Zambians Must Guard Against Doctoring of Draft Constitution, Urges Rev Ndhllov

By Larry Moonze And Tabitha Mvula
Published July 1st 2005 in
Zambians' biggest challenge is to prevent the government from doctoring the Constitution Review Commission (CRC)'s interim report and draft constitution, Council of Churches in Zambia general secretary Reverend Japhet Ndhlovu has said.

Meanwhile, Patriotic Front (PF) president Michael Sata has said appointing a Cabinet from outside the National Assembly is not workable.

Welcoming the recommendations contained in the interim report and draft constitution of the CRC which called for repealing of the current Constitution and adopting the new one through a constituent assembly and national referendum, Rev Ndhlovu said the Oasis Forum was happy that the basic minimums which it had been advocating were contained in the document.

"This is a vindication of the Oasis Forum that people want a president elected by 50 plus 1 per cent of the votes cast and demand that their constitution be adopted through a constituent assembly although we were accused of representing the minorities," he said.

Rev Ndhlovu said the outcome of the CRC had shown that the Oasis Forum was in touch with the people.

"The biggest challenge now is what do we do to put in place the constituent assembly to ensure what people have said and reflected in the interim documents is not doctored by government," Rev Ndhlovu said. "It is now up to government to start enacting laws to put up a constituent assembly which will deal with recommendations of the CRC."

Rev Ndhlovu said the Oasis Forum would today meet to map out a response in case political will lacked in effecting all the recommendations contained in the released documents.

Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia executive director Bishop Paul Mususu said he was apprehensive as to whether or not the government would fulfil the people's wishes.

"We commend the CRC for the job done. They have at least represented views of the people and we are not surprised with the recommendations because it is not the first time that a commission has come up with a good document," Bishop Mususu said.

"They have stood for the people and this is the way it has been before, but the point is missed when recommendations are submitted to government where they are chopped off."

Bishop Mususu said he was not too sure if the recommendations of the Willa Mung'omba-led CRC would amount to any significance.

"How do we ensure we safeguard these recommendations?" he asked.

Bishop Mususu said going by the government's rejection of the key recommendations of the Electoral Reform Technical Committee including the need for a 50 plus 1 per cent majority vote, he had no hope the CRC document would be respected.

"We are yet to be proved wrong," said Bishop Mususu.

And UN systems coordinator Aeneas Chuma said there was a need for the new constitution to stand the test of generations so that every small political nuisance did not result in a review.

He said the essence of a good constitution was its staying power.

Chuma commended Mung'omba and the CRC on the release of the draft constitution adding that it was now up to Zambians to reflect and debate it rigorously.

"In our view good governance is a sine qua non for sustainable development. A good constitution is one important pillar in this respect," Chuma said.

He said it was encouraging that the new constitution had new and innovative features that would provide a basis for interesting debates.

"One is the idea of proportional representation, an inclusive idea whose time has come. The other is the idea of appointing non-constituent ministers from outside Parliament for ministerial appointments," he said.

He hoped that the constitutional debate would be conducted in a civilised manner, as it was when the CRC had been carrying out its work.

"Many people were concerned about the remarkably banal tone of recent political debates. It need not be so," he said.

Chuma said the UNDP remained committed to the support of the next phase of the constitution-making process.

Meanwhile, Sata said PF would not support the idea of appointing cabinet ministers outside Parliament.

"It is not feasible because of the amount of corruption and nepotism that has been seen from the current government," Sata said. "If we adopted that, it would make elections and government a laughing stock."

Sata said the Zambian government was derived from the Commonwealth in which a Republican president was elected on a party ticket and formed his or her government from the elected members of parliament.

He said in the United States of America, a president was elected as an individual and that was why his cabinet comprised members from outside the Senate and Congress.

Sata said if the recommendations of the CRC were adopted, they would be contradictory to the norms of the Commonwealth and that they would not stop the President from appointing his relatives to public office.

He said in President Mwanawasa's regime, key government posts had gone to nominated persons such as Ng'andu Magande (finance), George Kunda (justice), Mundia Sikatana (agriculture), Dr Brian Chituwo (health), Kalombo Mwansa (home affairs) and until their dismissal the Republican vice-president Pastor Nevers Mumba and works and supply minister Ludwig Sondashi.

"All these are non-constituent people who are not answerable to any constituency except State House," he said.

But Sata welcomed the recommendation that a presidential candidate should have 1,000 registered supporters at the time of filing nominations.

"In fact 1,000 is too liberal, we need 5,000, even if it would be costly," he said.

Sata also said PF had reservations about allowing the state to fund political parties because it would provide the party in power with an advantage to carry on with corruption.

The interim report of the CRC recommended that the constitution should be adopted by a constituent assembly followed by a national referendum.

It stated that to avoid the problems associated with having a minority president whose legitimacy and mandate would be in doubt, and as a cost-saving measure, the constitution would provide that a winning presidential candidate should receive a minimum of more than 50 plus 1 per cent of the valid votes cast and that failure by any of the candidates to attain this threshold should lead to a re-run within 90 days between the two candidates who had received the highest number of votes or who were in a tie.

The CRC recommended that economic, social and cultural rights should be enshrined in the Bill of Rights and should be justifiable.