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Hon. Wynter Kabimba,SC
Minister of Justice
Republic of Zambia
RE: DIRECTIVE ON PARALLEL WORKSHOPS ON CONSTITUTION-REFORM
The above captioned matter refers.
We write to follow up your letter dated 27th September 2012 to the Technical Committee Chairperson, Justice Annel Silungwe directing that parallel workshops being convened over the constitution-making process by organizations other than the technical committee be stopped immediately. We seek clarity on this matter from you.
The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) finds this directive an unnecessary assault on our democratic culture and to citizens’ right to access information which is essential for their engagement in constitutional-reform. Hon Minister, your decision has a negative impact on the role of Civil Society to engage citizens in debates on contents of the draft Constitution and the reform process itself. Even under the former MMD regime, in which most of our citizens were made to believe Government ruled with tyrannical hands and intolerance, no such drastic action was taken by the Executive to prevent civil society from engaging citizens by any legal means possible in constitution-reform processes.
We implore you, Hon Minister, to appreciate the fact that opportunities to engage in constitutional reform are dependent upon an interplay of individual interests in one’s free time and personal concerns, and a wish to contribute meaningfully to constitutional debates, much more so that the Constitution is written in legal language that is not easy for the majority of our illiterate citizens and few legal minds to comprehend.
As you may have been briefed by the same Technical Committee, there has been apathy and lower-level participation in District Conventions among our citizens due to lack of knowledge and attitude of citizens towards such reform process. This is further attributed to a negative perception among our citizens that constitutional issues are of remote importance to their everyday lives. The levels of interest and knowledge among our citizens on constitutional-reform can only be influenced by civil society’s constant provision of information and their effective engagement in an attempt to arouse their desire to ably discharge their civic duty.
Even with current efforts by Civil Society, the Church and the technical committee in raising citizens’ awareness on the importance of our constitution-reform process, Hon Minister, we as young leaders are still concerned that the level of popular engagement in the constitutional reform process is inadequate. Your directive will no doubt render our lay citizens to havd no formal roles to play in this long process that should have lasted 90days, as per PF campaign promises.
If, truly, your Government is committed to constitutional reform, the current process cannot be left to the Technical Committee alone but must be led from the ‘ground up’. The country needs a forward-looking agenda that educates people and encourages all Zambians to stay engaged in the process. Civil society must, therefore, be left to provide the general public with enough opportunities on how to effectively get involved in this process. Such opportunities include debates, use of the internet, deliberative conferences and regular constitutional conventions. Hon Minister, there is urgent need for the PF to change the way the Party wants to govern this country if our citizens are to enjoy their right to access information and meaningfully engage in Zambia’s democratic governance
At this point, we respectfully disagree with you that holding workshops and other activities that contribute to enhancing a better understanding of the Draft Constitution among our citizens entails sponsoring participants for participation in District, Provincial and National Constitution Conventions. The guidelines on participation in these conventions are clear and there is no law forbidding organizations and the general citizenry to target and democratically lobby delegates to accept and take positions on various constitutional matters.
In view of this current directive which we find unacceptable, we request you to recommit yourself to efforts of your predecessor, Sebastian Zulu, SC, in engaging civil society and citizens in this reform process. Your predecessor had initiated a legal framework, not only for protecting this reform process from political shenanigans such as this but also ensuring citizens are not unnecessary denied their right to assemble – either through workshops or other means – and to freely discuss content of the draft Constitution. It is our prayer, Honourable Minister, that you shall show the same commitment and leadership in helping Zambians bring to finality our common quest for a Constitution that can stand the test of time – a dream that has dodged Zambia since Independence
We are your fellow workers in the national service.
cc: Chairperson, Technical Committee drafting Zambian constitution