Zambia Reports (Lusaka)

1 February 2013

Zambia: By-Elections Are Not Our Fault, Sata Tells Catholic Bishops

President Michael Sata has responded to a strongly worded Pastoral Letter recently released by Catholic Bishops condemning his administration's poor governance record by saying it is not the fault of the PF that the country was experiencing unprecedented by-elections.

Of the nine issues raised by the Catholic Bishops, President Sata only responded only to the one regarding the numerous by-elections. According to the Pastoral Letter, the Patriotic Front are allegedly tampering with the democratic process by lobbying certain MPs of the opposition party to defect to the ruling party, which then creates a new by-election for their seat.

The Catholic Bishops have raised concerns on the prevailing political environment, the Barotseland Situation, the human rights record, the constitution making process, the Public Order Act, the roadmap to the constitution making process, the need for more consultation, registration of mobile phone sim cards and the judiciary.

In his response, President Sata claims that his office is open to dialogue but goes on to defend the numerous by-elections his party is accused of creating while failing to address other pertinent issues raised in the letter by the Catholic Bishops.

"The concerns raised by our beloved and revered Bishops in their Pastoral letter with respect to the spate of of parliamentary by-elections cannot be blamed on this administration, but can be traced back to poor and autocratic leadership in political parties that have failed to inspire their parliamentarians," President Sata said in the statement, which was delivered by presidential spokesman George Chellah.

"It is therefore, unfair to criticize the PF Government when opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) decide to quit due to intolerable situations solely incited by high-handed leaders in their political parties. By law, it remains a requirement that within three months of a seat falling vacant, a by-election ought to be held."

PF secretary general Wynter Kabimba is on record urging opposition members of parliament to join the PF because "that is where the honey is." Former MMD member Gabriel Namulambe (the reason for Mpongwe by elections) quit because he was promised his corruption charges in court will be dropped while UPND's Reverend Howard Sikwela resigned for a diplomatic posting as promised by the Head of State.

In his response, President Sata does not explain how his government was failing to respect human rights or resolve the Barotseland Situation. The Head of State, who is using the colonial Public Order Act, to frustrate the opposition thereby infringing on the rights of assembly and expression of Zambians did not explain why only one out of 12 UPND permits for public meetings for the UPND was granted in 17 months since he assumed office.The MMD requests to hold public rallies have all been denied.

President Sata, who has openly opposed contentious clauses in the draft constitution such as the presidential running mate, the 50+1 and duo citizenship, has not outlined the legal framework of the current constitution making process as demanded by the Bishops.

Below is the full statement issued by State House

LUSAKA, Friday, February 1, 2013 - His Excellency, Mr Michael Chilufya Sata, President of the Republic of Zambia, has assured the Catholic Church and Zambians in general that sufficient progress is being recorded in terms of governance and development.

The Head of State, who was responding to the Pastoral letter signed by 13 Catholic Bishops, among them the Archbishop of Lusaka Telesphore Mpundu, Archbishop of Kasama Ignatius Chama and Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) vice president Alick Banda, said his administration values the close working relationship it enjoys with the Church.

"As elected representatives of the people, the Patriotic Front (PF) Government remains open to dialogue as an important aspect of nation building, unity and development. We therefore take note of the pertinent issues raised by the Catholic Church in the Pastoral Statement on the occasion of their January 2013 Plenary," President Sata said.

President Sata reiterated that since assuming office, the PF Government has left its doors open to dialogue on many national issues and has further established other platforms and processes, such as the on-going Constitution-making process, through which various issues are being addressed.

President Sata guaranteed that the Patriotic Front (PF) Government will not depart from its commitment of upholding the fundamental tenets of democracy, good governance and the rule of law as espoused in its party manifesto.

"The concerns raised by our beloved and revered Bishops in their Pastoral letter with respect to the spate of parliamentary by-elections cannot be blamed on this administration, but can be traced back to poor and autocratic leadership in political parties that have failed to inspire their parliamentarians," President Sata said.

"It is therefore, unfair to criticize the PF Government when opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) decide to quit due to intolerable situations solely incited by high-handed leaders in their political parties. By law, it remains a requirement that within three months of a seat falling vacant, a by-election ought to be held.

"It has to be borne in mind that whatever the cause, the law has to be upheld. Within the democratic discourse of a multiparty political system, the principles of free entry and free exit to and from one party to the other cannot be outlawed. And we welcome a broad range of law-abiding citizens, including MPs to join the party."

The Head of State further said it should be recalled that this is not the first time that such a political situation is prevailing in the country.

"As regards the appointment of some MPs from the opposition, we wish to remain true to the Constitutional order that permits any elected MP to be eligible to be appointed as minister. Again here there is no violation of the Constitution in any way because all MPs are eligible to be appointed to ministerial posts. This position is not new. Others before me have appointed MPs from other parties. It is therefore grossly unfair to accuse us of creating by-elections."

The President said his administration fully understands its limitations as enshrined in the Republican Constitution.

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