Last week, we saw our fellow citizens exercise their freedom of assembly and expression under the banner of Yellow Card campaign. We want to firstly commend the Inspector General of Police and Government for their decision to okay the holding of the public gathering by our colleagues from civil society. This is as it should be in a democratic country like Zambia where the Constitution reigns supreme and guarantees citizens’ fundamental rights.
We of course did not participate in the gathering because, up till now, we have not ascertained the real intention and outcome these yellow card public gathering. Having said that, we state that we welcome some revelations made by organisers of the yellow card campaign that they have evidence of alleged corruption by government officials, and we believe investigative wings are looking forward to receiving formal complaints from organisers.
The exercise of constitutional freedoms and rights, members of the press, also comes with it, obligations and duties on the part of those seeking to continue enjoying these rights. In short, rights come with corresponding duties. We therefore call on our friends to discharge their obligations if these rights are to be enjoyed any further so that we do not just have public gatherings which raise smoke when there may be no fire. We now seek to address the issues raised by the yellow card campaigners:
1. Constitutional Amendment and other law reforms
Last week, we saw Government deferring the process to enact the Electoral Process Amendment Bill and Public Order Bill from Parliament. This deferment has been misreported by some sections of the media that Government has withdrawn the Bills. Our records show that this is incorrect as the Bills are still before Parliament but have been deferred to allow Government table the Constitution Amendment Bill first. This means that the works already done on these two Bills remains valid up till the time the Bills had been considered by the parliamentary committees.
Zambians may recall that each and every citizen was accorded an opportunity to participate at the National Dialogue Forum, which was a consultative forum aimed at coming up with the people-led Bills for consideration by Parliament. Sadly, our colleagues who are today crying wolf! Wolf! And protesting decided to abscond this noble and democratic process. However, the train has already started moving but we encourage them to make their voices heard through submissions to various Parliamentary Committees on all the three bills, including their demands for the Bills to be withdrawn.
We therefore see no reason why people should run to protestation when the doors for engagement and lobbying our members of Parliament are still open. Our understanding of the protests is that they come only when all means of engagement and other civil ways have been exhausted. Currently, the Constitution Amendment Bill is not even before Parliament and so the protestations are not only misplaced but also premature, unfounded and baseless.
2. Reopening of Copperbelt University
We join the student movement led by the Zambia National Students Union and other Unions who have been calling for Government to reopen the Copperbelt University. We re-echo the sentiments we have put forward before that education is an investment and government must pay very particular attention to the challenges the higher education sector is undergoing.
In this regard, we welcome the appointment of Hon Dr. Brian Mushimba as the new Minister of Higher Education who has made his first priority to reopen the Copperbelt University. We shall be meeting with him along other student leaders to find common grounds on how the challenges being faced by our two public universities can be dealt with going forward. Again, we reiterate that the only way to address problems of this nature does not lie in protest before engagement. We must always allow room for dialogue and civil discourse before embarking on any protestation. We also take it that the President of the Republic of Zambia has listened to the cries of students over several matters, including the continued closure of the CBU.
Again, we want to say that protestations on the closure of the CBU are not only misplaced but also premature, unfounded and baseless given that the protestors have not taken any steps to engage and action is already being taken by the current Minister of Higher Education.
3. Rampant Corruption among Government officials
The scourge of corruption concerns each and every Zambian citizen. We must scale up the fight against corruption and ensure perpetrators of corruption – starting with that motorists who entices the police to engage into corruption to the highest level – are brought to book. Corruption is a two way vice although it has always been viewed from the third person point of view: “they” are corrupt. This is a wrong way to fight this scourge. We all must own the fight and fight corruption in a multifaceted manner.
Our theory of change regarding the fight against corruption involve three things: (1) coming up with an effective legal framework and ensuring we remove the comfort zones (2) Strengthening institutions of governance and in particular those mandated to fight financial crimes and corruption, and (3) a robust citizenry who are effective whistle-blowers and discharge the duty to report corruption.
For this purpose, we are concerned with the third one as Government and Parliament has already commendably put in place measures for the attainment of the first and second items. The fight against corruption should not be reduced to a joking matter or grandstanding where people play to the public gallery. It requires a citizenry who are serious enough and courageous enough to report these matters to relevant authorities and allow those authorities to discharge their duties without coercion, undue influence and intimidation.
We therefore call on their colleagues that the allegations against Government officials are so grave and require to be dealt with decisively and expeditiously. We therefore challenge them that these allegations and the evidence they may have should be tendered to the Anti-Corruption Commission without any further delay. We shall be ready to join them and escort them once they put their evidence together.
If we are not seen to be going to make formal complaints to the relevant authorities on the grave allegations that were made during the so-called protests, the organisers may be jeopardising the chances of cooperation from the police to okay such future protests as it will be deemed the organisers are merely grandstanding by playing politics and making wild, unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations.
YALI calls on the Minister of Justice to ignore calls by those crying wolf-wolf to withdraw the Constitutional Amendment Bill but urges the Minister to table this Bill in Parliament this week, if anything by tomorrow, since the 30 days have elapsed from time Bill was published. We must all allow the Bill to go through all the processes, including the Committee stage after the Second Reading when amendments can be introduced. We also challenge on our colleagues to make formal complaints of the alleged corruption to investigative wings now that their right to assemble and public make allegations was granted. Our fear is that if they don’t make these formal complaints, it may be difficult to get cooperation of the police to allow them hold such public gatherings in future.