13 December 2012

Zambia: Nation Hopes for a Time-Tested Constitution

ZAMBIANS have over the years demanded to have a republican constitution which will stand the test of time and that is what they are now hoping for.

The move by President Michael Sata to appoint a technical committee to draft the new constitution on November16, 2011 brought about relief that this government is committed to ensuring that the people's aspirations are met.

The team commenced its work on December1, 2011 and released the first draft constitution on April 30,2012.

After the release of the draft constitution report the technical committee embarked on a public consultative process which included commenting on the first draft constitution by the public, holding of district consultative fora and provincial conventions followed thereafter preceded by the national conventions.

The purpose of the consultative process is to ensure that the people of Zambia are involved in the constitutional making process in a meaningful way.

But this has also brought about anxiety from some quarters of the society as they are left to wonder as to when this piece of legislation will see its finality as there seems to be still many hurdles along the way.

This perception become apparent during the deliberations made during the just ended six days sitting held in at the Central Provincial convention based on a district resolution, delegates from all walks of life met in Kabwe to discuss the various clauses in the important document .

Some of the critical areas that the delegates looked at included the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation, the Death Penalty, Dual Citizenship, Freedom of Expression, Access to information, Press freedom, Economic and Social rights.

Other articles which were looked at in the document included the, Electoral system, whether losing candidates can be eligible for certain Appointments, Election Date for General Elections, the office of the Attorney General, Director Public Prosecution (DPP), Permanent Secretaries, Customary land, Official language and use and status of local languages, the controversial Bill of Rights, National values , principles and basis of State Policy among other articles which were retained with a few being amended.

However, the proposal that there should an establishment of a political parties fund as recommended in the First Draft constitution was rejected by delegates with many opposing it that it will just be a waste of national resources.

The delegates argued that establishing a fund would create laziness as political parties are supposed to have the financial muscle to sustain their activities while others stated that it was better to empower institutions such as councils to enable them rehabilitate roads instead of funding political parties which may have little or no effect on the well-being of Zambians.

The deliberations were subjected to voting and the majority of the delegates voted against establishment of this fund and ordered that it should be deleted from the draft constitution.

The delegates also deleted the clause of accounts and audit of political parties which are funded under the political parties fund.

But the delegates endorsed the section which talks about the need for political parties to disclose their source of funding to avoid money laundering concerns adding that the accounts should be audited as prescribed by an Act of Parliament.

The delegates also retained the death sentence as contained in the first draft constitution following an emotionally charged debate. Conveniently Kabwe town happens to be home to the infamous Mukobeka maximum prison as that is where it is situated and most offenders facing capital offences such as murder and aggravated robbery find themselves serving their punishment there.

However, some delegates who were against the death penalty submitted that the death sentence should be replaced with life imprisonment considering that Zambia is a Christian nation while those in support said the death penalty should be upheld and that those who kill others should also be killed.

Among other delegates who objected to the death sentence argued that the last President to sign an execution warrant was under the leadership of late President Fredrick Chiluba but after that late President Levy Mwanawasa and former president Rupiah Banda both declined to sign any death warrants.

And the argument was that perhaps that should be the more reason why it should be replaced with life imprisonment.

Another delegate Mrs Annie Kaongola in reinforcing the argument on this subject said that President Michael Sata had clearly stated that he would govern Zambia based on the 10 commandments and this he did in his inaugural speech.

She added that Christians should not avenge as stipulated in the holy bible just like Jesus Christ who did not revenge on all those who persecuted him even after his agonising death on the cross.

But those who were for the death penalty submitted that people should not use Christianity to commit crimes hence the need to put measures aimed at stopping such wicked acts.

Amazingly Ms Shalon Banda representing the deaf and dumb submitted in support of the death penalty saying that those who kill should also be killed.

Later the delegates were subjected to a secret vote with 79 endorsing the death penalty, 32 against while 12 abstained.

The delegates further up-held that a court shall not impose a death sentence on a convict who is pregnant with child or where there are extenuating circumstances relating to the commission of the crime.

However on the 60 years retirement age proposal for public officers was rejected but instead the delegates upheld the 55 years as being reasonable age for retirement as it was also contained in the current constitution.

Some delegates strongly opposed that extending the age to 60years as argued by others would deny the youth and other officers aspiring for the same positions to ascend to higher positions in their career acumen.

The deliberations on this proposal on retirement age was also heated with most delegates submitting that all those who have retire by virtue of age as prescribed in the constitution should take time to rest and give chance to the young people to rise to those positions.

"My fellow delegates as a senior citizen you know there was time for everything time to work and time to rest so when time to rest comes don't resist," said Ms Salome Mwale.

Ms Mwale who was representing persons with disabilities said it was important to give young people chance to grow professionally.

Following the raging debate on the subject the delegates had to vote with the majority carrying the day and maintaining the 55 years as the agreed retirement age while the proposed 60 years was rejected.

On the other hand the delegates argued that there is nothing wrong with the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation to be included in the preamble adding that the declaration never meant that other religions would not be tolerated.

Most delegates felt that the declaration provides for up-holding of the rights of every person to enjoy the freedom of conscience or religion and retained the declaration in the article.

Earlier calls to amend the preamble to provide for inclusion stating that Zambia shall "forever" remain a free, unitary, indivisible, multi cultural, multi-racial, multi ethnic, multi cultural, multi-racial, multi-racial, multi religious and multi-party democratic was rejected and anonymously agreed to delete the word forever.

However, the delegates rejected the inclusion of the word Barotseland urging that the rationale for article four is that Zambia in its current state retains its status as a unitary state in which the supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives.

The delegates agreed in unison that there was no need to include Barotseland in the constitution because it was still part of Zambia anyway.

On the Access to media as they submitted that it shall remain as it is contained in the draft constitution but strongly challenged the media to be balanced in their reporting.

The delegates further upheld Article 38 which deals with Freedom of the Media and that the press is a pillar of democracy and that all legal and administrative mechanisms that tend to frustrate press freedom should be removed.

The delegates later retained Article 79 on access to the media as contained in the first draft constitution.

Meanwhile the delegates also endorsed Article 58 on persons with disabilities which states that persons with disabilities are entitled to enjoy all rights and freedoms as set out in the Bill of Rights and shall have the right to education and facilities that are integrated into society as a whole to the extent compatible with interests of persons with disabilities.

The delegates argued that the persons with disabilities have a right to access to psychical environment, information and communication, public facilities and service, places and transportation.

Delegates further, endorsed recommendation that a Minister, Provincial minister, Cabinet secretary and Parliamentary secretary should not carry out the duties of the office unless that person takes the oath of secrecy, prescribed by an Act of Parliament.

The rationale for the article is that it is necessary for people occupying offices of higher responsibility to take oaths and it is a common practice in many other countries.

After all has been said and done it is the hope of each and every citizen of Zambia that a good constitution will be one day become a reality despite this rigorous exercise that the process has been subjected to.

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