Students from 10 institutions of higher learning have urged the parliamentarians to pass the National Dialogue Bill into law with changes based on what various members of the public have stated. The student leaders were speaking at the media briefing facilitated by the Zambia National Students Union on Sunday held Mika Lodges.
Among the institutions represented included students’ Unions from Lusaka Apex Medical University, Zambian Open University, Cavendish University, Citizen University of Zambia and National Institute of Public Administration. Others Students’ Unions were Eden University, Technical and Vocational Teachers College of Luanshya, Lusaka Dental School, Chainama College of Health Sciences, and Zambia Air Services Training Institute.
Speaking on behalf of the students, ZANASU President Misheck Kakonde stated students will always strongly call out and oppose attempts by anyone or institutions – whether in government or not – that undermine our country’s institutions of governance such as Parliament which he said is a body mandated to laws in line with the decision of the Supreme Court in the defunct Zambia Democratic Congress where the Court stated that “the Constitution of Zambia itself gives parliament powers to make laws. Parliament cannot be equated to an inferior tribunal or body when it is exercising its legislative powers.”
“The Supreme Court had stated that the powers, jurisdiction, and competence of parliament to alter the constitution of Zambia are extensive provided that it adheres to the provisions of Article 79 of the Constitution,” said Mr. Kakonde
The 10 Students’ Union stated that even though the Bill has some inadequacies and controversies, Parliament has a duty to clean it up and enact into law as it is meant to create a strengthened process which is backed by law to ensure outcomes of the dialogue are more respected by Parliament as opposed to the church-led or ZCID led processes.
Quoting provisions of Articles 89(1) and 62(3) of the Zambian Constitution, the student leaders stated that facilitation of public engagement in the legislative process does not mean that Parliament must surrender its task of law making to any one grouping.
Below is the full statement
JOINT PRESS STATEMENT BY THE ZAMBIA NATIONAL STUDENTS’ UNION AND INSTITUTIONAL STUDENT UNIONS ON NATIONAL DIALOGUE BILL, 2019
Delivered by Misheck Kakonde, Sunday, 31st March, 2019, Mika Lodges, Lusaka
Over the last few days, the student populace has closely monitored the on-going debate on the National Dialogue Bill No. 6 of 2019 which will come up in Parliament for second reading. We have noted the various divergent viewpoints from those who either support or oppose the Bill, including the reasons assigned for such support or opposition.
Firstly, we would like to make it clear that since the independence struggle, students have been a key part and voice in our country’s quest for self-governance, and in solidifying the democratic processes. In 1990s, it were students of higher learning from the University of Zambia who finally hit the nail on the wind of change that saw Zambia’s reversion to multi-party democracy. In the 90s, progressive UNZA student leaders, some of whom are still alive to this day, had been initiators of the dialogue process where Dr. Kaunda and late Fredrick Chiluba met face-to-face after former Chief Justice Matthew Ngulube and the Church were later requested to chair the process. As student leaders, we still remain committed to continue the work of students before us, by making our participation a must.
The noble duty of constitutional and law reform
On Tuesday, 26th March, 2019, the Zambia National Students Union wrote to Parliament regarding the National Dialogue Bill, 2019. From the outset, we want to put on record, as students, our support for any process that conforms to and seeks to promote democratic governance, constitutionalism, respect for human rights and institutional autonomy in Zambia. In the same spirit, we shall always strongly call out and oppose attempts by anyone or institutions – whether in government or not – that undermine our country’s institutions of governance.
The attempt to come up with a constitution that can stand the test of time has eluded us all because of the never-ending politicising of these processes by all stakeholders – which we find unfortunate as students. We have noted calls by some stakeholders to have the current constitution reform process facilitated by non-state actors. This is not new call but one that is totally misplaced. If only these stakeholders can remember the guidance of the Supreme Court of Zambia on this matter, which was stated in the case of Zambia Democratic Congress v. Attorney General (Supreme Court of Zambia Judgment No. 37 of 1999).
For stakeholders who are advocating for a form of system that would break the law by reducing the role of Parliament in the ongoing attempt to reform our laws, you will recall that the Zambia Democratic Congress (ZADECO) had challenged the decision by former Republican President Chiluba and his Cabinet to amend the Constitution in the manner suggested in Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill Number 17 of 1996, a bill which was published in the government gazette as required by Article 79 of the Constitution. The claim by ZADECO was that the said change sought to alter or destroy the basic structure or framework of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court stated that “the Constitution of Zambia itself gives parliament powers to make laws. Parliament cannot be equated to an inferior tribunal or body when it is exercising its legislative powers,…” and that “The powers, jurisdiction, and competence of parliament to alter the constitution of Zambia are extensive provided that it adheres to the provisions of Article 79 of the Constitution…”
We adopt the position of the Supreme Court on this matter.
Our Position on the National Dialogue Bill, 2019
We have adequately studied the National Dialogue Bill, 2019 which has raised both support and opposition from different quarters and now want to state our position. It would be important to firstly recognise that nowhere in the world can we find perfect laws. Formulations of laws will always have those who support them and those who will be opposed to new laws. The onus becomes on those who have been given the mandate – both from the ruling and opposition parties – to make laws to raise above these divisions and do what is right for the country.
Of course, the current National Dialogue Bill, 2019 is not a perfect Bill and we can cite omissions in Section 5 of the Bill not to include students as major players in the National Dialogue Forum. There could be many other areas, some of which could have been pointed out by some stakeholders that need to be cleaned up. Even with these grey areas, we cannot throw the entire Bill into the dungeon. As students, we believe our legislative process is very clear and provides for the Executive, members of parliament and the citizens to initiate any legislation, which is put to our lawmakers for debate and refining before it could be enacted into law. This lawful legislative process cannot be broken by mere reservations that we all may have on any of the Bills, including the current one.
The Bill for instance, has provided in Section 18 the duration of 10 days to complete the refinement process of the laws requiring refinement but it has also created room, at the decision of the Minister of Justice, to extend the timeframe where it is deemed that there is need for much more time. This is progressive but in case Parliament must take into account objections from those who think this process must go a little longer than the 10 days or the timeframe the Minister may decide, the best option they have is to propose what they think is the best timeframe than what is provided.
We also must be mindful that Zambians, especially civil society organisations, have always frowned on giving these processes much longer timeframe because such timeframe gobble a lot of millions of our taxpayers money on such matters when we could utilise the funds for other budgetary allocation such as funding of higher education. So we call for those opposed to the timeframe to propose the realistic time frame that takes into account the amounts of resources may end up spending on the so-called national dialogue.
Finally, much as the Courts and the law has been clear that Parliament is the only body mandated to amend the Constitution, we also want to be clear that the current constitution has also provided as follows in Article 89 (1):
“89. (1) The National Assembly shall facilitate public involvement in the legislative process.”
This facilitation of public engagement in the legislative process does not mean that Parliament must surrender its task of law making to any one grouping. Our Constitution is very categorical and instructive in Article 62. (3), which reads:
“A person or body, other than Parliament, SHALL NOT have power to enact legislation, except as conferred by this Constitution.”
We therefore want to appeal to the Members of Parliament from both sides to take their duty seriously because there is no person or any other body other than themselves who can enact legislation but they must do so by taking the concerns raised by various members of the public into account when enacting the National Dialogue Bill into law.
As students, we believe this Bill must be enacted into law with changes based on what various members of the public have stated. Unlike other process which had no backing of the law that were facilitated by either the Zambia Centre for Inter-Party Dialogue or the Church mother bodies, this process which is backed by law can be strengthened to ensure that the outcomes become more respected by Parliament as they begin the process of amending the law.
Even as we are alive to what the Supreme Court stated in the ZADECO case that, the constitutional history of Zambia has shown that the alteration of the Constitution has depended on who controls the majority in Parliament and in the population of eligible voters for the referendum,” we believe this process should not be reduced to a contest of numbers or whether the opposition or ruling party has numbers. We ask our fellow citizens, government leaders, opposition political parties, civil society leaders, the church and every one of us to help bring this process which started in 1968 to an end.
God Bless Zambia! God Bless All our Efforts!
Zambia National Students Union
Zambian Open University Students’ Union
Technical and Vocational Teachers College, Luanshya
Anthony Ngosa K.
Zambia Air Services Training Institute Students Unions
Lusaka Dental School Students Union
Chalimbana College of Health Sciences
National Institute of Public Administration Students’ Union
Joseph K. Musonda
Lusaka Apex Medical University
Eden University Students Union
Citizen University of Zambia Students’ Union