Amos Chanda, Judges and the Challenge of Reforming the Law Association of Zambia
E. Munshya, LLM, MBA, M.DIV.
Words alleged to have come out of Mr. Amos Chanda’s mouth concerning the judiciary were concerning. In fact, they were dangerous. I cannot belabour any further on the points raised by the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ). President Lungu has defended his spokesman. He is saying that we all misunderstood Mr. Chanda. I hope that is true. But we cannot all be mistaken in what we heard Mr. Chanda say. It is a concern that the spokesperson for the president should be having a wide-ranging media interview that trots from one topic to another during the time that his principal is away visiting a foreign country. In our democracy, the president’s spokesperson is not supposed to be spewing government policy and giving political statements that outline the Executive’s priorities. Zambians did not elect Mr. Chanda. Zambians elected Mr. Lungu. At most, Mr. Chanda is a senior civil servant implementing policies of elected politicians. This is the anomaly we have seen recently where after each cabinet meeting, it is Mr. Chanda who briefs the press about the resolutions of cabinet. President Lungu should put a stop to this so there is a clear demarcation between the civil service and its supervisors, the elected politicians. In the Zambian system of government, the spokesperson for the Executive branch is not Mr. Chanda but Ms. Kampamba Mulenga, the minister of information. She is the one who informs the public of government’s political agenda and priorities. And that is how it is supposed to be so that the people can freely debate political policy and hold politicians to account.
Mr. Chanda’s comments that judges risk “Kenya-styled” reforms are quite ill-informed. First, Zambia is not Kenya and we have a very different judicial and constitutional history. Second, Mr. Chanda does not seem to make sense to the extent that he makes it sound like the executive is a very small player in the current structure of the judiciary. Of all the presidents Zambia has had since 1964, only two presidents have had tremendous imprint on the structure of the judiciary: President Kaunda and President Edgar Lungu. In 2 years, President Lungu has by far transformed the structure of the judiciary more than any president. It is under his rule that we have had an expanded judiciary with several new courts including the Constitutional Court and the Court Appeal. All this myriad of judges was appointed by President Lungu embossing his image for many years to come. To suggest that the judiciary could be changed under the Kenya-styled themes is being disingenuous to the tremendous influence of Mr. Chanda’s own boss on the current structure of our judiciary. Point at the new courts and all the new judges and it leads to one appointing authority: Edgar Chagwa Lungu doing in 2 years what took Kaunda 27 years.
On the rulings of the judges, Mr. Chanda may have some legitimate concerns. But Mr. Chanda should channel concerns in a way that respects our processes and not by throwing a tantrum on television (tantrum is an exaggeration; Chanda is very soft spoken). Clearly, the Munali decision from Justice Musona does not look strong at law and common sense. It does not look convincing. But the only way to reverse it is by lodging an appeal and convince the constitutional court judges. It should not be by intimidation. The Lusaka Central petition decision is quite another matter and without delving any further so as not to sub-judice the case, it is a difficult case to overturn on appeal. Let us wait and see. When a high court judge makes a mistake of law or fact, parties have the right to appeal. That is how we resolve legal problems. We do not resolve legal problems through veiled threats. I have tremendous faith in our constitutional court that it will fairly look at Munali and Lusaka Central once the appeals come before it.
Having dealt with Mr. Chanda, we need to turn to the next challenging issue. The role of the Law Association of Zambia when it makes statements that supporters of the ruling party find unfair. I believe LAZ, as a regulator, must not be taking sides in political battles. Just as we are demanding that Mr. Chanda should be politically neutral, we also should demand that the regulator of legal practitioners in Zambia be politically neutral. The regulator cannot take overt stands on the law that seem to contradict and divide the people it regulates. The solution, therefore, is to split LAZ into two independent branches: one for regulation and the other for a fraternal association of like-minded lawyers. Currently, there is always confusion when LAZ takes a position whether it is in its capacity as a regulator or as an association of free-spirited lawyers. The calls that Mr. Chanda be well behaved as a spokesperson of the president, is the identical call for LAZ to make some effort to advocate before government that LAZ gets split to avoid confusion. LAZ is right in condemning Mr. Chanda, as an association. But it has no business taking such political stands as a regulatory body. If Mr. Chanda were to go to court or to sue the LAZ President for defamation (if she was wrong on what Mr. Chanda said), it would still be a LAZ regulated lawyer who would appear in court for Mr. Chanda against LAZ. This would be a potential conflict.
There is more to say about the challenges for LAZ reform. I hope to look at it in detail in future. But for now, we are concerned with Mr. Chanda just as much as we are concerned with the continued politicization of the entity that is supposed to regulate legal practitioners in Zambia.