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:
- 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;
- Lack of a legal framework to guide and anchor the Constitution making process;
- Failure to appoint a Referendum Commission to put in place the machinery for conducting a referendum on the Constitution, and
- 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