LAZ warns of mass demonstrations
The judiciary is one critical arm of government because it is responsible for dispensing justice. When the judiciary is compromised, injustice thrives leaving citizens without any recourse for settling disputes.
Zambia, like other African states, has grappled with the separation of powers between, the three arms of government namely judiciary, legislature and executive. In many instances the executive has had more powers than the other two, a situation which is not ideal for democracy and rule of law. Largely this has been due to the fact the president, who is part of the executive, appoints members of the judiciary and legislature.
In the case of the judiciary, the president appoints all judges, including the chief justice, who is in charge of it. Though parliament (legislature) has to ratify these appointments, this exercise is merely academic and not a requirement. Even without ratification by parliament, a member of the judiciary can still be appointed, as the case was with the current Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda.
The appointment of judges by the president has been a major concern for those advocating for an independent judicial system. For instance, when President Michael Sata nominated Mutembo Nchito for the position of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) a lot of eyebrows were raised about his impartiality. Some Members of Parliament (MPs) under the parliamentary select committee were apprehensive that he would not be impartial as he had a pending legal case involving the defunct Zambian Airways debt with Development Bank of Zambia. But Mutembo’s appointment still went through the select committee.
Similarly, Lombe Chibesakunda’s appointment as Chief Justice was rejected by the parliamentary select committee but President Michael Sata over ruled it. And despite many calls from opposition parties and civil society organisations for her to resign, the Chief Justice has remained adamant.
Recently President Sata elevated High Court Judges Evans Hamaundu and Albert Wood to the position of Supreme Court Judge subject to ratification by parliament.
The two judges have issues to clear before they are ratified by parliament. Judge Hamaundu was the chairperson of the Tribunal appointed to probe Justice Minister and Patriotic Front Secretary General Wnyter Kabimba. Judge Wood is at the centre of the disputed Chikopa Tribunal and also faces a complaint of misconduct in the manner he handled the case involving DBZ and JCN Holdings with Post Newspapers. The complaint has been filed through the Judicial Complaints Authority by Zambian Voice, a civil society organisation championing good governance. It is therefore not strange that most observers have questioned the timing of the promotion of the two learned judges. Wouldn’t their promotion have waited for the two judges to come clear of these issues?
When the appointment of people at the summit of the judiciary such as Chief Justice, DPP and Supreme Court judges is perceived to be irregular or raises suspicions, it breeds mistrust into the judicial system. The entire judiciary becomes questionable; a situation that sends fears among law abiding women and men but most importantly has potential to scare away foreign investors.
In law, they say that justice must not just be done but must be seen to be done, so too is the fact that judges must not just be impartial but must also be seen to be impartial as they dispense justice. Perception of judges has a huge bearing on the confidence of citizens in the judiciary. The more judges are perceived to be biased or irregularly chosen, the less confidence citizens have in the judiciary.
The Zambia people must therefore continue to demand for a judiciary that is completely detached from outside interference especially from the sitting government. Without an independence judicial system, justice for many Zambians, including foreigners, shall remain a much sought after rare commodity.
By Nicholas Bwalya
When President Michael Sata knelt before a large crowd at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium to thank Copperbelt residents for voting for the PF, many observers hailed the move as the most humiliating act by any head of state.
Kneeling is an expression of high respect, especially in Africa. It is a norm that is inculcated in young ones and is expected to be practiced whenever a young person talks to elders, shakes hands or hands something to an elderly person among others. Girls are also taught to show respect through kneeling to their husbands when they are in marriage.
Since president Sata knelt before thousands of Copperbelt residents, it has now become a rule that the PF always requests its aspiring Members of Parliament (MPs) to kneel before the electorates to ask for their votes. In all the by elections that have been held after the 2011 general elections, the PF aspiring candidates have been shown on their kneels throughout the campaign period. Others have been made to kneel for long periods during rallies or meetings.
Some people however strongly oppose the idea of making politicians kneel before the electorates. They argue that it has no significance to how the aspiring MP will perform when elected. These acts may also be deceptive and meant to divert the voters from judging the prospecting MP on the basis of his or her ability to deliver but merely on their acts of humility.
However, another school of thought believes that politicians must be made to kneel for the electorate to show that voters are masters and not servants of MPs. These politicians will only realize how powerful the voters are when they kneel to ask for votes.
In the absence of research on the effectiveness of MPs who had knelt to ask for votes and those who didn’t, it shall remain a matter of speculation to determine what is good for the electorate.
However, it has been established that most MPs rarely visit or consult their constituents once elected. Many are only seen when campaigns for new elections are drawing near. This situation has greatly affected the relationship between policy makers and the electorate. Some voters have vented their frustrations at not being consulted by abstaining from voting, resulting in widespread voter apathy during bye elections.
What then should be done to improve the relationship between MPs and the electorate?
The role of constituency offices for MPs is very important. This office is supposed to be a link between the MP and the electorate. Sadly, very few constituency offices are effective as MPs are rarely found there. These offices should be strengthened to improve communication between MPs and the voters instead of depending on the gesture of kneeling when asking for votes.
There should also be a deliberate policy to compel MPs to visit their constituencies not less than twice per quarter. If possible, MPs’ constituency visit programmes should be advertised in the press indicating both time and exact place. That way, the electorate will be availed a chance to meet their MPs.
Similarly, the media, civil society organisations, the church and other interest groups can also play a role in ensuring that MPs are in touch with their electorates. This can be done through holding public discussions in constituencies between the MPs and their constituents.
Republican president Michael Sata is indeed determined to curtail any discussions about the constitution. First he directed government officials not to talk about the constitution. And in less than a week, President Sata has rubbished calls for a people driven constitution. All these comments confirm the fears of many civil society organisations, the church and other interest groups that the PF government is not interested in enacting a people driven constitution.
This is a very sad development considering the amount of resources that this process has gobbled both during the MMD and PF regimes. The MMD’s National Constitutional Conference (NCC) gobbled over K120 million (then Billon). PF’s Technical Committee on Drafting the Constitution has similarly wasted close to K150 million since it was established in December 2011.
What however is more tragic is how President Michael Sata appointed the Technical Committee to draft the constitution, whilst harbouring the belief that the country does not need a new constitution. Or has the president just come to the realisation that the country does not need a new supreme law after all?
It appears the PF has now acquired new lenses that have changed their perception of issues. Suddenly the PF are seeing things in white which they used to see as black when they were in opposition. From fundamental issues such as windfall tax, Public Order Act, Freedom of Information Act to basic issues like street vending, the PF has completely u-turned. The pace at which the PF government is forgetting or ignoring its campaign promises, clearly enshrined in its manifesto, is frightening.
The Zambian people have been consistent in demanding a good constitution and their views have been captured in all the Constitution Review Commissions from the Mwanakatwe, Mvunga and Mungomba led teams. To deny them this chance by the PF government will be a betrayal of the worst form. Shockingly some sections of the private media have jumped on the bandwagon to propagate that constitution making process should not be prioritised. This too is betrayal of the worst form from a media that was once highly rated.
It will not be shocking to hear similar directives from the president about the Access To Information (ATI) Bill. The ATI Bill is another law the PF government has been shifting positions to table before parliament. Each session of parliament has come with the promise by PF information Ministers that the Bill would be tabled. Now with the President rubbishing talk about a new people driven constitution, the ATI bill may also follow suit. It will probably not see day light.
Where does that leave the Zambian people who want a people constitution and enactment of ATI law?
With these shifting of positions by the PF government, a strong opposition, civil society and media is needed. The PF government has demonstrated its arrogance towards many national issues and unless and until there is unity of purpose among all stakeholders, Zambia’s major gains in democracy risk being reversed. Concerted advocacy is needed to persuade the PF government to heed to the demands of the people. Everyone has a role to play in demanding, from the PF, what they promised during the campaigns. But ultimately, the 2016 elections will afford another chance to Zambians to decide the fate of PF.