By Brebner Changala
The position taken by the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) over President Sata’s suspension of two High Court and one Supreme Court Judge is not only disappointing but out of character with LAZ’s historical role as a defender of the constitution and the rule of Law.
Over the years, and especially in the run- up to the multi -party democracy and after, LAZ has been a beacon of hope in our struggle to entrench and nurture constitutionalism and the rule of Law in our Nation. LAZ, along with other progressive interest groups managed to mobilize our national collective conscious in consigning UNIPOCRACY to the historical dustbin. When the MMD government crafted a constitution pregnant with provisions aimed at ousting certain of our citizens from competing for the highest office in the land, LAZ was in the forefront denouncing such discriminatory devices as unacceptable.
When the late Republican President Fredrick Chiluba ( May his Soul rest in Peace ) attempted to unconstitutionally extend his tenancy at Plot 1 beyond the agreed two 5 year term, LAZ with other stakeholders rallied our people to resist the Chiluba misadventure . (In case some of us need reminding, it was President Sata who went around the country campaigning for Chiluba to be given a third term).
LAZ’s illustrious record and its collaboration with valuable stakeholders at the various critical junctures of our democratic journey did not come about by accident. A close inspection of LAZ’s history will reveal that at each of the past critical events, Zambia was fortunate to have men and women of integrity and professional impeccability in the LAZ Executive.
It was to a large extent due to the steadfastness, probity, courage and unwavering resolve of the men and women in the LAZ Executive councils and other partner organizations that we were able to navigate some of the very difficult issues we have faced as a nation.
Sadly, it would appear that these qualities are very much deficient in the current LAZ Executive. What comparison would there be between the current LAZ Executive presided over by Mr James Banda and the LAZ Executive which was presided over by Mr Christopher Mundia , Mr Wiliam Mweemba or the Michael Musonda led Executive ? Nor can one begin to imagine the George Kunda led Executive (May his Soul Rest in Peace) countenance an assault on the judiciary which we are witnessing today. Just what has happened to LAZ?
It is no secret that some lawyers have used the LAZ Executive positions to advance their private agendas. For the first time in the LAZ’s history we have seen a sitting LAZ President abandon his position in preference for an executive position in government as solicitor general. While LAZ is known for swiftly coming down hard on lawyers who misuse clients’ money or commit other offences, there have been grumblings that some ‘super lawyers’ have gotten away with blue murder as they were too powerful to be disciplined by LAZ .
The complaint against Mr Mutembo Nchito regarding his alleged alteration of Judge Phiri’s Judgment is one case in point. LAZ‘s processing and hearing of this complaint has been glacial. The matter has been characterized by adjournments after adjournments, until Mr Mutembo was eventually appointed and sworn in as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Even when President Sata gave what were clearly unacceptable and constitutionally askew instructions to Mutembo to ‘go and sort them out’ during the DPP’s swearing -in ceremony , LAZ which is supposed to stand up for constitutionality did not utter a word against this serious presidential trespass on the most inviolable attribute of the office of DPP.
It also appears that some of lawyers who are elected to the LAZ Executive either underestimate or do not fully appreciate the immense responsibility, personal sacrifice and public service that their offices entail. It seems some of the lawyers find the allure of LAZ office irresistible, while others view and convert the offices to some form of celebrity badge. I can assure you that if you toss a coin in a Lusaka night club on a Friday night, it is likely to land on a LAZ Executive Member. Such as the level to which the LAZ Executive has sunk!
The statement issued by LAZ in the wake of President Sata’s suspension of the three judges speaks volumes about the capacity of the current LAZ Executive. When you expected LAZ to come to the defense of the Judiciary, LAZ is only short of celebrating the suspension of the Judges! Whatever the shortcomings that maybe in our Judiciary – and it is not only the Judiciary which needs reforms in this country , the approach that has been employed in the case of the three judges does not portend well for our democracy especially under the PF government which has shown very scanty regard for our constitution on numerous occasions already .
LAZ should have known better. Reading the LAZ Statement, one can clearly see the LAZ handiwork all over this tragedy. They very casually state in their statement that’LAZ has NOTED the Presidents constitution of a Tribunal’. NOTE! My foot! You would be excused for thinking they were a secret astrological society talking about the discovery of some distant planet. I have seen more animated statements on bad referring in the Barclays premier league. Guys, we are talking about the suspension of three Judges just because there is a judgment which the President is not happy about.
LAZ went on to state that they had reviewed the law and were of the view that the President had powers t o proceed as he had done. As if anyone who could not find this out simply by reading the constitution.
Now the clincher: LAZ went on to confess that they are the ones who requested for an inquiry from the President. REALLY?
The relevant section 98 (3) states that ‘if the president considers that the question of removing a judge ought to be investigated then he shall appoint a tribunal ‘. it is clear from the said provision that it is not for anyone including LAZ, to request the appointment of a tribunal – all LAZ could do is draw the presidents attention to an issue or complaint – the president would upon being satisfied proceed to establish a tribunal. However, in their statement LAZ have confessed to the Nation that it was LAZ which requested for an inquiry.
Perhaps more fundamental, what exactly was the issue that LAZ took to the President? In constituting the Tribunal, the President stated that the Tribunal’s Terms of Reference would relate to the Judges’ conduct with respect to the case of DBZ vs. Zambian Airways and others. This leaves us in no doubt that it is this case which LAZ took to President Sata. Can the LAZ Executive tell the Nation what it found so special about this particular case as to report it to the President ?
In deciding to report the DBZ matter to the president, did LAZ also consider requesting the President to establish a tribunal to investigate Mr Mutembo Nchito’s suitability to occupy the office of DPP , if not why not? Unless the LAZ Executive can provide satisfactory answers to these questions, I would urge the Members of the LAZ to call for an Extra Ordinary General Meeting and impeach the executive for the irreparable damage and embarrass ment that they have occasioned on the association.
While any malpractices in the judiciary deserves to be dealt with, LAZ should not be the one championing Judicial reforms when LAZ is itself clearly in need of reforms too. It is high time the eligibility criteria for election to the LAZ Executive were reformed and restricted to members of longer standing at the bar than is currently the case – only then shall LAZ attract the right caliber of leadership of State Counsel status and the like, as opposed to the current Mickey Mouse crew.