Wednesday, April 17, 2013

There's no substitute for a people-driven constitution
By Editor
Wed 17 Apr. 2013, 14:01 CAT

President Michael Sata says he is determined to facilitate a people-driven constitution and urges delegates to the national convention to consider the assignment a call to national duty.

The constitution is at the heart of the nation-building process. And as such, the constitution should reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people. The people shall be truly free only when their constitution is people-driven.

Democracy is essentially built on and sustained by a constitution representative of the desires of the people and not the desires of the ruling party and its government. In the past, we have seen amendments to our Constitution reflecting the wishes of the ruling party and its government. For the first time, we are seeing the absence of the dominance of the ruling party in our constitution-making process. This is something positive. This is something we should defend and ensure is not lost in whatever political expediency may arise.

As the slogan goes, a democracy is a government of the people by the people for the people. As such, a democracy demands that a constitution be as representative as possible of the citizens' wishes and desires.

Both the process of coming up with a constitution and the content of the constitution must be as representative of the people's aspirations as possible. This is so because the constitution of a country is a national document of the highest importance. As the supreme law of the land, it must be recognised and respected as embodying the sovereign will of majority of the people.

The pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the state. The foundation of good government must be established on a sound basis of laws.
Authentic democracy is possible only in a state ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person.

In a democratic state, authority comes from the people and, as such, it is the people who should make the constitution, and no one else. We can learn many things from other peoples in the world. We can even receive help from others in our constitution-making process. But at the end of the day, whatever constitution we come up with should be the product of the collective wisdom, wishes, dreams, desires and aspirations of our people.

The Zambian people do not want a constitution that is given to them or driven by the ruling Patriotic Front for their national constitution.

Equally, they do not want a constitution that is donor-driven to be their national constitution. An imported constitution won't do. And it shouldn't be a matter of cutting and pasting articles from the constitutions of other countries. We can come up with our own constitution that reflects our collective wishes and desires. Copying other people's constitutions will not take us far. The constitution of 1964 was written for us by others. We have not fundamentally moved away from that constitution in many respects. Many aspects of that constitution remain intact even after the amendments to accommodate the one-party state. Equally, not many things changed after amendments were made to revert to multipartism.

We have had too many constitution review initiatives. Almost every government that has come in since 1991 has had a constitution review programme either inherited from the previous government or initiated by itself. This process is financially expensive and excessively time-consuming. We have an opportunity to put this to an end for a long time to come. And this can only be done if adequate consensus is built around this constitution-making process and the process is people-driven.

We should also avoid the danger of having our constitution-making process driven by expediencies of the moment. We should not put immediate political agendas ahead of long-term national interests.
Yes, there can be tactical partisan advantages in having certain things or in not having certain things in the constitution. But these are short-term, the realities will catch up with all of us a few years from now. It's like the issue of the public order Act.

Those who were comfortable with it a few months ago are today finding it undesirable. They were finding it comfortable because they were in government. And now that they are in the opposition, their circumstances have changed and they are no longer able to extract the benefits they got from it when they were in power.

There are many other provisions that are being debated today that are a product of political expediency. It may be necessary to mull over things and consider the long-term effects of some of these provisions we are pushing for or we are opposed to. Time moves very fast and, equally, realities catch up with us very fast. Being in a raincoat when there is no rain, when the rainy season is over can be a very uncomfortable thing.

Equally, being in a T/shirt when it's very cold because one had prepared for a hot weather can be agony. If you are in the rain, think of what it will be like when there is no rain. Don't forget about the cold weather when you are under the hot sun of October. Prepare a constitution that addresses all the changes in weather. In a word, what we are trying to say is let's prepare a constitution that answers more to the fundamental principles we want to anchor our country on and not expediencies of the moment.

Constitution-making is not an easy undertaking because there are many interests in a nation that need to be reconciled or harminised.
There has to be a lot of consensus building so that at the end of the day, we come up with a constitution that we all feel is ours and serves our desires and aspirations. Just as much as we do not want a ruling Patriotic Front-driven constitution, we should not in any way be tempted to have an opposition or NGO-driven constitution. What we need is a people-driven constitution. There is no substitute for a people-driven constitution.

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