OASIS FORUM PRESS STATEMENT ON THE INTENTION OF GOVERNMENT TO MAKE PIECEMEAL AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION
(RELEASED 21st MAY 2015)

The Oasis Forum has learnt of the reported intention of the Government to make piecemeal amendments to the constitution with great sadness and disappointment.

The Oasis Forum notes on the outset that one of its constituent member, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ), has expressed views which are contrary to other members of the Forum on this important subject. In keeping with the principles of engagement on the forum, the other members of the Forum respect the views now espoused by EFZ although these views are a departure from the position consistently held by the Oasis Forum on the current constitution making process in Zambia.

The public may wish to be reminded that on 20th August 2012, the Oasis Forum issued a Press Statement in which it expressed grave concerns on the ongoing Constitution review process. Among the key issues raised were:

  1. Lack of political will by the PF Government to facilitate a process that will lead to Zambians giving themselves a popular constitution that would stand the test of time;
  2. Lack of a legal framework to guide and anchor the Constitution making process;
  3. Failure to appoint a Referendum Commission to put in place the machinery for conducting a referendum on the Constitution, and
  4. Setting the time frame for the entire process.

It appears to us that our timely advice fell on deaf ears. Not only that, government has over past the three years deliberately employed some delaying tactics. If they had listened to and acted upon the wise counsel from a number of key stakeholders such as the Church and the Civil Society, we could have had a new and people driven constitution by now.

Having listened to the arguments now being advanced by Government, the Oasis Forum wishes to respond as follows:

Piecemeal enactment of the new constitution will remove the power of the Zambian people to control the content of the constitution

All the previous four constitutional review commissions have presented a report to Government as to what the people of Zambia would like to see in their constitution.

History has taught us that the Government then picks and chooses what should go into the constitution by putting what the government wants to see in the constitution into a Bill.

All the constitutional amendments in the past have been made by a Bill presented to Parliament by the Government and enacted by Parliament.

That means that it is Government and not the people of Zambia who decides what goes into the constitution.

That is not all the Zambian stakeholders mean when they say that a constitution should be people-driven. A people-driven constitution is one in which the people decide what goes into the constitution, not the Government. Government is not the major stakeholder in this process, they are merely facilitators and therefore should not turn themselves into the drivers of this process. This idea of piecemeal constitutional amendments has failed to deliver the desired results every time. In fact the constitution making process as advised to the Zambians by the PF in its manifesto, does not envisage a piecemeal enactment of the Constitution. The suggested piecemeal enactment of the Constitution is actually itself unconstitutional.

Financial resources can be found for a national referendum before 2016 with political will

Government has argued that there is no money to hold both the referendum to adopt the constitution before 2016 and then have the 2016 general elections..Holding a national referendum is similar to holding a national election. The presidential by-election was unbudgeted for and yet the Government managed to find the financial resources to make it happen. This is clear evidence of the fact that where there is political will the Government can hold a national referendum. Let us not forget that this is the second time that Government has held an unbudgeted for presidential by-election, the first being after the demise of the late President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa in 2008. Therefore there is no reason why Zambians cannot adopt the new constitution through a referendum before 2016 and have the general election in 2016. The role of the government is to campaign for a large voter turn-out during the referendum.

The Oasis Forum is also of the view that cooperating partners must show genuine concern for the suffering masses of the Zambian population and assist in this important task of improving the governance profile of Zambia. They must rise to the challenge and show unflinching support for the constitution making process in Zambia by making resources available for the referendum.

We can meet the threshold for a successful referendum

The threshold for holding a referendum is 50% of those eligible to vote, that is 50% of everyone 18 years and above. According to a statement issued by Mr. Chishimba Kambwili, government has argued that the apathy in the recent 2015 presidential by-election is proof that we cannot meet the threshold.
Zambia held a very successful referendum in 1969 in which 69.5% of those eligible to vote cast their vote. In 2011, less than four years ago 54.9% of the electorate voted in the general election. Past election turnout over the last three elections was as follows:

1996 58% turnout
2001 68.55% turnout
2006 70.77% turnout

Clearly we are able to get the numbers as we have done so in the past. Moreover by not having the referendum, the Bill of Rights is being sidelined yet again. The people of Zambia will be robbed of their social and economic rights.

In our fifty years of existence as an independent and sovereign nation, we have the unique opportunity to pass a Constitution in a way that redresses the problems created by the previous Constitution Reviews. The PF government campaigned on the promise of enacting the Constitution that brings together the reports made by the Chona, Mvunga, Mwanakatwe and Mung’omba Commissions, and that will be brought into existence by the process in which the greater population of eligible voters will participate. If this unique opportunity is lost in the style now being proposed by the PF government, the country may not find such opportunity again.

As Oasis Forum,we strongly believe that the constitution making process is not only a legal or political matter but also a moral issue. Thus the government has a moral obligation to listen to “the voice of the people” which is “the voice of God” (Vox popli, Vox Dei). On one hand, what Zambians want is not an old constitution which is massaged with a few piecemeal amendments. We have done this before and have learnt a bitter lesson that taking the route of piecemeal amendments for political expediency does not work and the outcome of such a process does not stand the test of time. Rather, people want a NEW CONSTITUTION. On the other hand, what God wants is that his people “may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Indeed, at a critical time like this one, critical choices must be made. Again, the Holy Book is there to guide us. For God says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life or death, blessing or curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” (Deuteronomy) 30:19). Indeed, in order to journey towards a more prosperous nation, we have to choose a wholesome adoption of the new constitution through a referendum.

In taking the position contained in this statement, the Oasis Forum has not closed its doors in terms of dialogue. The Forum has long held the view that honest, transparent and well intended dialogue on this important subject is imperative to ensure that the population is taken on board by government in the implementation of the Constitution roadmap.

FR. CLEOPAS LUNGU
CHAIRPERSON – OASIS FORUM

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13 COMMENTS

  1. CHISHIMBA KAMBWILI CAN YOU PROVIDE ANSWERS TO THE GENUINE CONCERNS RAISED BY THE OASIS FORUM.

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    • govt position is that non-contentious can be dealt with by parliament and the debatable ones such as the bill of rights go through the referendum to be conducted alongside the tripartite elections next year.

      Therefore parliament will not deal with everything thats contained in the current draft constitution.

      Where’s the apprehension from Oasis Forum?

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    • People are tired of voting for hh who has now become a SERIAL loser how do you expect them to vote for another loser By the name of referendum.
      Your data is misplaced ba oasis. Have considered voter turnout from 2006 to 2015.

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    • The OASIS forum should be disclosing full information to the people.All their figures about turn out are based on the number of registered voters and NOT those eligible to vote.For example in:-
      1. 2001 out of a population of 9,770,199 only 2,604,761
      registered as voters and 1,785,485 voted.

      2. 2006 out of a population of 11,502,010 only 3,941,229
      registered as voters and 2,789,114 voted.

      3. 2011 out of a population of 13,817,480 only 5,167,154
      registered as voters and 2,789,340 voted.
      So the first challenge is to ensure all those eligible to vote are registered out of which 50% must vote in the affirmative.If PF was greedy,they would agree to undertake a referendum because in all probabilities it will be a flop and PF can continue with the present constitution.

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  2. Oasis Forum is a source of pride and a source of inspiration for all people that believe in Democracy. The Constitution can not be too expensive today when in fact it was affordable yesterday. Money is never enough. That is why Budget must be planned by professionals. If it is true that Referendum is expensive, then devise a way of avoiding elections themselves. You can not dare to do that because it is anti-democratic. The same thing applies to the Constitution Reform. Only simple Constitution amendments can go to legislators. The Constitution reform must pass through Referendum. There is no need to agitate the public.

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  3. The Oasis Forum is just interested in scoring a point. What is this myth about a people driven constitution, when there are countries in the world(Britain, Switzerland) that have no constitutions but yet they are developed. A referendum is good when the issue is a question of yes or no! e.g.. Do you want Eastern province to belong to Malawi? But what will the people be agreeing in this case of such a big document like the constitution. Let the issues of by elections, powers of the president etc. be dealt with now. If the PF parliament fail to pass the clauses put to them in parliament, it is the end of PF! Even me a staunch PF will not vote for them, in-fact I will work hard to decampaign them

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  4. Zambians always lose because politicians are a bunch of greedy and selfish people. ECZ are another PF NGO. Don’t be surprised if their leader runs for Parliament on a PF ticket in 2016, just as Mubukwanu used the JCTR in Mongu to push a PF agenda in 2011.

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  5. Zambia is running on auto pilot. We have a government that has absolutely no idea what they are doing. The sad thing is as Zambians have become completely apathetic to the state and future of the country. The issue of the constitution should be second only to the economy. So far the PF is failing in all the important issues affecting the country.
    ECONOMY F
    CONSTITUTION F
    CORRUPTION F
    HEALTH F
    AGRICULTURE F
    EDUCATION F
    CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS F
    TAX F
    The future of Zambia is in serious jeopardy. Its time to find leaders that know what they are doing. PF is taking us backwards and by the time we wake up it might be too late. I challenge the PF or their supporters to list any three issues they have done well in. ZAMBIA NEEDS A GOOD SHEPPARD!

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  6. The new constitution will improve lives of Zambians as the bill of rights will force govt to remove money from their hefty conditions of service and provide education, health, water, sanitation etc to the ordinary citizens. The earlier you enact the new constitution, the earlier we enjoy the national cake. Constitution is not for the benefit of politicians but ordinary citizens.

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  7. Oasis Forum, are you really representing the interests of Zambians? How many Constitutional Review Commissions have we had in the past? How many more do you want us to have if we miss this opportunity? Did you read the part where GRZ said it is ready to enact a law that protects the process? Why not insist on GRZ including provision in the process law that protects the contents of the current draft so that only the contentious provisions are presented for adoption by referendum together with the Bill of Rights? Would such a Constitution be illigitimate to you? Iam struggling to appreciate the rationale of your continued opposition if you really desire for this country to have a Constitution that has already been subjected to enough discussion the past 20 years and requires mere ADOPTION

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  8. @chosene one! The integrity of the constitution hinges on the very process with which it is adopted and enacted. Shot cutting the process even when it leads to the desired outcome creates doubt. I would wrather it be that the PF should admit failure in enacting the constitution through the proper channel and pass it on to the next government. Admit failure and let the nation move on. That would be better than this half baked back door appeasement attempt.

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  9. @loadist. I wish us Zambians could take time to read and analyse how tranformative the new Constitution would be for us. Then you will realize that it is not about the PF scoring points and making it difficult for UPND or another party winning the next election. It is beyond the political games & it is about all Zambians majority of whom are not politicians.

    This is where we need to take off our political hats and think about the future of this country in terms of its governance. Don’t put too much trust in the next guy. We have been disappointed many times. Put your trust in a system that strengthens checks & balances. That is what the new constitution will do. We should quit messing about & take advantage of this rare opportunity to give ourselves a good Constitution.

    God Bless…

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