Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dialogue over constitution

Dialogue over constitution
By Bivan Saluseki and Mwala Kalaluka
Saturday June 30, 2007 [04:00]

THE dialogue over the constitution making process is not genuine, Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) president Reuben Lifuka has said. And the Oasis Forum has vowed to go ahead and hold peaceful demonstrations over the delayed enactment of the constitution during the SADC summit to be held in Lusaka in August this year.

Lifuka said on Thursday that while the efforts at dialogue should be commended, TIZ was worried that the dialogue was not genuine and sought to promote partisan views of politicians alone.

"We are worried at the apparent desire to advance the primacy of political parties in a process that is not partisan but national. We are equally taken aback that some of the proposed measures by the summit of presidents imply additional use of public resources on matters that were exhaustively dealt with by the Mung'omba Constitution Review Commission,” Lifuka said.

“While we agree that the Mung'omba CRC draft constitution and report are not beyond reproach, we find the manner adopted to deal with the recommendations narrowly focused and a recipe for anarchy.”

Lifuka said TIZ was surprised that the political parties that met at the summit of presidents were not sensitive to the fact that President Mwanawasa and his cabinet had assumed the responsibility to adopt the constitution by determining what the party in power agreed to and disagreed with.

He said the calls for a constituent assembly primarily were an expression that the Zambian people desired and that the adoption of the constitution was not a preserve of a single group
"The views of the people on the constitution are critical and these cannot be short changed for parochial partisan interests.

Unfortunately, the proposals from the summit of presidents show that political parties, that is, the ruling party and the opposition political parties have now taken it upon themselves to adopt the Mung'omba CRC and decide what they agree and disagree with in terms of the recommendations made," said Lifuka.

"Holding the constitutional conference in the manner that is being proposed is outside the recommendations of the Mung'omba CRC and it means therefore that political parties have rejected the proposed measures relating to the adoption of the constitution and what we have is a totally new recommendation altogether.

“The question is where are the political parties drawing this authority to tamper with the recommendations of the Mungo'mba CRC? And what would happen if civil society or any other interest group, equally sat and decided to reject or modify some of the recommendations of the CRC just to suit their self-serving interests?"

Lifuka said he did not expect politicians to empty their own pond and decide, for instance to reduce the powers of the president, and institute stringent checks and balances in the exercise of political powers.
Lifuka said the proposed establishment of a conference working committee was another form of a CRC.

"The question is how different is this process from the one that the CRC followed? Clearly the CRC received divergent views and submissions on the constitution and the CRC members debated and took different positions on these submissions and in the end they arrived at some consensus and it is this consensus that is reflected in the draft constitution and report," he said.

"We wonder why this exercise should be done all over again if not for political parties to try and dilute and 'doctor' the Mungo'mba CRC and ensure the removal of important recommendations which they consider to be a threat to their hold on power or their aspirations for power."
Lifuka said in essence, the political parties wanted to submit to the constituent assembly a watered down version of the Mungo'mba CRC draft constitution, which would no longer reflect the views of the people, but the views of a limited group dominated by politicians.

He reminded political parties that President Mwanawasa equally tried to 'doctor' the Mungo'mba CRC draft constitution and report when he unilaterally set up a team of civil servants to discuss and propose a roadmap as well as the procedures to follow in setting up a Constituent Assembly outside the recommendations of the CRC.
H wondered why President Mwanawasa and political parties were finding it difficult to move straight to a constituent assembly where all stakeholders would be able to discuss their positions on content.

"Let government take to Parliament a constituent assembly bill and not a bill to simply facilitate access to funding from the national treasury. We do not support calls for partial amendments to the constitution as proposed, because this departs from the letter and spirit of the recommendation by the CRC that the Constitution should be repealed and replaced," he said.

Lifuka said the constituent assembly would provide a framework for stakeholders to agree with each other on content issues or even disagree.

"But at least, there will be a mechanism to reach consensus and finally adopt the constitution. The sideshows as proposed by the summit of presidents are unnecessary distractions and costly to the ordinary Zambian person. The constitutional conference - if that is the politically correct term for the constituent assembly, will only be acceptable if its focus is on the core mandate of adopting the constitution and nothing else," said Lifuka.

"President Mwanawasa is urging us to give this process started under the Zambia Centre for Interparty Dialogue a chance to succeed, we say this is a familiar line - we remember vividly that President Mwanawasa in 2003 asked the Zambians to give the CRC process a chance to succeed - what has changed? It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same."

And the Oasis Forum has said the Zambia Centre for Inter-party Dialogue (ZCID) was just a talking shop for politicians to resolve their differences and was not the right organisation to use to come up with a good constitution.

Featuring on The Lusaka Star programme on UNZA Radio yesterday, Oasis Forum spokesperson Musa Mwenye said peaceful demonstrations would be carried out during the August SADC heads of state summit in Lusaka because other regional leaders have to know President Mwanawasa’s antics on the constitution making process.

He was responding to concerns by a University of Zambia (UNZA) lecturer, who called in and said President Mwanawasa’s recent turn-around on the constitution issue was just a ploy to pacify the situation ahead of the SADC summit to be hosted by Zambia.

Mwenye said demonstrations over the constitution would be extended from the SADC meeting up to Parliament so that the point is driven home.

“Whether or not there is public policy stint, that can only be elaborated by those involved but for us as Oasis Forum we have planned to hold peaceful demonstrations during the SADC conference,” Mwenye said.
“We want to drive the point home to the President’s counterparts that this is what is happening in Zambia.”

Mwenye said the Forum and all the other stakeholders it was collaborating with were still resolute on having a good constitution.
“The Oasis Forum is also very resolute, collectively and also as the Coalition Group on the Constitution (CGC),” Mwenye said.
“We are resolute on what we want as a people.”

He said the Forum would never be fooled twice on the constitution review process, because they were alive to the fact that President Mwanawasa could go against the recommendations of the ZCID just as he did on those contained in the Mung’omba CRC report.
He urged Zambians never to surrender the constitution review process to the whims of politicians.

“If we leave it entirely to the politicians we are going to have a lot of problems in the composition and basic provisions of our constitution. That is why it should be more inclusive,” Mwenye said.

“This is not to say politicians are not an important element. They are a very important element, so is the government, but they are not the determining factor, they cannot drive the process. They can just be there as one of the many voices that can formulate this document.”

He further said they were aware that most political parties were against recommendations of appointing cabinet and deputy ministers outside parliament.

“These are the same people who have been crossing floors and creating by-elections and causing huge amounts of money to be lost from the government coffers,” Mwenye said.

He stressed that since the constitution was a document that reflects the complexion of government it must belong to the people and not the politicians.
“You cannot have politicians who are presidents in waiting. You cannot have a President who is an incumbent deciding on the complexion of something that they will directly benefit on,” Mwenye said.

“It belongs to the people, the structure of government flow starts from this particular document.”

And answering concerns on the involvement of the ZCID road map in the constitution’s adoption, Mwenye said the people wanted the government who it gave the recommendations of the Mung’omba report to categorically state whether it had agreed to enforce the people’s aspirations on the constitution making process.

He said it would be premature to discuss the differences between the constitution conference, as suggested by the summit of presidents, and the constitutional assembly before the government states its position.

“It has been very interesting and this has been unfolding in the past few weeks. It’s not about the form, it’s about the function. If you recall on Sunday we issued a statement, where we as CGC asked the government to categorically state that the constitution conference will in fact adopt the constitution but on the same day the Minister of Information issued completely conflicting press statements in the Daily Mail and Times of Zambia and you and I know that the Daily Mail and Times of Zambia are the mouthpieces of the government.”

Mwenye pointed out that President Mwanawasa’s statement in Ndola on Thursday that there would be a refrendum to decide whether or not there should be a constituent assembly also made matters worse.

He said until the government comes out in the open on the mode of adoption, the people would find it difficult to tell the difference between a constitutional conference and a constituent assembly.
“What we are saying is that there is no clarity as to what this constitutional conference will do and as you know governments in Africa have thrived on confusion,” Mwenye said.

“When there are ambiguities then we have these things coming up.”
He said the changes in terminologies over the constitution have just bred confusion.

“I am confused as to why the terminology was changed. I had expected the political leaders and also the President to come out categorically and say we will do the will of the people as expected in the Mung’omba report,” he said. “What is wrong if the function of the constitutional conference is the same as that of the constituent assembly, to just say government has accepted to have the constituent assembly? Why should we change terminologies and have these conflicting statements from ministers?”
He called on the people to remain focussed.

During the recent ZCID-organised summit of presidents political parties, who included President Mwanawasa agreed that a constitutional conference would adopt the next constitution.
Meanwhile, Zambia National Federation for the Blind (ZANFOB) president Wamundila Waliulwa called in and urged the Oasis Forum not to relent in its fight for a better constitution.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home