COMMONWEALTH Secretary General Patricia Scotland says the forthcoming process of dialogue involving President Edgar Lungu and incarcerated UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema is a “momentous, historic decision” for Zambia.
Reflecting on her August 7-9 visit to the country in which she met the two leaders as well as various other stakeholders, Scotland said the dialogue will be facilitated by her office, whereby a roadmap of reforms pursuant to Commonwealth values can be undertaken in preparation for the 2021 general elections.
This process is an open inclusive one where any participant of the dialogue can raise any issue that they wish and through this process, we will be able to identify the issues that we must make progress on before 2021,
Scotland said in an interview with the BBC’s Kennedy Gondwe on Wednesday.
She also said the leaders’ commitment to the proposed roadmap was genuine and that they had both agreed to be committed to the rule of law, good governance and good practice.Below is a transcript of Scotland’s interview with the BBC.
Gondwe: You’ve been in Zambia. What do you make of Zambia politically?
I think Zambia is in a very delicate position. Zambia has always been a country of peace and tranquillity and I think many Zambians are bemused by the fact that this peace and tranquillity is not as they are used to, so I’m really pleased that the two parties, in the interest of the Zambian people, have decided to look forward and come together to engage in this roadmap where they will be able to deal with issues, which are outstanding and need to be dealt with by the next election. You met the President of the country as well as the president of the biggest opposition political party. What have they been telling you?
Scotland: They have been telling me of the problems; the leader of the opposition has made very clear the issues, which he disputed and I think that’s very much in the public domain. But also both of them made it clear that they want peace and they want to deliver for the people of Zambia and that this stalemate that we have now is not inuring to the best interest of the people of Zambia and both of them are committed men of faith. And so we have been able to talk about what that means; what that means to be a peacemaker; what does it mean in relation to going forward? Is it really going to be helpful to look backwards? And why don’t we talk about the things that we mutually want for the future? And I would say by the grace of God, they have both agreed to do that. And so I think that’s real credit to both of them that they are willing to come together to look forward and not backwards.
The most contentious issue from both sides is that the President says he’s not being recognised by the opposition. And the opposition have taken him to court because indeed they feel the results of last year’s elections should have gone their way. Does it mean therefore that now there will be a recognition from the opposition that there is already a President in place?
I think there is a recognition; the President is the President and the leader of the opposition is the leader of the opposition and both of them need to work on a roadmap because we have now to look forward to the 2021 elections, and there is an opportunity to look at the issues that were raised in the observations of the Commonwealth Observation Group, of the EU Observation Group, of the other observation groups.
You will have seen a copy of those observation groups’ recommendations. So now bearing in mind that there is a joint interest in addressing those issues, looking at some of the potential problems for the future because they have appeared to be problematic in the last year, and seeing how best they can improve them, change them and get over them. And I’m rejoicing at the fact that both the President and the leader of the opposition have agreed that that will be their focus.
And it’s not helpful perhaps to regurgitate old positions because to remind the leaders of what their old positions will be will perhaps inhibit our ability to go forward.
Gondwe: Does that suggest then that the opposition will withdraw their presidential petition and the leader of the opposition may be acquitted because he has been in a maximum prison for more than three months now?
Scotland: I think what both have said is that they are willing to do anything within their gift to make this peace and harmonious relationship possible. Both have things that are within their gift that they can do and the most important thing is to behave in a reasonable, collaborative and generous way towards each other. And that’s why I think it has been important that for both the leader of the opposition and the leader of the government, that both are saying “we both believe in God, we both believe in the best interest of the country.” It’s a bit like Solomon: two women came before Solomon with one baby and Solomon’s decision was to cut the baby in half and the true mother said, “I would rather the baby be given to the other [woman] than to see my baby destroyed.”
Gondwe: But when you’ve got two bulls in a kraal, there’s always going to be a problem. And that appears to be the problem in Zambia right now, and compounding that is the fact that the leader of the opposition has been charged with a treasonable case, which is non-bailable. In all this that you are explaining, the issue of the treasonable case is not coming up at all?
Scotland: Well it is an issue and I have said that we had very extensive discussions both with the leader of the opposition – in prison – and with His Excellency the President. However, you’ll also know that the prosecution is undertaken independently by the police and the DPP. It would be wholly improper for the president of any country to seek to interfere with the exercise of the Director of Public Prosecutions’ discretion, which is separate from the Executive. However, as I made plain, it is clearly a matter of material importance that both the leader of the opposition and the President have committed themselves openly in their discussions through me and both are fully aware of the detailed content of the statement that I was going to be making and they were both content for me to make that statement because it accurately reflected the agreement that they have through me to come to together. Now as I explained, every prosecutor has to prove two things: one, that each element of the offence complained of is laid out and they have evidence to prove it. But the second test that a prosecutor has to comply with is “is this prosecution in the public interest?” I am sure that as a result of the momentous, historic decision and agreement that both parties have come to, in the public interest and to promote public good, this must be an agreement, which any prosecutor in these circumstances would be able to take into account. And in saying that, I’m in no way trying to dictate or influence the decision, which has to be independently taken by any Director of Public Prosecutions.
Gondwe: You emphasise the point of the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The two [leaders] have struck a deal, there’s a roadmap. What if the Director of Public Prosecutions says no, this case has to go all the way, because indeed, she is independent? What happens then?
Scotland: Well, I think we’ll have to wait and see. I’m not a second guesser. I do know however having been the Attorney General for England, Wales and Northern Ireland what is the likely outcome. But as I say, I make no comment at all.
Gondwe: Outside this roadmap, there are also issues of the freedom of the media. The opposition have repeatedly complained that they are blacked out or they are not being given the coverage. Also the other issue they have complained about is the issue of the Public Order Act: they can’t have meetings with their supporters as much as they would. Is that part of this roadmap?
Scotland: Well I’ve been really clear that each of the parties are going to have an opportunity to put the issues which are important to them forward as part of a dialogue and forward as a result of the roadmap. But I think it’s very, very important to look at what they’ve agreed. They have both agreed that they are committed to the Commonwealth Charter. They have both agreed that they are both committed to the rule of law, good governance and good practice. A free media is part of the Commonwealth values and so all of those values that are contained in the Commonwealth Charter and best practice and good governance and the rule of law, each of the parties – both the President and the leader of the opposition – have said that they are both committed to those issues. So any issue pertaining to the rule of law, pertaining to good governance, pertaining to best practice is able to be included. And I also think it’s important to remember that the roadmap will not be undertaken and considered simply by the two leaders alone. The process will be inclusive; it will include civil society, it will include the Church leaders; it’s going to include other leaders of other political parties and other stakeholders. So this is going to be an open inclusive process and I have committed to both of the leaders that we will use the Secretary General – my good offices – as facilitator and a counsellor if you like, and procurer of this roadmap to try and give all parties assistance. I’ve had the advantage of speaking to the Church leaders and a number of other stakeholders to ask them whether they too would be committed to this roadmap process with us, and that they will continue to pray for the two leaders as they would like them to, and would continue to support. Everyone who I have seen in the last three days has said yes. Admittedly, I’ve been working from 8 o’clock in the morning till midnight for three days, but I think it’s been worth it.
Gondwe: One of the issues that the opposition have complained about is the suspension of 47 lawmakers and with any democracy the opposition plays a critical role. Is that issue also part of the discussions that you’ve been having with the leader of the opposition?
Scotland: I’ve had very extensive discussions. I think no one would wish me – bearing in mind the confidentiality that was necessary to bring this deal about – to disclose the intimate details of what’s been discussed. All I can say is nothing is on and nothing is off the table. This process is an open inclusive one where any participant of the dialogue can raise any issue that they wish and through this process, we will be able to identify the issues that we must make progress on before 2021. And there’s an opportunity to see how well things are going by a proper review at the end of 2019. So that gives us a fair opportunity to make progress and if we’re not complete by 2019, then to make sure we have everything in good order by 2021. And the commitment from both sides appears to me to be real and it’s not just the two individuals; it is as I understand it both of their parties are willing to participate honestly and genuinely in this process because frankly, if there’s not genuine and honest commitment which is not backward looking but forward looking, then this would not be the hopeful day that I believe it to be.