OPEN LETTER TO THE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT OF ZAMBIA!
[By Brig Gen Godfrey Miyanda – 9th July 2017]
APPEAL TO THE PRESIDENT
The invoking of Article 31 by the Republican President as the cure for the fires that have occurred in some parts of the country is a rushed and misplaced option. I urge the Republican President, Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, in conjunction with the Right Honourable Mr Speaker, to suspend tabling and/or debating in the National Assembly the Statutory Instrument invoking Article 31 of the Republican Constitution. The Government has not exhausted operational methods for dealing with crimes that already exist under current laws. I call upon the President to meet with fellow leaders of political parties to brief and exchange views about the state of the nation. We are not his enemies nor enemies of the country; it is all our country and we have a right to be better informed so that if need be, we may then support the actions of the President. His Presidency does NOT exist in a vacuum nor is it a partisan assignment. At the moment there are no credible conclusive facts that support the invoking of Article 31 which may tend to curtail citizens’ rights. The issue here has nothing to do with challenging his Constitutional powers; the issue is that the decision is premature. If his rationale is accepted it will set a precedent where future Presidents would wake up one day and declare a state of war against a neighbouring country, without investigation, just because they heard some blank rounds fired close to our border!
I opine that under our written Constitution, as opposed to the unwritten English Constitution, it is unconstitutional to remove from office, even temporarily by suspension, elected Members of Parliament (MPs) whose primary role is to keep the Executive in check. MPs carry out this function by speaking in the House; this is their primary and fundamental role, the ONLY role if may say so – and people must hear them debate to believe that their interests are being addressed. Boycotts are part of the conversation!
The Right Honourable Mr Speaker’s Order suspending the 48 UPND elected MPs is unprecedented in the parliamentary history of Zambia and possibly in the whole Commonwealth. Since the thrust of the matters that led to the Speaker’s finding that there was a prima facie case of contempt, as well as his Order of Suspension of the 48 Members of Parliament, concerned partly the Speaker himself and partly his doyen, the Republican President, it is my view that the Speaker should have recused himself (Natural Justice) from presiding over the proceedings arising from the unprecedented myriad of points of order, some of them clearly vexatious and partisan. The Constitution as amended provides for the presence in the National Assembly of 156 elected MPs at all times. Suspending 48 MPs is akin to removing them from the House, albeit temporarily. The Constitution itself provides for how an MP may be removed or prevented from participating in the business of the House. But there is provision for MPs to be absent with leave. I contend that those who breach any rules should merely be punished by a fine or a reprimand. I further contend that the Standing Orders cannot and must not include suspension of MPs as this is tantamount to removing an elected MP.
I say that the intention of Parliament in establishing the presence of the 156 elected MPs, including those from Opposition political parties, is to ensure that the Executive does not ride roughshod over the Legislative Assembly. The MPs must also be available and open-minded to receive alternative views for their consideration, especially on contentious issues that may tend to infringe citizens’ human rights. The Standing Orders are merely administrative regulations for administrative convenience. Thus such Orders should NOT themselves usurp Constitutional safeguards entrenching the democratic system of citizens electing their representatives; debate and legislation of serious and contentious laws should precede such decisions by the whole House. To this end I recommend that if the Speaker considers that debate should go ahead, he should reschedule the debate until after the 48 MPs have returned to the House. It is imperative that, if not withdrawn, the Statutory Instrument be subjected to a robust debate by most, if not all, MPs and especially by those questioning the President’s allegations or pre-determined stance.
To hear the Minister of Home Affairs, a senior PF official, liken the National Assembly to a soccer team which must continue to “play” even when several players have been sent off the field of play depicts a lack of understanding the serious role of Parliament and is the gravest assault by a member of the Executive on our system of democratic governance which is well enshrined in the Constitution and is reinforced by the values I have reproduced herein.
INVOKING ARTICLE 31 IS PREMATURE
The President’s invoking of Article 31 is premature. Long before the fires that have been used as the grounds for invoking Article 31, President Lungu had hinted that he was considering declaring a State of Emergency which he said, inter alia, could target some specified region which he did not reveal. At the time he was saying this, the City Market and Misisi fires had not yet happened.
There are more than a dozen pieces of legislation which have a bearing on the security of the State which should have been relied on BEFORE the President conjured up this S.I. scheme. These pieces of legislation cover, inter alia, the powers which have not been carried out, such as the power to investigate and prosecute crimes under the penal code, power generally to preserve public order or to deal with espionage, sabotage and other activities prejudicial to the interests of the State. They also have power to regulate and/or control the manufacture, use, possession, storage, importation, exportation and transportation and even power to control and regulate the funding of organisations by foreign governments.
Some of these powers exist without the need to invoke Articles 30 and/or 31. If, as it appears, our security services have failed, how will they do so now under the pressure of perceived “local terrorists” announced by politicians? To pay heed to unverified allegations is not the procedural way to invoke Article 31. Instead the President must let the current system of managing security issues to run its course. Although this system may have collapsed that is not the reason why the President should look for excuses to bypass the professionals (the Fire Brigade, the Police, the Defence and Security organs, etc).
It is not wrong for our people to begin asking or demanding of our leaders in government to provide clarity and justification for their actions. After all much has been made of our wonderful values that have been signed into our Constitution by the President with fanfare. Lest we forget, these include Morality and Ethics, Patriotism and National Unity, Democracy and Constitutionalism, Human Dignity, Equity, Social Justice, Equality and Non-Discrimination, Good Governance and Integrity and Sustainable Development. These values and principles were reaffirmed by the Republican President by signing them into the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Act 2 of 2016. I believe and expect that all those in public office today and all who aspire to public office understand them. Suffice to say that these values are not meant to be decorations in office and home libraries but are meant to be applied and practised, lest we all qualify to be labelled hypocrites.
I am NOT saying that the barbaric actions by whoever are not real. I am saying that the action by the President is premature and has gone overboard. I was part of the MMD team in 1990/91 that had in its manifesto the removal of the One Party State and the expunging from our statute books of the longest State of Emergency we have ever had. That state of emergency lasted for close to 30 years, repeat, close to 30 years from the time the Colonial Regime declared it in 1964 to address the Lenshina uprising but the MMD succeeded in removing it, thanks to Dr Chiluba and his team at that time of dedicated democrats. So now what guarantee is there that this one, which has been creeping in slowly, will not be maintained until 2021 which some people are worried about or beyond 2021 to 2064? Because elections can be suspended when people are either desperate or are scared of their own shadow!
On my part I wish no ill for my country and Government but I continue to be a vigilant patriotic Zambian. However patriotism does not mean blind loyalty or condoning conduct that is less than noble, especially if accompanied by dictatorial tendencies, half-truths and actions that disregard the same values on which our nation is founded.
[9TH JULY 2017]