PRESS BRIEFING BY ALLIANCE FOR COMMUNITY ACTION, FODEP AND ZAMBIA COUNCIL FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT ON THE ATTEMPTS BY PARLIAMENT TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION
Lusaka, Friday 18 November 2016
Fellow Zambians, Members of the press, Leaders of civil society organisations present here and others in support of this cause, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, good morning and welcome to this press briefing.
We, the civil society organisations gathered here today have called this briefing to address a very critical matter concerning our republican constitution which if left unchecked and unopposed by the people of Zambia will result in untold destruction of that most sacred document.
The Zambian people gave themselves the current constitution after a long, expensive, polarising and tedious process most recently started in at least 1996 and certainly lasting for the entire first 5-year term of the Patriotic Front (PF) administration. The amount of money, time and other resources spent on the constitution making process in this nation is beyond comprehension.
Sadly, a private members motion to amend the constitution of the nation without consulting the owners of the document, the people of Zambia, was passed in parliament. Nearly every citizen in this country apart from the mover of the motion and possibly his sponsors were unaware of the plan to amend the constitution.
The current process initiated by Honourable Rogers Mwewa, MP will only serve to take away from Zambians desire to have a credible, durable and most critically a constitution that reflects their majority will.
This attempt comes barely 10 months after the current version of our constitution was signed by His Excellency the President of Zambia, Mr. Edgar Lungu on Tuesday January 5, 2016.
We are deeply saddened that even before the first anniversary of that occasion passes there is an attempt by parliament to set us back several years on this matter. This should not be allowed. This cannot be allowed. This must be stopped!
On the occasion of signing the current constitution at Hero’s Stadium in Lusaka, His Excellency the President said that the constitution was the most common denominator of our collective aspirations as a people. He added that, this document is too important to be left to lawyers; too important to be left to journalists; too important to be left to the church alone… It is too important to be left to any single unit of the nation, not even the president himself! These, ladies and gentlemen, were the words of the president in January this year!
We therefore wish to remind his Excellency, the mover of the motion and other members of parliament in support of these attempts to amend our constitution that, parliament, though legally within its right to propose and effect amendments, parliament is but only a single unit of the nation!
To emphasize this point, we wish to further quote the president when he said that, the constitution must, as much as possible: speak to the broadest interests of the people. It must reflect and aspire to deliver the greatest assurance to the greatest majority of our people, if not all.
Most critically in that regard, we are not aware of any member of parliament who has consulted with their constituents on this issue. There is no evidence that the Zambian people have made any calls for the constitution to be amended!
Instead, the issues people are most concerned with include the cry for better living conditions, reduction of power load-shedding, access to clean water and sanitation, affordable transport, access to land, farming inputs and other more urgent matters. These are the issues members of parliament need to address. Sadly the nation once again finds itself distracted from addressing these urgent and pressing issues and back at trying to amend the constitution for what can only be selfish political interests.
It is sad that today all the pledges and oaths made by His Excellency and his team to uphold and defend the constitution have been abandoned. Integrity demands that our leaders mean what they say and say what they mean at all times. Speeches and oaths should never be instruments of amusement or mere academic undertakings; they must be measured, practical and sincere promises to the people.
We, the civil society organisations gathered here in solidarity with many Zambians have taken this view and object to the amendment of the constitution in the manner parliament is trying to do for the following reasons:
1. As representatives of the electorate, it is not right that parliament goes ahead and initiates a constitutional amendment process without consulting citizens.
While we recognise the fact that parliament has the right to amend the constitution, we are also cognizant of the fact that the manner in which parliament is proceeding with this solemn duty is the primary reason why the nation has remained without a universally acceptable supreme legislative document.
2. In a time of austerity, Zambia cannot afford to introduce or reintroduce unproductive public offices such as deputy ministers which come with huge personal emoluments and operational costs.
Parliament must explain and justify the gap that has been identified, if any necessitating the amendment of the constitution to reintroduce these offices and to amend other provisions of the constitution mentioned during the debate.
3. Considering that Zambia is currently looking for resources to fill many shortfalls in service delivery, we cannot afford to increase our expenditure bill with the uncertain future of many donor supported services.
While we agree that the current constitution contains contradictions, redundancies and other challenges; let the process of amendment be done in a comprehensive and consultative way. This must be done at the most opportune period when the nation will have sufficient time and monetary resources.
We therefore, on behalf of other Zambians wish to make the following demands on all members of parliament, individually and collectively:
1. They must immediately stop the process of embarking on yet another constitution amendment route which will ultimately result in a fundamental law that is not accepted by the people.
2. We challenge all the members of parliament to explain and justify why they want to return to the council chambers. How many MPs actually attend council sittings – including the mover of the motion, how many has he attended since becoming MP? Without giving any justification for this proposal, people might conclude that MP’s want to return to councils for reasons not in the public interest.
3. Our leaders should commit their energies towards strategies to help the President reduce the size of his Cabinet in order to cut government expenditure and channel the resources to critical sectors such as health and education, which are suffering due to underfunding.
4. Members of parliament must concentrate on holding government to account on service delivery. They must insist that government radically reorganising ministries and streamline departments thereby, doing away with duplications, plugging holes of leakage and wastage and saving much needed resources for improving service delivery.
5. Members of parliament must resist the temptation to satisfy personal agendas at the expense of serving the national interest.
6. Critically, members of parliament must reject the untimely and ambiguous private members motion before parliament.
The motion is dangerously open ended when it says that “…remove lacunas therefrom.” This vague line can be used to remove or amend any part of the constitution including those where the people are unanimously agreed such removal of the position of deputy minister, the 50% +1 threshold among others. The private member has not provided a list of these alleged lacunas. Even if he did, the business of amending the constitution must be subject to public consensus and dealt with at the right time in the right way.
We wish to sincerely thank each and every Zambian who has voiced out their opposition to this untimely and in our opinion dishonest attempt by the Zambian Parliament to amend the constitution in the manner and time they are trying to do.
Parliament should listen to the over 1,400 people who signed an online petition, over 2,000 Facebook supporters, over 1,000 Twitter users, several voices in markets and other public places and countless callers to several radio stations who have all opposed this motion.
We wish to call the attention of the members of parliament to the fact that for the first time in a long time, Zambia is united on an issue. The disapproval of parliaments attempt to amend the constitution is non-partisan going across party lines. Zambians are united in wanting their constitution protected and respected.
Members of the press, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention and thank you very much for coming to this press briefing.
1 Laura Miti Alliance for Community Action
2 Lewis Mwape Zambia Council for Social Development
3 Chimfwembe Mweenge FODEP