President Sata’s threat to dissolve parliament is misplaced nonsense

President Sata’s threat to dissolve parliament is misplaced nonsense

By George Lubasi

Zambia has just come out of a tightly contested election. Emotions and fatigue are just beginning to come down after a gruelling fight for access to power.   What the people are generally looking forward to is how the new Government will implement the various promises they made. The last thing the people of Zambia would tolerate at the moment is another election. It would be highly irresponsible to waste billions of Kwacha on another election.  That would be a foolish way of taking out money from people’s pockets, rather putting more of it into their pockets as they were hugely promised.

For some reason, the PF Government has cultivated and continues to nurture a belief that the MMD and the UPND are out to frustrate its policies. That explains the latest bombshell to drop from State House. But that state of insecurity is shocking for a Government that is still basking in the glory of a hard won election.
President Michael Sata‘s reaction on Thursday October 27 to the shooting down of a motion to put in place a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was so excessive and ridiculous. He has just had the first bitter taste of how it feels to be defeated in Parliament as a ruling party. Also, it is erroneous to label the shooting down of that motion as the “first vote of no confidence.” It can’t be. It must be explicitly said here that losing a motion to install a parliamentary committee is too insignificant a matter to warrant the dissolution of Parliament. Governments the world over have lost crucial motions on much more delicate matters than over a parliamentary committee and they have taken it as the pangs of democracy.  Others have been faced with more serious situations than what has just happened in the Zambian Parliament.
Barack Obama was recently faced with a defining moment over the debt ceiling. That would have made or broken his presidency. He did not go out threatening people, he reached out to Republicans and told them if the Bill did not pass, it was not the Democrats that would suffer, but ordinary Americans as the country would for first time in history fail to pay its bills. He asked them to think about how embarrassing that would be for the reputation of America. The Republicans, despite their conservative views, listened and the Bill passed. That is statesmanship.
David Cameron was recently grilled in Parliament over the phone hacking scandal by Murdoch’s people, and over the riots that hit London. He faced the consequences of his government’s sloppy response to the two events. He did not ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament just because the opposition were breathing heavily on him.
Therefore, there is no justifiable cause for President Sata to threaten to dissolve Parliament. That threat should be taken for what it is – an empty one. Even if the PF loses the next vote on PAC, I can bet my arm and leg, there is no Parliament that President Sata will dissolve. He knows he cannot take the people for granted; the very people that worked so hard to put him where he is are capable of turning against him.  If he hopes to gain a sympathy vote by saying the opposition frustrated him, he must also be aware that the opposition are capable of mobilising and churning a message that he has betrayed the people who elected him and has proved wasteful.  It is seemingly nice and enjoyable to yield power and dish out threats. But mark my words, no Parliament is about to be dissolved. What is at play here is overreaction to defeat.
It is important to understand this matter in its proper context. A few weeks ago, President Sata, in his usual boisterous manner, announced that he had abolished the position of Secretary to the Treasury, claiming it was “extravagant”. After he was advised that he had blundered, he quietly reversed that position and elevated Fred Yamba from Permanent Secretary to Secretary to the Treasury. This was not done with the usual spectacle that accompanies such announcements. When George Kunda challenged the purported abolishment in Parliament, Guy Scott was sent to lie with a straight face that the President had in fact not abolished the position. What he did not say for obvious reasons was that the President had in fact erred and had since been asked to correct it.
Thus the only crime the opposition committed on Tuesday October 25 was to ask who the Secretary to the Treasury was, since President Sata went silent about it and Guy Scott proved evasive when he responded to the matter in Parliament. The MPs were right in asking that question. Firstly, President Sata told neither the nation nor Parliament about his reversal. Secondly, the work of the PAC is very much related to the Secretary to the Treasury. The Secretary to the Treasury supervises controlling officers that appear before the PAC to answer questions arising from the Auditor General’s Report.  Thus the MPs were only performing their watchdog role and that is within their right and role, and much more, within the law.
It was therefore naïve for President Sata to have expected the MPs to support the motion merely because eight out of nine MPs proposed for the PAC were from the opposition. Was giving the opposition eight slots a bribe?  It was good of the MPs to have demonstrated (by ironically voting against themselves) that they didn’t care who was proposed for the PAC if there were still unresolved questions surrounding the Treasury. In fact, the MPs were vindicated because the Secretary to the Treasury was only sworn-in on Thursday, 27 October, two days after the MPs had crashed the motion and called the Government to account.
President Sata and the PF must quickly transform and adjust from being oppositionists to leaders of a country.  They must also quickly adjust to the realities of being in power and brace themselves to deal with the opposition on constructive terms, rather than adopting a contemptuous attitude towards them.

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