4 February 2013

Zambia: Constitution Debates Inspiring

THE debates during the Constitution Technical Committee conventions have thus far been inspiring more so on critical matters such as articles on death sentence, dual citizenship, and the 50 per cent plus one vote for a winning Presidential candidate.

During the second round of the provincial Constitution convention which also had members of Parliament as delegates, debates were protracted and inspiring, though in some cases tempers rose.

Firstly, debates were hot and inspiring because of the diverse composition of conventions whose members included MPs, traditional leaders, Government officials at Permanent Secretary level and the clergy.

Secondly, discussions got protracted because there were political leaders from opposition and the ruling Patriotic Front (PF).

This obviously meant that disagreements emerged, but were finally settled.

In Southern Province, delegates retained the contentious Article 120 on the appointment of ministers from outside the National Assemble, and Article 122 on the appointment of parliamentary secretaries as well as the death sentence.

The convention from this part of the country also adopted from the Draft Constitution an article on dual citizenship and the Christian Nation Clause among many others.

Debates were inspiring!

After the conclusion of the second round of the provincial conventions in Lusaka, Eastern, and Southern provinces, the National Constitution Convention will start sitting in April, this year.

Zambia has for a long time been longing for a people-driven Constitution which will stand the test of time and we are confident that this time around, the country will have an all-inclusive national document.

As observed by Constitution Technical Committee chairperson Justice Annel Silungwe, citizens and in particular participants are intent on coming up with a document that will be all-inclusive.

Mr Justice Silungwe rightly observed in Chipata at the weekend that there has been overwhelming response and enthusiasm by citizens who right from the start have been committed.

Yes, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land upon which authority of a government is anchored.

Thus, good governance and rule of law are usually dependent on how accommodating a constitution of a particular country is and also how the governing authority respects and implements this important document.

Yes, Zambia has had constitutional reviews even before independence.

Firstly, there was the Northern Rhodesia Constitutional Conference which was concluded at Lancaster House in February 1961.

Among issues discussed at Lancaster was the need to have an enlarged Legislative Council (Parliament) containing about 45 elected members.

The Legislative Council was recommended to constitute three elements --a number of members elected by voters on the Upper Roll, an equal number of members elected by voters on the Lower Roll, and a substantial number of "national" seats in which candidates would have to obtain some measure of support from both Rolls.

Then there was a Choma Constitutional Review Commission which ushered in the One Party Participatory Democracy in 1973.

The Mvunga Constitutional Review Commission was appointed before the Mwanakatwe and lastly the Mong'omba Constitutional Review Commission.

This time around, the PF Government has committed itself to coming up with a document which will be respected by all through a nationally-accepted process.

We are confident that this time around, people's wishes will be met.

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