By Richard Mulonga:
It seems to have died out now, but the debate still rages on in many circles of our society. Should the mandate of the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) be extended?
The NCC was established under the NCC Act number 19 of 2007. This Act specifies the mandate, functions, composition, powers, and the procedure on how the functions of the conference shall be executed.
The NCC Act gives the Conference a period of 12 months from the time it came into effect in which to complete its work of debating, deliberating and adopting a new constitution.
However this period does not include the period when the National Assembly is sitting. Members of the NCC may request the president to extend this period if they consider the period provided to be inadequate.
According to the NCC Act, once the final draft is completed, the draft document shall be published for a period of sixty days in both English and the local languages which include Lozi, Tonga, Bemba, Nyanja, Luvale, Lunda and Kaonde. This will be done in order to solicit for comments from the members of the public.
The NCC started its work on December 19th, 2007 after then republican President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa launched the conference.
The NCC is expected to complete its work in December this year in a bid to have Zambia’s new constitution by 2011.
The enactment of the NCC Act followed the recommendations of the people to the Mung’omba Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) that the Constitution should be adopted by a Constituent Assembly, a Constitutional Conference or any other popular body that would represent the views of the people.
There have been calls from some members of the NCC, civil society and other sections of the Zambian public to extend the lifespan of the NCC.
The contention for many who have joined the clarion call to have the NCC mandate extended is that the body should be given enough time to thoroughly complete the duty of producing Zambia’s new constitution.
Some people, who have taken an antagonistic stance on the NCC have been described as making unrealistic demands.
According to those who are in support of the extension of the NCC, the contention is that the constitution making process demands extra attention to detail and rushing it was detrimental because doing so would be simply bowing to demands of detractors.
But there have also been factions with contrary views on the life span of the NCC.
For instance, in October last year, Women for Change co-ordinator Lameck Simwanza demanded that the NCC should complete its work within six months to save on time and other resources.
As at December 2008, the NCC had spent K43.5 billion out of the K309 billion, which was budgeted.
This contrary to views by some Zambians that the NCC had spen K400 billion that was budgeted for the constitution-making process.
At the moment, there are 495 members who have been appointed by the Secretary to the Cabinet under section four of the NCC Act.
However, 40 members have boycotted the NCC citing different reasons such as those alleging that the NCC was spending colossal amounts of taxpayer’s money.
Hitherto, the NCC members who boycotted the process are free to join at any time and contribute to the adoption of the new Constitution.
The NCC has made major progress in its work. Last week, chairperson Chifumu Banda said that most of the committees on the NCC had completed their work.
From the time the NCC started its work, the committees had worked tirelessly to satisfy their duties. These committees have been traversed the constitution-making process in the midst of criticism that emerged from different directions.
But the people who have been criticizing the NCC cannot be entirely dismissed because they provided a watch-dog role, which is essential in any democratic dispensation such as the one we are experiencing.
Regarding the extension of the NCC, vice president George Kunda said making a constitution was a realistic programme, which should not be rushed.
Mr Kunda said Zambians must reflect seriously on experiences such the death of a sitting President a country would face and these experiences needed to be enshrined in the constitution.
“We need to think and reflect on the experiences we have faced as we reconsider our constitution. We are now much wiser and lets look at the constitution in such a manner,” he said.
This author would like to agree with factions that are calling for the NCC to stick to its initial timeframe to thoroughly complete its work.
The Constitution contains far-reaching guidelines and provisions touching on every aspect of activity in Zambia.
It is unrealistic for anyone to suggest untenable deadlines in the making of the constitution.
Whatever the interests that may exist inside all those making comments on the extension of the NCC, it is imperative to observe that the interest of Zambia must come first.
The NCC was allocated enough time by experts who were engaged in planning for this exercise.
It is therefore, not realistic to call for an extension or to curtail to current timeframe that was allocated.
This author is certain that the NCC would complete its mandate by December this year and that the new constitution shall be ready before the next elections.
There are financial and other logistical implications involved in the constitutions making process.
These resources have deprived other equally needy areas of this country. Therefore, it would be folly for any authority to extend the lifespan of the NCC because it would gobble more money in terms of allowances, secretariat operations and other expenses.
On the other hand, it would be recklessness of the worst order if we decide to stop the work of the NCC now because we would come up with a piecemeal or incomplete document where we would have spent colossal sums of money in futility. That would be disastrous especially that Zambia is in dire need of these resources.
If we provide a fake constitution as it has been in the past, posterity will judge us severely, in the same manner it is judging us now.
The timeframe provided to finish this constitution must be taken as an opportunity for Zambians to participate in the debate.
“It is easy to talk but we have said let us not be politicking over this matter. If we are to amend part three of the constitution, it will require us going to a referendum,” NCC spokesperson Mwangala Zaloumis said during the height of the debate.
Southern Africa Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) executive director Lee Habasonda is up beat that the NCC should wind up its work this year.
Mr Habasonda said if the new constitution was ready by next year, it would prepare the country for better elections in 2011 because constitutional lapses were a source of conflicts.
But it is gratifying to note that the NCC has not made any request to extend its mandate. Chairperson Chifumu Banda said he was optimistic that the NCC would complete its work within the stipulated time and ensure that the nationa had a new constitution by 2011.
“We have not made any request to extent the mandate of NCC and those that have said so have done it in their own capacities.
“As far as we are concerned, we shall have a new constitution by 2011 and we are staying by our timetable and shall not be swayed by such people,” he said.
The subject regarding the extension of the NCC mandate need to be handled with level headedness and in close consultation with the NCC Act which is so clear on the matter.
By the time this article is published, the 11 committees of the NCC would have completed their assignments.
This leaves no opportunity to extend the mandate of the NCC.