LAZ sheds light on Constitution impasse

THERE is need for a unifier or neutral referee in the current constitution-making impasse between Government and the stakeholders to arrive at an amicable national consensus that will achieve a people- driven Constitution, the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has proposed.
LAZ president George Chisanga said the association’s desire was for the Constitution as drafted by the Technical Committee, which was itself a consensus, to be wholly adopted by a referendum instead of subjecting it to further amendments.
Any amendments, he said, would compromise the integrity and cohesion that was achieved through the Technical Committee.
He warned that there was a real danger that the constitution-making process could yet again collapse as it did in 2011 and that if that happened, it would take a decade and half to restart the process because the people would have lost trust and confidence in the political leadership.
“We are close, we both agree on the draft, but disagree on the mode of adoption the Government does not want a standalone referendum because of the expense involved while the Association and other stakeholders want a referendum.” He said.
This difference, he said, could be bridged in a process that involved an impartial and neutral referee, “Our colleagues in Kenya did the same thing, they brought in independent people to arbitrate. If we agree and approach donors and the world at large with a unified position we can count on their support.”
He said the association had maintained that the entire Draft Constitution should be subjected to a referendum which should be held independently from the general elections next year.
The LAZ president told the Daily Nation yesterday that there was still room and time for the country to hold a national referendum before the 2016 general elections so that the country could go for the tripartite elections under the new and people driven Constitution.
Mr Chisanga said it was the view of LAZ and many other stakeholders that the referendum should not be combined with the general elections next year because the process would become complicated for the voters.
He said the referendum was a different matter that could not be combined with the general elections stating that it was possible to have the two processes at different times if there was consensus and political will from both Government and the stakeholders.
Mr Chisanga suggested that with the current constitution-making process impasse, it had become necessary that either President Edgar Lungu working with United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema or veteran politician Sikota Wina to lead the country in the less acrimonious process of enacting the new Constitution.
“When the PF Government proposed that the non-contentious issues would be taken to Parliament, the challenge we had was which mode was going to be used to decide what would be contentious and non-contentious. The Government has changed that position and now they have suggested that the entire Draft Constitution apart from the Bill of Rights and Article 79 should be subjected to the referendum. It will be complicated to combine the referendum and the general elections next year because the referendum is totally a different matter. There is need to agree because if this process is going to collapse, it will take 15 years to restart because people will have to be reenergized after losing trust in the political leadership,” he said.
Mr Chisanga revealed that he had talked to President Lungu, Justice Minister Ngosa Simbyakula and the general secretary of the UPND on the matter and that it was agreeable that with leadership, Zambians could easily get what they desired.
He cautioned that Zambia could fail to achieve its intended goals in the constitution-making process if the enactment was going to be done in a phased approach.
The LAZ president proposed that the Draft Constitution could be subjected to Parliament for onward enactment after going through the referendum adding that because of the suspicions from politicians and other interest groups, there had been accusations and counter accusation in the process.
Mr Chisanga said the PF won accolades when it started the constitution-making process with what the people desired such as reviewing all the constitution review commissions by the technical committee. And Mr Chisanga said clause 296 of the Draft Constitution had been rejected by the traditional leaders based on lack of adequate knowledge because the clause had not changed from what it was in the current Constitution.

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