When President Edgar Chagwa Lungu signed a Constitution that had been widely adopted by the public, it was met with both celebration and concern. While the amendments included several progressive provisions, such as defining the date of general elections and introducing grade 12 qualification requirements for lawmakers, there were certain details that concealed a potential threat to the well-being of the State.
The Importance of an Independent Judiciary:
An independent judiciary serves as the last line of defense for truth and justice, preventing the collapse of the State and the rise of anarchy. However, recent amendments to the Constitution have significantly undermined the independence and autonomy of the judiciary, jeopardizing the State’s stability. The removal of judges’ security of tenure through simplified appointment and removal processes is particularly concerning.
The Flawed Attempt at Rectification:
Recognizing the weaknesses in the Constitution, the Patriotic Front Government proposed amendments through Bill 10. Unfortunately, this attempt was met with suspicion due to the timing and polarization of stakeholders, especially with the forthcoming 2021 elections. There were concerns that President Lungu may manipulate the Constitution to his own advantage.
President Hichilema’s Exploitation of Weak Laws:
Since assuming office, President Hakainde Hichilema has shown a tendency to take advantage of flawed laws to consolidate his power. The Criminal Defamation of the President law, for example, is a less oppressive instrument compared to other existing laws that stifle freedom of expression. Furthermore, President Hichilema has utilized law enforcement agencies as tools of oppression against the opposition and his political opponents.
The Death of the Judiciary and the Collapse of the State:
The judiciary plays a fundamental role in upholding social order and the Rule of Law, resolving conflicts, and promoting coexistence and peace in society. To fulfill this role, the judiciary must enjoy judicial independence. However, recent events, such as President Hichilema’s questionable appointment of judges and the swift removal of judges through questionable hearings, have cast doubt on the judiciary’s integrity. President Hichilema’s control over the judiciary, demonstrated by the appointment of individuals primarily from one region, raises concerns about its impartiality.
The Need for Constitutional Protection:
To restore constitutional protection of judges, it is imperative to reinstate provisions that ensure rigorous but fair mechanisms for their appointments and removals. Failure to do so will have far-reaching consequences, as a weakened judiciary can lead to anarchy, social disorder, unresolved conflicts, and negative effects on the economy and crime levels. Those celebrating the removal of judges fail to recognize that without constitutional amendments, any current or future judge may face a similar fate.
The removal, dismissal, or retirement of professionals from the public service and state-owned enterprises under false claims or suspicions represents a systematic purge by the New Dawn Government. The recent removal of judges sends a clear message that no member of the public service, including the judiciary, is safe from arbitrary removal. Stakeholders must act to reinstate stringent but fair mechanisms for the appointment and removal of judges, as the judiciary plays a vital role in maintaining the State’s cohesion and ensuring justice for all. Failing to address these concerns will have severe repercussions on the State’s well-being.
src: Amb. Emmanuel Mwamba