Friday July 25, 2008 [04:00]
THERE is need for people sitting on the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) to realise the seriousness of matters they are dealing with. We say this because of the conduct of our three ministers sitting on the democratic governance committee who walked out of the meeting last Wednesday after they failed to reach consensus over the appointment of commissioners of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
Luapula Province minister Chrispin Musosha, health deputy minister, Lwipa Puma and home affairs deputy minister, Grace Njapau walked out of the committee meeting at Mulungushi International Conference Centre in protest and accused the chairperson of the committee Stanley Mhango, of being biased in his rulings.
Under the current system, the President appoints the adhoc committee, which selects and recruits persons to serve as commissioners. From our understanding, most members of this NCC committee feel that the task should be given to the Secretary to the Cabinet for the sake of transparency.
But this is where the point of departure is because our ministers feel that the President should continue appointing the commissioners and not the Secretary to the Cabinet because he is just an appointee. The chairperson of this NCC committee has had to defer the matter twice as the committee has failed to reach a two-thirds majority vote.
The behaviour of the three ministers is unjustified, uncalled for. It actually reflects badly on the commitment of our country’s political leadership.
Elections are the central institutions of democratic representative governments. We say this because in a democracy, the authority of the government derives solely from the consent of the governed. The principal mechanism for translating that consent into government authority is the holding of free and fair elections.
Much as the relevance of free and fair elections need not be unnecessarily over-emphasised, we must state that the lack of agreement on the electoral process in Zambia has for a long time been a source of much conflict among political players. Therefore, any matter relating to elections should be looked at in a very objective and non-partisan manner.
The appointment of commissioners of ECZ deserves serious attention because the current system where powers are given to the President leaves much to be desired. We need to remember that the President is an interested party, a competitor, in the elections and it is very difficult for one to make objective decisions.
One cannot rule out bias in the manner in which the adhoc committee is set up and the manner in which commissioners are consequently appointed. And concerns over this have been raised by a cross-section of our society. Therefore, any suggestions of enhancing transparency in that area needs serious consideration.
The arguments being advanced by Musosha, Dr Puma and Njapau that the President cannot be substituted with the Secretary to the Cabinet because the Secretary to the Cabinet is an appointee are baseless. Are these ministers telling us that the President is also a judge since he is the one who appoints judges? Are they saying that any ruling that judges make is influenced by the President since he is the appointing authority?
In our view, there is nothing wrong with giving the task of appointing commissioners of ECZ to the Secretary to the Cabinet. We feel that the Secretary to the Cabinet, with constitutional mandate, can do the job effectively and efficiently.
This will also enable the commissioners to discharge their duties effectively as opposed to making decisions to please the appointing authority and protect their jobs. This is what needs to be done.
Democracies thrive on openness and accountability, with one very important exception: the act of voting itself. And those who organise elections should be seen to be free from the influences of the competitors so that citizens are confident that the results are accurate and that the government does indeed rest upon their "consent".
There is need to resolve contentious issues in a level-headed manner. But to do this requires a lot of commitment to democratic processes and a clear vision of what a multiparty political setup entails. It also requires a high sense of compromise and tolerance. We say this because democracy is more than the sum total of its institutions.
A healthy democracy depends in large part on the development of a democratic civic culture - the behaviours, the practices and norms that define the ability of a people to govern themselves. We should never forget that voting, in electing public officials, is the most visible and common form of participation in governance by the people. Therefore, the ability to conduct free and fair elections will always be at the core of what it takes to build a democratic society.
Any contest, political or otherwise, where the forms and rules are not accepted and respected by all, is bound to face serious problems. We cannot afford to attach emotion to the constitution-making process. We cannot afford to make decisions with our pockets, stomachs or jobs in mind.
The attitude of some of our politicians towards these issues when they are in power, enjoying all the advantages, is surprising. They totally forget that in a multiparty political system, being in power is temporary. Those in power will inevitably find themselves in the opposition one day.
There is need to look at issues in a principled way and not on the basis of our relative strength today. Those in power want to retain power at all costs and are reluctant to do anything - no matter how good it may be - that may diminish their chances of retaining that power. Intrinsically, they may see nothing wrong with this outrageous behaviour but if they look at the future, they may not respond to things this way. Such political attitude today does not hold much hope for the future, actually it endangers the social and political health for the future.
And we agree with Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) Reverend Suzanne Matale that government ministers and MMD members at the NCC committee sittings should respect the views of the majority in reaching consensus.
Rev Matale has rightly pointed out that the members at the conference should seriously discuss and make the right decisions, as failure to do so would have a negative impact on the Constitution. The Constitution is at the heart of holding free and fair elections and the nation-building process.
Thus, if we are looking at enacting a constitution that will benefit the country not only today but tomorrow, it will be much better to sacrifice even our political fortunes of today and do everything possible to build a better political and electoral system that will ensure peace and stability in the country.