Saturday, April 17, 2010

National constitutional circus

National constitutional circus
By The Post Editor
Sat 17 Apr. 2010, 04:20 CAT

THOSE in the National Constitutional Conference who are decent and have a moral compass must be very embarrassed about their participation in what Patriotic Front vice president Dr Guy Scott has called a circus.

And those who had the foresight to see where this whole thing was headed and refused to participate must be feeling vindicated by what is going on. The National Constitutional Conference has become a sad and costly spectacle which is very expensive on the taxpayers.

The matters that are going on at the National Constitutional Conference have proved that the MMD are not sincere about giving our people a constitution that will meet their aspirations and help to deepen democracy to achieve those aspirations.

Yesterday, we reflected on the shameful conduct of the National Constitutional Conference and the deputy justice minister Todd Chilembo who laughed off the need for the inclusion of social rights for our people in the Constitution.

This behaviour has raised a fundamental question on the philosophy that underlies the MMD’s feeble attempt to spearhead the writing of the new constitution. Laughing off the need to provide mechanisms in our Constitution which obliges the government in very specific terms to provide for people’s basic social needs demonstrates that the MMD is not prepared to have a constitution that controls their impunity and obligates them to serve the people. Why else would the government take a position that militates against its duty to serve the people?

Those who refused to participate in the National Constitutional Conference raised a number of reasons for doing so. One of which was that the MMD had created an inbuilt majority in the National Constitutional Conference that ensured that only the decisions that it supported would be adopted. This majority was ensured through having party cadres and government officers who could not take a position different from the government.

This mechanism has undermined the possibility of a people-driven constitution being realised. For its part, the MMD through Vice-President George Kunda has ensured that it makes its position on any contentious issues very clear. And when George has spoken, his position carries the day. This is a charade that the National Constitutional Conference has become.

Democracy demands the accommodation of divergent views. But more importantly, democracy demands the recognition of true national interests. In that way, democracy is then able to revolve around serving common good or what we might call public interests.

In the context of writing a constitution, we needed people who recognised that this exercise was larger than themselves and went far beyond just trying to maintain a hold on power. This document would have to be crafted in such a way that it protected the public from the excesses of power.

This is something that the MMD has failed to do. Fundamentally, the MMD has failed to separate the need or in fact its wish to maintain a strong hold on power and the need to serve national interest and curb the excesses that go with power. They have proved themselves too small-minded for the task that was before them.

If the MMD was truly interested in serving the people, they would have taken this opportunity to write a constitution that protects all of us, themselves included regardless of who was in power. This is a historical opportunity that people like George have hard.

They have made the unfortunate choice of trying to write a constitution that only serves their interests and does not threaten their hold on power.

We have seen that every time that an issue which the people have wanted included in the constitution did not please them, George has made sure that it is shot down. One of the key demands that our people have had in connection to the constitution has been the requirement that a president should only be elected having obtained a minimum of 50 per cent plus one of the votes cast in the presidential elections.

This is something that was in our Constitution before Chiluba decided to get rid of it to ensure that he could win the 1996 elections. Many of our people have consistently demanded that this clause should find its way back in the Constitution to avoid the plague of minority presidency.

But Rupiah Banda and George made sure that they frustrated this demand and would like to subject it to a referendum just to ensure that it is not an issue in next year’s election. It is clear that the reason they don’t want this clause is because they do not think they are capable of mastering sufficient votes and support to surmount this threshold.

In other words, this has nothing to do with whether this is good or bad for the country. It has everything to do with them trying to maintain a hold on power at any cost.

What is shameful is that they have managed to get the National Constitutional Conference to participate in this dirty scheme. We say this because it is very clear that Rupiah’s control of the National Constitutional Conference through George is complete.

The 50 per cent plus one issue is not the only clause they have denied the people. We all know that they have also ensured that the constitutional provision proposals that would have required the government to be accountable in contracting debt and work through the people’s representatives – the National Assembly, every time they wanted to borrow has practically been shot down. Again, this has nothing to do with what is in the best interest of the nation.

It has everything to do with their wish to maintain hegemony over power and national resources. If Rupiah and George had any sense of history and had any wish to selflessly impact future generations, what was better than to ensure that the government is made more accountable even in issues of contracting debt.

Rupiah and George have also blocked the efforts to streamline transfer of power after an election by requiring that the swearing-in of a new president takes place some months after the election as is the case in other places to ensure that the process is orderly and if there are any disputes they are resolved. Again this has nothing to do with whether or not it’s good for the country.

Their actions are simply meant to serve their narrow interests. This is made very clear when one considers the way that they reacted to the issue of all presidential candidates being required to have a university degree.

Clearly, the driving force behind this clause had nothing to do with national interest. They were simply looking for a way of enshrining in the Constitution, a clause that they could use to block one of their most feared opponents; Michael Sata.

On this issue, they moved with speed and clarity because it met their political objectives. The National Constitutional Conference for its part was happy to accommodate this travesty of fairness. They were prepared to allow themselves to be used to settle political scores in a constitution.

Against this background, it is not surprising that the National Constitutional Conference can laugh at the people it is meant to serve. The National Constitutional Conference is nothing but a tool of the MMD to hoodwink the nation that they are trying to write a people-driven constitution.

But if as it was said at the National Constitutional Conference itself, all that is important, that the people have recommended is going to be excluded from the constitution, then what is it that they want to present to the people? Their own recommendations?

If that is what they wanted, they should have not wasted so much money to disguise something which is so plain. The National Constitutional Conference has become a shameful scandal. We pity those who feel they have no choice but to continue participating in such a sham. It is clear this constitution-making charade is headed nowhere. It is truly a circus.

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