By Cleopas Phiri
In the wake of the varying deadlines from the National constitutional process it is with great dismay and disappointment that we continue to go on with the constitution making process with no clearly defined road map for the process. As The Zambia Rainbow, we feel the statement from Mr Kabanda on the constitutional roadmap leaves much to be desired. In his previous Press statement Mr kabanda stated that the road map for the constitution is as follows;
“After the first draft Constitution is ready, some critical parts will be translated into seven major local languages namely, Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja and Tonga. The first draft Constitution will be transcribed into Braille, for the benefit of the sight-challenged people. The English version of the first draft Constitution will be distributed countrywide to enable the public to make comments on it. Further, the document will be sent to local and international experts on constitutional law and practice for their respective comments.
The Technical Committee will then develop guidelines for Provincial, Sector Groups and National Constitution Conventions.”
We believe that if this was part of a well-designed roadmap the general public by now would know who the constituents of the Sector groups and national constitution conventions so as to give ample time for the would be participants to meaningfully participate. If this is not done there is a risk of low participation therefore the document not representing the aspirations of the Zambians. Furthermore there is still no necessary guidelines for the said public participation in the convention. These important guidelines will aid in constituents preparing for comments knowing that the process will only last 12 Days. We also strongly oppose the subjection of the constitution to foreign influence we believe the constitution is a national document the states the aspirations of the People of its country since when has the international community commented on say the constitution of the USA, Britain, China or any other countries that can be considered a beacon of democracy? The subjection and adoption of international consultants will result in the addition of foreign and morally decaying vices and dilution of the constitution to fit other international powers that be and not necessarily reflect the aspiration of the Zambians.
Mr. Kabanda further stated, “During the first half of June 2012, the Technical Committee will facilitate ten (10) Provincial and one (1) Sector Groups Constitution Conventions to validate the first draft Constitution. The final draft Constitution will be drafted following the hosting of the National Constitution Convention, and consideration of comments arising there from. That draft Constitution will be ready for presentation to His Excellency the President, to stakeholders and the general public in September 2012. Thereafter a Referendum Commission will assume responsibility.”
Mr Kabanda speaks so confidently of the standing of this constitution; we must caution that there is no legal framework for the current technical committee that has been assigned this subjects the whole process to the powers of the executive, perhaps only the powers of the President. Which we Pray will respect the aspirations of the Zambian people. Mr kabanda also confidently stated that a Referendum Commission would assume responsibility. We believe this lies with the executive and is not part of the TORs for the technical committee therefore to state with such certainty is misleading. We believe that if this will be the case, which we hope it will be, then the president needs to look into this matter with urgency, as September 2012 is not very far. We whole-heartedly support the adoption of the constitution through the referendum, but to effectively hold a referendum we would like to join other voices in the country in echoing the inadequacies of the current referendum process.
We call upon the Government to table and amend the Referendum Act as the current act can be termed to be obsolete. I.e. Section 4(2) of the laws of Zambia states that the composition of the referendum commission of 3 people including the chairman- this we believe is designed for a one party state and not representative of a democratic nation with diverse stakeholders involved.
Section 11 provides for referendum petition but section 17 (2)(3) states that the security costs must be paid by the petitioner without which under sub section 3 of section 17, the petition shall be dismissed. We feel this is unthinkable in this day.
Furthermore section 29(1) only authorizes appointed persons to attend the counting of votes and members of the public are excluded. This is an affront to democracy and creation of a constitution for the People, by the people, as it leaves the process susceptible to manipulation by interested parties overlooking the aspirations of the people as observers are excluded. While section 57 provides for canvassing, there is no restriction in section 61(2) (a) and (b) which requires the presence of those “for and against” to speak. This we believe is a very unaccommodating state controlled process, which clearly excludes members of the public (the people) to benefit from independent views before they can form an opinion.
We believe that to have a constitution that will stand the test of time, the referendum act must be amended as soon as possible (ASAP) by the government. The technical committee on the constitution making process must immediately publish the guidelines for participation in the sector groups and constitution conventions. Furthermore we pray that in the absence of a legal frame work the executive will stand in integrity in safeguarding the aspirations of the Zambians in our national constitution.
Cleophas J.N Phiri is the president of the Rainbow Coalition