By Isaac Mwanza
Zambia’s Republican President Hakainde Hichilema, on assumption of office of President, made a public commitment to govern the nation in strict accordance with the principles of the rule of law. This commitment made President Hichilema garner both international and local recognition and praise.
However, recent actions by various government departments and institutions in a matter involving the supervision of the Patriotic Front (PF) as a Society not only undermine the President’s commitment but also underscore a troubling rise and endorsement of lawlessness.
The Registrar of Societies, Zambia Police Service (ZP), Lusaka City Council (LCC) and now Parliament are all accomplices in the rising lawlessness in the control and supervision of legally registered societies, in this particular case the PF Party.
It all began with ZP and LCC accepting notifications from non-office bearers of the Patriotic Front and not objecting to changes of office-bearers. It has now extended to actions of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Nellie Mutti and Clerk of the National Assembly, Cecilia Sikatele.
A Registrar of Societies is a career civil servant whose role is, among others, to keep official records of office bearers of a registered society such as the Patriotic Front in the control and supervision of Societies. These records serve as a basis for the Registrar to know from whom to seek instructions.
And a professional Registrar who strictly adheres to the rule of law would be aware that the legal requirement specifies that she can only accept notifications for changes in office bearers from individuals who are officially registered as office bearers, rather than allowing any individual who desires to take control of a registered society to do so.
In the event that a society such as a political party undergoes changes in its office bearers, Rule 15(1) as read together with Rule 20 of the Societies Rules vests the responsibility in the existing office bearers, as known to the Registrar, to inform her of these changes. Rule 20 of the Societies Rules explicitly outlines this responsibility, stating:
“All information and every notification or return required by the Registrar or by the provisions of this Act or these Rules shall be signed by two office bearers.”
The law itself defines office bearers, with Section 2 clearly specifying that:
“office-bearer”, in relation to any society or any committee or governing or executive body of a society, means any person who is the president, vice-president, chairman, deputy chairman, secretary or treasurer of such society, committee or body, or who holds therein any office or position.
In the case at hand, the individuals who should have informed the Registrar of changes to the PF’s register following the convention organized by Miles Sampa are those whose names were officially filed by the PF and were known to the Registrar as Office bearers.
The law does not grant Miles Sampa, the purported President-elect, or his proxy Secretary General any authority to notify the Registrar and initiate changes to the registered office bearers.
Consequently, it becomes a manifestation of significant lawlessness for the Registrar to act, if indeed she so acted, on a notice that was not filed in accordance with legal requirements.
Furthermore, the National Assembly of Zambia, as an organ of government, appear to have unilaterally recognised Miles Sampa and Morgan Ng’ona as the leaders of the PF.
On November 1, 2023, a series of actions where taken by both the Speaker and Clerk of the National Assembly that endorsed the ongoing confusion thus entangling themselves in the lawlessness.
Speaker Mutti had announced that she had received a letter from a Mr. Morgan Ng’ona, who claimed to be the Secretary General of the Patriotic Front (PF) on changes in the Office of Leader of the Opposition, and endorsed the changes made.
It was unclear how Ms Mutti determined that a Mr. Ng’ona and Miles Sampa were the legitimate leaders of the PF, as opposed to those who are being recognized by the PF itself. Hers was to speedily effect the changes and dodge any further question on her decision. She probably knew she had no answers and her action was embarrassingly political.
But it is now clear that her efforts were not solo but were part of this series of lawless actions initiated by Sampa and his cronies.
On the same day the Speaker was making the announcement, the Clerk of the National Assembly, Cecilia Sikatele, had sent a letter to Miles Sampa, declaring the appointment of Raphael Nakacinda as Secretary General of the Patriotic Front as a nullity.
Mrs. Sikatele had made up their mind to get entangled in the confusion and perpetuating the lawlessness. She shockingly wrote:
“With regard to Mr Raphael Nakacinda, I am directed to inform you that the National Assembly notes that his appointment as acting Secretary General of the PF was made by Mr Given Lubinda on 11th September, 2023, in his capacity as acting President of the PF. At that time, there was an interim injunction restraining Mr. Lubinda from acting as President of the PF. In that regard, Mr. Raphael Nakacinda’s appointment was a nullity.”
Mrs. Sikatele took it upon herself to act as a court when she interpreted and declared the appointment of a party functionary as null and void. This was not only an unwarranted intrusion into internal party politics but also reflects a disregard for the judiciary and a manifestation of lawlessness.
The above actions by the Speaker and the Clerk are outside the purview of their roles and responsibilities and undermine the established legal procedures for resolving such matters, creating further confusion and uncertainty within the political landscape.
It is clear that, like Miles Sampa and his followers, neither the Speaker, the Clerk, Registrar, ZP and LCC officials are concerned about the legalities of their actions. They are simply flowing with the ongoing politics and have no options at all.
The government has also communicated to the public that on October 30, 2023, the Secretary to the Cabinet sent a letter to the former Sixth Republican President, Dr. Edgar Lungu, notifying him of the withdrawal of his benefits.
This decision was made on the grounds that President Lungu had emerged from what the Patriotic Front had been describing as a period of leave to actively assume his role as an elected PF Party President.
The withdrawal of benefits signifies an acknowledgment that President Lungu is actively engaged in politics, specifically as the President of the Patriotic Front. And Government cannot be faulted when it withdrew his benefits but government actions present a somehow significant contradiction.
On one hand, government institutions and Parliament have recognised Miles Sampa as the President of the Patriotic Front (PF). On the other hand, the same government has proceeded to withdraw benefits, stating that it is Dr. Edgar Lungu who is the PF President and is thus actively involved in politics.
Under the principles of the rule of law, the government can only officially recognize one leader. It cannot simultaneously recognize both President Lungu and Miles Sampa as the PF President. Its creates a situation that is so absurd.
If it is President Lungu whom they have recognised and have since withdrawn his retirement benefits, then Miles Sampa cannot be recognised as President and decisions taken by Parliament and other organs are absurd and illegal.
This confusion and inconsistency in the recognition of both President Lungu whom they have taken away benefits and Miles Sampa whose actions are being endorsed party only contributes to the prevailing uncertainty and lawlessness.
This author has taken a clear stance that former President Edgar Lungu has never officially retired from active politics, has consistently held the position of President within the Patriotic Front (PF) since 2021 and should not have been entitled to receive the benefits under the law.
It should be acknowledged that President Lungu’s active political involvement and the leadership matters within the PF are currently subject to legal proceedings. There is however a genuine concern about how the Judiciary has always been slow in determining these cases that border on our democracy, leaving government institutions to make determinations about who they wish to recognize as leaders of opposition parties.
This situation is problematic because it does not align with the principles of the rule of law. The recognition of party leaders should be based on legal and procedural considerations, not the decisions of the executive and legislative branches.
From a pattern that has developed since 1991, it can be observed that ruling parties get involved in destroying internal systems of former ruling parties. However, it is crucial to emphasize that the government, through its various organs, particularly Parliament and institutions, should refrain from legitimizing such manoeuvres that have the potential to undermine the democratic foundations of the country.
In a healthy democracy, it is essential that political parties operate within the framework of the law and engage in their activities independently, without undue interference or support from the government.
The government’s role should be to ensure the rule of law, maintain impartiality, and provide a level playing field for all political parties to participate in the democratic process.
Allowing government institutions to become involved in the internal affairs of political parties can erode the fundamental principles of democracy and lead to a highly volatile and unbalanced playing field.
It is imperative that the government upholds the principles of democracy and refrains from taking sides in political party matters to maintain the integrity of the democratic process.