29 January 2013

Zambia: Spirited Debates Characterise Luapula Constitution Convention

THE constitution making process has never been an easy road because the constitution contains fundamentaland entrenched rules that govern the conduct of a nation.

Zambia is once again at the crossroads as it strives to come up with a constitution that will live up to the expectations of not only the citizenry but also the international community.

Government has facilitated the process of formulating a new constitution with the aim of producing a document that will stand the taste of time.

With the technical committee having been constituted as the vehicle through which this maybe achieved, consultation on what should be contained in the constitution has reached an advanced stage.

After the successful formulation of the first draft by the technical committee, drawing from previous constitution review commissions, the document was availed to members of the public to make comments on the contents of the draft.

With the first and second levels of consultation in the form of written submissions and district consultative forums out of the way, the next phase of consultation was the provincial conventions which were tasked to scrutinise the resolutions of the district consultative forums and come up with resolutions that will be debated at the national and sector conventions.

In Luapula, the provincial convention took place at Henry Courtyard Lodge in the heart of Mansa.

It attracted participations who included Members of Parliament (MPs), the civil society, the Church,unions as well as the traditional leaders.

Technical committee vice-chairperson Julius Sakala hailed President Michael Sata for involving all Zambians in the constitution making process.

Dr Sakala said to ensure that the aspirations of Zambians were truly embodied in the constitution; it was important that participation was broad-based and represented all interest groups in various geographical locations.

"The constitution making process by its very nature requires selflessness, patriotism and an objective desire to make the process work. I wish to underline that this country belongs to all of us and therefore we all must work together to unite our country and formulate a constitution that will stand the test of time," Dr Sakala said.

He said the characteristics of democracy were based on principles of liberty including the freedom of expression and to suppress this freedom is tantamount to being enemies of an open society.

The convention was punctuated by spirited debates from the dynamic representatives that saw the house adopt a number of articles that have been viewed as contentious.

Some of the articles that were endorsed include the 50 plus one clause contained in article 75 (1) in a debate that was charaterised by high tensions and frustration from those that were against it.

The house was subjected to a second round of voting when in the first round determined that the clause be retained as it was contained in the draft constitution.

Opponents of the clause argued that although the majoritarian system was a popularist article, most countries who had adopted the system were still grappling with issues of electoral challenges.

They contended that democratic dispensation in Zambia had moved on, adding that it did not foresee any presidential candidate that would garner enough votes as was required by the majoritarian system.

"The simple majority system is adequate because a presidential candidates could still amass 50 per cent plus one votes in the current system and what mattered is getting voters," said Home Affairs Deputy Minister David Mabumba who put up a spirited fight against the clause.

He said only late President Frederick Chiluba had so far managed to amass 50 plus one votes in an election adding that if adopted the majoritarian system would complicate the electoral process.

But Former Bahati MP Besa Chimbaka said it was out of the wisdom of the PF Government that the constitutional process was initiated to give the people a constitution that would stand the taste of time.

Mr Chimbaka said all the previous constitution commissions had recommended that the president be elected by the majoritarian system.

"Both the Mvunga and Mun'gomba constitutional review commissions had recommended that the president be elected by the majoritarian system; once we do this we are doing away with tribalism and we will have harmony in the country, Mr Chimbaka said.

MMD acting provincial chairperson Abel Chilukuta argued that the 50 per cent plus one presidential threshold in the draft constitution be maintained and advised the MPs opposed to its inclusion not to embarrass President Sata because they advocated it during campaigns prior to the 2011 tripartite elections

The convention also adopted the death penalty clause contained in article 28 of the draft constitution.

The delegates upheld the clause amid opposition from the clergy that the clause should not stand because Zambia is a Christian nation.

Clause three of article 28 states that a person may be deprived of life if that person is convicted of a capital offence and sentenced to death.

Father Anthony Mafumbi of the Roman Catholic Church said he was not in favour of the death penalty because taking away life made the enforcers of this law equal to the convict.

Fr Mafumbi said taking away of life was against the biblical principles to which Zambia being a Christian nation was subject to observe.

And Pastor Maxwell Luchile of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) said the value of life cannot be compared to anything and that people are sent to prison to reform.

But Mr Mwaba Mbilima from the Luapula Province small-scale Miners Association said the death penalty should be upheld as proposed in the first draft document.

But when put to the vote using a show of hands most of the delegates voted that the death penalty be adopted.

The other Articles that generated interest during the Luapula Province convention are dual citizenship clauses which were retained amid arguments from some delegates including Chief Government spokesperson Kennedy Sakeni.

Debating on the motion, Mr Sakeni urged Zambians to critically look at the issue of dual citizenship and ensure that it was not allowed in Zambia.

"As Zambians, let us critically look at the issue of dual citizenship and take the interest of the nation at heart. Why do people want to be citizens of other countries in the first place," Mr Sakeni said.

Deputy Minister of Labour Ronald Chitotela said dual citizenship would make it difficult to extradite Zambians who committed crimes if they moved to other countries where they had citizenship.

"Let us denounce dual citizenship because even countries like United Kingdom are having difficulties to extradite criminals," he said.

Other delegates like former minister in the MMD, Mwansa Mbulakulima argued that it was important for Zambia to give citizenship to Zambians living in the Diaspora to enable them work in other countries.

"Most of the Zambians living in other countries cannot work because of the issue of citizenship hence the need for us to assist them," he said.

Some delegates, especially from the medical field advocated dual citizenship saying it would go a long way in contributing to national development.

The issue of the dress code also raised concern with Pastor Maxwell Luchile saying indecent dressing had even affected the church.

The convention refused to amend the provision of Article 9(a) to read "morality, descent dressing, Christian values and Ethics,"

The convention, however, agreed to amend the definition of words minority and marginalised groups in the draft Constitution, under article 311, to ensure that the words did not apply to groups like lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals, gay and prostitutes, which did not reflect on Christian values.

As the convention drew to a close delegates wanted the Technical Committee to explain the measures it would put in place to ensure that the views of the majority are not discarded as was the case with the past constitution review processes.

Dr Sakala s expressed hope that constitution review process would this time around be taken to its logical conclusion

"Human nature is a very difficult thing to predict but we must give credit to President Sata and the Patriotic Front for bringing this kind of Constitution-making process directly to the people.

Those who have followed the Constitution review processes of the past, this is the first time that the draft Constitution went to the public and Government simultaneously," Dr Sakala said.

Dr Sakala said the Technical Committee was pleased that the long-awaited provincial convention for Luapula has been successfully concluded.

Chairperson of the Luapula Constitution Convention Katele Kalumba said Luapula Province was of the idea that the Constitution be adopted through a referendum.

Dr Kalumba said the province had unanimously agreed that the referendum was the only mode of adoption that would ensure that the views of the people were retained in the final draft.

As the Constitution making process slowly draws to its logical conclusion, Zambia is poised to come up with a Constitution that will set the standard for nations in the region and beyond, at least if the current Constitutional making process is anything to go by.

The resolutions of the provincial conventions will be submitted to the national and sector groups for further scrutiny.

This will form the basis of the revising the first draft Constitution to come up with the final draft Constitution that will be handed over to President Michael Sata and the people of Zambia.

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