politicians. The writing is on the wall, PF still has a golden opportunity to give us what we want and rightfully deserve: a good constitution.