By Charles Kakoma, UPND Spokesperson.
Many people have been wondering why the United Party for National Development (UPND) is still vehemently opposed to the Constitutional Amendment Bill No.10 of 2019. This uncertainty has been brought about by PF propaganda after the Parliamentary Select Committee which was considering Bill 10 produced its report which some people believe addressed the contentious issues contained in the proposed constitutional amendments.
As UPND, our considered opinion is that Bill 10 is still a terrible law that should not see the light of day. Here is why;
1. The whole process of constitution making is flawed. The current process being employed by the PF government in making amendments to the constitution of Zambia lacks consultation and consensus. The major stakeholders in this process such as the major political parties, Church Mother Bodies, Law Association of Zambia, Non-governmental organisations and the public have not participated in this constitution making process. The major stakeholders refused to participate in the National Dialogue Forum because the process was unconstitutional and infringed on people’s rights. It has been a Patriotic Front (PF) driven constitution making process as if the party in power is making a constitution for PF and not the nation. The resolutions emanating from the National Dialogue Forum were illegitimate and therefore cannot be legislated into law. We also find in the Bill 10 that was presented to Parliament for First Reading that many of the amendments included in the Bill were not even discussed at the National Dialogue Forum. The whole Bill 10 was doctored along the way to Parliament to suit the interests of the PF. The whole process must be taken back to the drawing board and start afresh. As UPND, we are agreeable to start the process where all stakeholders are present and a neutral referee, in this case the Church, is chairing and leading the process . Once the contents have been agreed to, legislation must be put in place to protect the content from manipulation during the process of enactment of the constitution.
2. The second reason why the UPND is opposed to Bill 10 is that in its current form, the Bill that is scheduled to be presented for Second Reading in February 2020 is still the same one that was presented at First Reading stage of the legislative process in Parliament in 2019. In the current Bill 10, the Bill still provides for the re-introduction of deputy ministers, removal of parliamentary oversight over government borrowing, removal of monetary policy from the Bank of Zambia , removal of the election of mayors and council chairpersons directly by the people, removal of retirees from the payroll before their benefits are paid and reduction of the campaign period from 90 days to 60 days during presidential and general elections , amoung many other provisions that are contentious.
During the last seating of parliament, government merely wanted to move a motion to allow them to table the draconian Bill 10 for Second Reading. Although the motion was carried through by a simple majority, the Second Reading stage could not take place because the UPND Members of Parliament, some Independent Members of Parliament and the National Democratic Congress member of parliament walked out of the House, making it impossible to achieve the required two thirds majority at Second Reading stage for the Bill to go through. The government decided to postpone the tabling of Bill 10 for Second Reading to the next session of parliament starting in February this year.
Perhaps, what is confusing people is the difference between Bill 10 and the National Assembly Select Committee Report on Bill 10. After the National Assembly published its report on Bill 10, the PF and its government propaganda machinery started telling lies that the Bill 10 which people had been opposed to had been improved by the National Assembly Select committee to take into account all the concerns of the people.
This is highly deceptive. It is a lie meant to hoodwink the Zambian people to believe that the government has listened to their cries and incorporated their concerns in the constitution and therefore Bill 10 is now acceptable.
The fact of the matter is that Bill 10 has not been amended to take into account the concerns of the people. What the National Assembly Report contains àre recommendations arising from its interaction with some stakeholders it called as witnesses to its Select committee hearings. The Select Committee Report is different from Bill 10.
The Select Committee Report recommendations have not been incorporated in Bill 10. Currently, they remain mere recommendations to the Whole House for consideration. The House can reject most, if not all the recommendations. In my history and experience in the National Assembly of Zambia for 13 years as Member of Parliament, the House used to reject many recommendations of its own committees. The latest Parliamentary Committee Report which was rejected by the the Whole House was last year when the Committee on Legal Matters recommended for the withdrawal of the National Dialogue Bill because it offended the current constitution and human rights. The PF, using its arrogance of numbers in Parliament bulldozed its way and passed the Bill into law.
Based on past experiences, there is genuine fear and lack of trust that the recommendations of the Select Committee Report can see the light of day.
3. Contentious Clauses Still in Bill 10.
There are many clauses in the current Bill 10 that are unacceptable. We will highlight a few for illustrative purposes.
(A) Re-introduction of Deputy Ministers.
We are vehemently opposed to the reintroduction of deputy ministers in the administration of this country. We believe that they added no value in the past and will not add any value in the future. The deputy ministers are not part of Cabinet and do not deputise the ministers. Whenever the minister is away, another cabinet minister acts in his or her position instead of the deputy minister. In many cases, deputy ministers were just drinking tea, reading newspapers or chatting the whole day if the cabinet minister has not delegated any work to him or her . It did not add any administrative efficiency.
But our most important objection to the reintroduction of deputy ministers is the cost implication. At a time when the economy is on its knees, it is irresponsible and reckless to employ more ministers. We have heard the Chief Government Spokesperson Dora Siliya stating on a paid for programme on Prime T.v. that the reintroduction of deputy ministers will not bring additional costs because the M.Ps who will be appointed as deputy ministers are already drawing government salaries. This is highly deceptive. At the time when deputy ministers were in existence, their salaries were higher than ordinary M.Ps . In addition, government will have to buy motor vehicles for deputy ministers and employ drivers, secretaries and other support staff for the office of deputy ministers. Government will also have to find accommodation or pay housing allowances for deputy ministers. All these conditions of service are not enjoyed by ordinary members of parliament. So, it is a blue lie to tell the Zambian people that the reintroduction of deputy ministers will have no additional cost implications. Stop lying through the teeth, Dora.
(B) Approval of government borrowing.
The country is in a serious financial crisis largely because of the huge foreign debt brought about by unfettered borrowing. The people are suffering because of the huge foreign debt. There is need for the people’s representatives in Parliament to approve the contraction of debt. Why do the PF want to continue borrowing without being checked? They can only be motivated by a sinister motive and that motive is corruption.
(C) Monetary policy.
Bill 10 seeks to remove the power of the Bank of Zambia over monetary policy. We say no to this. No one has complained about the the Central Bank’s conduct on monetary policy. If anything, many international authorities have commended the Bank of Zambia over its handling of monetary policy. What has created the financial crisis is the messed up fiscal policy run by PF cadres at the Ministry of Finance where they have failed to control expenditure.
The proposed amendment seeks to remove the power of the Bank of Zambia to print money but merely monitor the currency . So ,who is going to be printing the currency? The ministry of finance or State House? The argument that the Bank of Zambia will still be responsible for monetary policy and MONITOR the currency is neither here nor there. If cadres at State House or Ministry of Finance have already over printed the money, then we ask the Bank of Zambia to merely monitor? Let us not play with the currency. At one time when Idi Amin of Uganda was told that there was no money to fulfil his expenditures, he ordered for the printing of more money . The result was disastrous inflation for Uganda.
(D Removal of Retirees from payroll.
The current constitution provides for retirees to remain on the payroll until their benefits are fully paid. This is to protect workers from employers who throw away workers in the cold without paying them. The PF government has proposed to remove of this protection of workers in the constitution. UPND is opposed to this proposed amendment because it will result in workers becoming destitutes.
(E) Election of mayors and council chairpersons.
The PF government intends to amend the constitution to remove the provision which requires mayors and council chairpersons to be elected directly by the people in the district. As UPND, we believe this is retrogressive and goes against the spirit of self governance through local government. The people at the grassroots should decide who should lead them in their local authorities. So far, the mayors and council chairpersons are happy with the current situation where they are directly elected by the people. Let the people decide.
( F) Reduction of Campaign period.
The UPND is opposed to this proposed amendment to reduce the campaign period from 90 days to 60 days. There is no rationale for it. Zambia is a big country. Even the current 90 days is not enough for a presidential candidate to go to every constituency to campaign. It is estimated that there are 117 districts in Zambia now after the reckless creation of new districts. Even assuming that a candidate covers one district per day, he or she can only cover 58 districts in the 60 days allowed under the proposed constitutional amendment. The candidate can only cover half the country in 60 days. Where is the logic?
We also know that even under the current 90days provision, the Electoral Commission of Zambia fails to adequately prepare for the elections resulting in delays in the distribution of election materials . What will happen when the campaign period is reduced? There will be total confusion. We know that PF wants to thrive on confusion to win the next election. We, as UPND, are seriously opposed to electoral confusion. We are aware that PF is already campaigning through ministers touring provinces while putting restrictions on the opposition to campaign. That is why they want ministers to remain in office after the dissolution of Parliament so that they continue to use government resources to campaign.
The current constitution making process is highly flawed. PF should swallow its pride and come back to the negotiating table and agree on the contents of the new constitution. If they decide to arrogantly proceed with the process, it will be an exercise in futility. They should learn their lesson from the failed referendum on the constitution when they refused to separate the referendum from the general elections. We knew that the PF arrogantly refused to listen to the people because they wanted to create opportunities and confusion to ring the election by allowing people without voters cards to vote in the referendum.
Similarly, we are advising the PF government to withdraw completely Bill 10 and allow consensus to be reached through dialogue with major stakeholders. If they arrogantly proceed to table Bill 10 for Second Reading in Parliament, the Bill will flop badly because it will not master the two thirds majority to pass through.