IF WISHES were horses Zambians would be the most liberated citizens in Africa should the long-awaited Bill of Rights be enshrined in the amended Constitution after the Referendum that will take place simultaneously with the August 11 general election.
Some of the rights and freedoms spelled out in the Bill are so revolutionary that if implemented Zambians across the entire social strata would be beneficiaries of one of the most progressive tenets of democracy and constitutionalism ever attempted on the African continent.
Apart from civil and political rights, they include rights and freedoms which are consistent with the new Constitution but not expressly provided for, ‘‘except those that are repugnant to the morals and values of the people of Zambia’’.
It is hoped that once these rights are guaranteed there would be dramatic improvement in the well-being of citizens through enhanced provision of public services such as health, education, shelter and the efficient allocation and accountability of public resource utilisation.
According to the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction yesterday, ‘‘poverty is the most profound challenge that Zambia faces today. The gravity of the situation is such that more and more lives are being lost due to hunger, destitution and disease’’. The CSPR believes that the Bill of Rights is the solution.
But does the Bill of Rights alone guarantee basic or university education to every child? Does it guarantee enough money in the Treasury to take care of all the country’s pressing needs? Does it guarantee prosperity, peace and security?
While the Bill of Rights shall be the basis of Zambia’s social, political, legal, economic, environmental and cultural policies and State action. It demands more from citizens to ensure that we enjoy these freedoms and rights.
Zambians need to work harder than before to ensure we all have three meals a day that we expect under the Bill of Rights. Those who have the privilege, or is it right, to employment must ensure they put in their best to make their organisations profitable and sustain their employment.
In other words, the Bill of Rights means responsibility. It does not mean that once enacted people can now relax because the State will be under obligation to provide.
Perhaps the greatest challenge Zambians will face is implementation. Do we have the means, the political will and the competence to fulfil each and every right and freedom as demanded by the new law if assented to by the people through a ‘‘YES’’ vote?
Civil society have all these years been calling for the enactment of the Bill of Rights to the extent of claiming that there can be no good governance without it.
President Edgar Lungu, in his usual style of servant and listening leadership, threw the gauntlet and fought tooth and nail – ironically against serious opposition from civil society – to ensure the referendum is conducted to usher in the BR this year alongside the general elections.
Now the CSOs must go to the people throughout Zambia and explain to them the content of the Bill of Rights, what they should do on August 11 and the consequences of a ‘‘NO’’ vote. Even more critical they must tell the people that the Bill of Rights means they will enjoy these freedoms and rights with the sweat of their brows.
The days of manna from heaven are over.