No need to panic over Constitution
Published On January 18, 2014 » 2297 Views» By Hildah Lumba » Opinion
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AMID calls by some people for the release of the Draft Constitution to members of the public, we echo President Michael Sata’s view that there is no constitutional vacuum in Zambia to warrant such a demand.

Indeed there has never been a constitutional void in the history of independent Zambia as all the successive regimes have governed the country using the Constitution.

What, however, should be noted is the fact that, as President Sata said recently, the Constitution has defects, and this is precisely what prompted efforts to have a document that is acceptable by all Zambians.

From 1991 when the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) took over power from the United National Independence Party (UNIP), three commissions, namely, the Mvunga, Mwanakatwe and Mung’omba Constitution Review commissions had been set up.

The fourth headed by former Chief Justice Annel Silungwe was formed when the Patriotic Front (PF) took over from the MMD just over two years ago, and was tasked to put together the new Draft Constitution.

Like others before it, the Silungwe-led Constitutional Draft Technical Committee came up with a roadmap, as well as a process to produce a durable Constitution that could be devoid of defects Zambians were complaining about.

The committee included some of Zambia’s civil rights activists such as Reuben Lifika and Simon Kabanda, as well as Reverend Suzane Matale, the former secretary general of the Christian Council of Zambia.

The technical committee chaired by Justice Silungwe was constituted because, admittedly, previous Constitution-making attempts had disappointingly failed in their mission to give Zambians a people-driven Constitution.

And these failures of previous efforts had largely been attributed to a lack of political will because, apparently, selfish politicians could not act even on some of the progressive recommendations that the review commissions had come up with.

This is one anomaly the PF, which won the 2011 presidential and general elections on the premise of delivering a people-driven Constitution, promised to rectify.

Thus the Silungwe-led Draft Constitution-making Committee has had to ensure that it produces a document that reflects aspirations of all Zambians, including those useful submissions which might have previously been tossed out.

Some of these were, and may still be considered to be controversial. However, the Silungwe-led team was expected to come up with such amendments as protecting individual rights from abridgement by the central Government, ensure checks and balances, as well as popular sovereignty or, as is commonly known, revisit the 50+1 clause, etc.

The Silungwe team, whose mandate also ended with collecting people’s submissions, is indisputably competent enough to spearhead an inclusive, people-driven Draft Constitution.

At this stage, the document has not yet been enacted and yet there is already uproar by people whom Information Minister Mwansa Kapeya said were simply bent on advancing their selfish ends.

Considering that those pushing for the release of the draft document presided over failed Constitution-making processes for a long time, there is surely need for Zambians to give the Government a chance and more time to examine the document.

There is no need for civil society organisations and political leaders to panic and begin agitating for a new Constitution to be enacted in haste.

Drafting a national Constitution is a complex process which calls for a give-and-take approach at every stage. The Government should not be stampeded into embracing a new draft Constitution without careful analysis, for the ramifications of such an approach could be too ghastly to contemplate. OPINION

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