Amending the Zambian constitution should not be done in the dark
By E. Munshya, LLM, MBA, MDIV (of the Alberta Bar)
The 2016 amendments of the 1991 constitution of Zambia need revision. I would be the last person to dispute that fact. From language that is ambiguous to plainly ridiculous provisions, Constitution 2016 need to be reformed. Wanting to change the constitution is one thing, however, and the process used is quite another. President Lungu and his Patriotic Front must come clean and let the people of Zambia know which provisions of the constitution are up for revision. This cannot be done in the dark. The Zambian parliament must not move to amend the constitution in a deceitful or cantankerous manner. Should parliamentarians try to do this and amend the constitution in the dark, they will hear from the million angry voices of our people. It is the people that are the true guardians of democracy and all institutions of this great nation are reposed and deposited in the people themselves. It would be ridiculous for parliament to attempt to amend the constitution without some form of public disclosure and discourse. No matter how inconvenient, discourse must be had on the way forward.
The other thing that the PF must do is to speak to the UPND and other opposition parties so that they can come up with some form of consensus about amending some provisions. President Lungu should not lead the country as if it comprises only his dununa reverse supporters. Zambia is a republic with diverse opinions and formations. The chief executive of this nation must try to find a way to bring all sorts of people to the table. If Ba Hichilema and Bo GBM will not meet with the president, at least Mr. Lungu should make effort to speak to opposition parliamentarians to forge a compromise on this issue of reforming our constitution. Going it alone is ridiculously arrogant and the ruling party must guard itself in that way.
We must commend some opposition parliamentarians who are already holding the PF ruling party to account in parliament concerning these amendments. They must keep up the good work.
The Zambian constitution should not be easily amended. A constitution that can be changed and amended overnight is not worth the paper it is written on. By trying to rush through constitutional amendments, the PF are undermining a very important principle of constitutional vitality: the fact that the constitution cannot and should not be routinely amended. It does not matter that the PF have a majority in parliament. A majority in parliament is no reason enough to bulldoze their way with constitutional amendments. My suggestions above will ensure that the PF takes the time to reflect with the people of Zambia directly and to involve all parliamentarians in amending the constitution that truly needs some amendments.
Which provisions then need reform?
- The PF want to bring back deputy ministers. This is unacceptable. We already have 30 ministers and 10 additional provincial ministers, there is no need for any more ministers. Zambia is supposed to be exercising some level of shrewdness and not go on a huge spending spree on more deputy ministers. If His Excellency Lungu comes across this article, I ask him not to give in to the temptation of over bloating cabinet and ministers. We have enough ministers.
- PF is also trying to amend the 50+1 provision. There is some sense in doing that. But this provision must not be amended without some discourse with all stakeholders.
- Parliament also needs to look at the Constitutional Court and give it statutory jurisdiction over the Bill of Rights. If it has to wait for the referendum, parliament can simply give high court jurisdiction to constitutional court judges as well so that they can have the jurisdiction over the Bill of Rights.
- Parliament needs to look at the ambiguous provisions of what happens during presidential petitions.
- Another area that might need reform is local government. So far we are getting conflicting interpretation about the executive status of mayors. Parliament needs to look at this very closely.
The most important of the suggestions I have provided above is that the PF and President Lungu must begin some form of dialogue. In discourse we trust and must trust as a true democracy.