By George Lubasi
The past few weeks have been quite eventful as they have been characterised by dismissals, appointments and swearing-in ceremonies. Given that it is just a few days after a change of government, there is no doubt that the shaking and moving will go on for some time until the new tenant at State House feels he has asserted his authority strong enough and has packed state institutions with his preferred kind. It must also be said here that there is nothing sinister about the recent series of events; any new president would do it. What perhaps we can question is the scale and style.
There are several groups of people who have been pleading that the new government needs to be given time to settle down. Fair enough. But that does not include giving them room to flout the laws of the land with impunity. In exercising his authority, the new President has made decisions that are clearly reckless and outrightly illegal.
The first was the so called over-nomination, a euphemism for a constitutional breach. For goodness sake, even a civics student in grade 9 knows how many MPs a President is allowed to nominate. Why the President and all his assistants missed such a basic thing is hard to fathom. A last-minute check of the appointments list would have prevented that embarrassment.
Then came the appointment of Panji Kaunda. There is a High Court ruling which declared the man from Sindamisale bankrupt. Article 65 (1) (d) of the Constitution of Zambia disqualifies anyone declared bankrupt from being elected as a Member of Parliament. Thus the appointing authority in Panji’s case got away with a lacuna because the law only talks about election, and not nomination. But even when the President is on firm ground in appointing Panji, there should be a consideration for morality. Where is the morality of appointing a bankrupt fellow to public office? Practically, he has gone into public office with nothing. How much is he going to come out with?
Article 44 (2) (e) of the Constitution of Zambia empowers the President to “establish and dissolve such Government Ministries and departments subject to the approval of the National Assembly.” The new President has created and merged some ministries. This has been done without approval from the National Assembly as provided for in the stated article. Yet these ministries have started operating under their new status. Why are such clear constitutional provisions being circumvented?
The President can name and rename as many airports, hospitals and stadiums as he wants because nothing in the law says he has to consult. But he cannot surely carry on flouting the law in other aspects.
What is interesting in all these legal and constitutional matters is the role of the Law Association of Zambia. Just before the general election, LAZ was outspoken on many governance issues. For instance, they spoke out on violence and access to the media. In the latter case they even went as far as resolving to drag ZNBC to court for failing to operate according to the ZNBC Act. Interestingly, in the light of the blunders by the new President, LAZ has been conspicuous by its silent. Last week, LAZ belatedly announced that it had engaged the government on matters concerning the legality of some of the decisions the President had made. It added that it was not always that LAZ offered its advice publicly.
LAZ knows, but perhaps needs to be reminded, that the people the President is appointing are not being appointed to run his private farm in some rural outpost. They are running public institutions funded by the taxpayer. If there is a breach of the law, LAZ is expected to denounce that publicly like they have done in the past. What is private about legal matters that even laymen are discussing with authority, while LAZ is ‘privately engaging’ the flouters of the law?
What is even more surprising in this matter is that LAZ has made no reference whatsoever to the role of the Attorney General, the chief legal advisor to the government. Did he advise the government as is expected of his role? And if he did, does it mean his advice was spurned? These are matters LAZ is supposed to establish.
We know it is early days and LAZ may not want to be seen to be too tough too soon. But their call to public duty supersedes any sentimental feelings they may have for the new government. For that reason, LAZ must wake up and stop treating this government with kid-gloves.