SALC calls for broader public consultation on Constitution Bill 2019
By Staff Reporter
THE Southern Africa Litigation Centre hopes there will be broader public consultation on the Constitution amendment bill 2019 prior to its adoption.
In its analysis of Zambia’s constitutional amendment bill, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) stated that the bill was released for public comment on June 21.
Section 79 of the Constitution provides that a bill which seeks to amend the Constitution must be published in the Gazette, 30 days before its first reading.
On the second and third readings, the bill must be supported by two thirds of all members of the National Assembly.
The SALC highlighted some of the note-worthy amendments to the Constitution proposed in the constitutional amendment bill 2019.
“There is concern that this most recent amendment reverses progressive provisions in an already existing flawed Constitution,” the Centre stated.
“In the build-up to the most recent constitutional amendment, a Forum, known as the National Dialogue Forum (NDF), was created through legislation intended to make proposals to amend the Constitution, as well as to resolve the political impasse between political parties. This Forum comprised of members of parliament, opposition parties, civil society organisations, Churches, as well as members of the public. What is concerning is that although the Forum was enacted by Parliament, it only had a life span of 10 days.”
On religious overtones, the SALC stated that while the current Constitution defined Zambia as a unitary, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-party democratic State, the proposed amendments would insert Christian before unitary and delete multi-religious.
“Similarly, whilst the current Constitution states that the national values and principles include morality and ethics, the proposed amendment limits this to Christian morality. Instead of the National Dialogue Forum having encouraged a more tolerant society, these amendments raise concern that Zambian society will become less tolerant of the rights of minority groups,” the Centre stated.
The Centre, on financial accountability, observed that the Constitution bill 2019 reduced government’s answerability by abolishing parliamentary oversight over contracting public debt.
“[It] even goes insofar as to repeal the clause that stated that the permanent secretary is responsible and accountable for proper financial management of public monies, without stating who this responsibility is now given to,” it stated.
The SALC added that the Constitution bill had stripped the National Assembly of many of its oversight powers and functions.
“For instance, it repeals provisions in the existing Constitution which previously gave the National Assembly oversight over approving public debt before it is contracted,” the SALC stated.
“The bill also now gives the President power to enter into international treaties and agreements without the approval of the National Assembly. The bill even goes a step further by allowing the President to create a province, or divide or merge a province, without any approval from the National Assembly. Removing National Assembly oversight in this manner deliberately concentrates power in the hands of the executive.”
The SALC is worried that the Constitution bill 2019 is indistinct on the composition of Parliament.
It stated also that the fact that the bill did not stipulate the number of judges either for the Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court created space for political interference in the judiciary.
“Further, room for political interference can be seen where the bill gives the President power to appoint a tribunal to remove a sitting judge, which power previously sat with the Judicial Complaints Commission,” the Centre stated.
On the eligibility for government positions, the SALC stated that the proposed amendments would make it a lot easier for one to get into strategic positions like the position of a Secretary to the Cabinet.
“The proposed bill no longer requires that such an appointment be made in consultation with the Civil Service Commission and the only requirement now to be considered for the position is that you should have served in a senior management position for a period of 10 years. The bill also removes the qualifications specified for a person to be eligible for appointment as the Bank of Zambia governor, which will presumably be prescribed in legislation elsewhere,” the Centre stated.
On the bill’s provision for the presidential appointment of deputy ministers, the SALC described that as: “a disturbing amendment”
“Deputy ministers were previously removed because their positions were seen to be redundant and not cost-effective,” the SALC stated.
“This re-introduction is obscure and unnecessary given the fact that provincial ministers are already in existence notwithstanding the fact that the money required to appoint deputy ministers could be used in much more constructive ways.”
Meanwhile, the SALC, on the electoral process, noted that the Constitution amendment bill 2019 proposed a change to the electoral system, from a first-past-the-post electoral system to a mixed member electoral system.
“Furthermore, the bill also makes an allowance for a coalition government. The bill does not define a coalition government in the Zambian context, leaving it open to be interpreted in a manner that could serve the interests of any ruling party and leaving the voter in a position of uncertainty,” the SALC stated.
“This means that a presidential candidate who is not supported by 50 per cent of registered voters could still be appointed into office through a coalition.”
On the Constitution bill’s provision that Parliament must not be dissolved in the run-up to a general election, SALC argued that the practice of dissolving Parliament during the electoral campaigning period assisted to ensure equity between candidates.
“It is hoped that there will be broader public consultation on the proposed amendments prior to their adoption,” stated the SALC.