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ZAMBIA: Give Us Our Constitution

Kelvin Kachingwe

LUSAKA, Oct 28 2009 (IPS) - Pressure is mounting for a new constitution that is inclusive of all citizens' views as the ongoing delays by the body granted to draft it still continues.

Although the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) was granted a four-month extension from its initial request for 12 months, pressure is mounting for it to wind-up within the stipulated time so that the country can go to the 2011 general elections under a new constitution.

The process of drafting a new constitution that consulted and engaged in dialogue with the country’s citizens was started by late President Levy Mwanawasa. The aim was to stop government from unilaterally and undemocratically adopting the Republican Constitution.

The NCC, which came into being in 2007, was supposed to have come up with a draft constitution to be subjected to a referendum within a year.

But in mid-2009, it asked for one more year to complete the process. President Rupiah Banda, who has powers to either disband or extend the NCC’s mandate, gave the body only four months of the requested 12.

Announcing the extension of the NCC’s mandate during the official opening of Parliament last month, President Banda said he was concerned at the slow pace at which the NCC deliberations were progressing.

Tilyenji Kaunda, son of the country’s founding President, Dr Kenneth Kaunda and leader of the opposition United National Independence Party, says the NCC should speedily complete its work within its given time so that the next general elections 2011 are held under a new constitution.

"The NCC, in its next sittings, should ensure it completes the work as many Zambians are anxious to have a new constitution before the next elections," he said at a media briefing early this month.

The opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) says it is concerned that the extension of the constitution-making process may see the country without a new constitution by the time general elections are due in 2011.

"If we continue extending the NCC, there is a possibility that we’ll not have a new constitution by 2011 because there are still other processes that need to be done like the holding of a referendum, that is why this extension is not good for the country," Charles Kakoma, the UPND chairperson for information and publicity, says.

However, NCC spokesperson Mwangala Zaloumis says the extension is necessary because of the many factors which led to the NCC failing to consider six of the 11 committee reports that it was supposed to look at during the year of its mandate.

"The extension was precipitated by certain factors, among them the death of President Mwanawasa last year, the holding of the presidential by-elections as well as the recent changes in the budget cycle. During the time Parliament is in session, the NCC is not allowed to sit," Zaloumis says.

Professor Patrick Mvunga, a constitutional lawyer, says hurrying the constitution-making process merely for the 2011 general elections may not produce the desired results at the end of it all.

"It is always good to do a perfect job, and a perfect job should determine the timing. If the main reason for having a constitution was the holding of elections, those calling for the conclusion of the constitution should instead ask the NCC to complete dealing with all the legislation to do with elections," Professor Mvunga says.

"If it was hard pressing, we would sort out the provisions to do with elections and that is why I don’t understand when people say we should have the constitution before 2011 because not all provisions in the constitution are on elections, a constitution is not all about elections."

George Kunda, the country’s vice-president said late-last year that the NCC will complete its work by December 2009 so that the country can have a new constitution before the 2011 elections but added that the process should be realistic and not rushed.

"We don't want to compromise the process by suggesting unrealistic time options. We have to complete the work before 2011, but let us not suggest unrealistic time frames," he said.

In July 2008, a group of civil society organisations, in a letter to the NCC secretariat and copied to the President, Minister of Justice and Attorney general, demanded that the conference winds-up business by the end of July 2009 and release a detailed financial report on the use of public funds since its formation.

The organisations said the NCC needed to complete its business quickly so that other processes involved in enacting the new constitution, such as the Census and referendum, could take place before the 2011 elections.

"An exercise of such importance cannot be left to carry on business without a definite timetable…and in the interest of accountability and transparency, we demand a full financial report from the NCC with their expenditure," read part of the letter authored by representatives of among others Transparency International Zambia, Citizens Forum, Women in Law Southern Africa and Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes.

In response, NCC chairperson Chifumu Banda said the conference is a government institution that is subject to scrutiny by the office of the Auditor-General.

"The secretary of the NCC is the controlling officer and all the funds are handled by civil servants. All our spending will be made public," he said.

But Michael Sata, the fiery opposition Patriotic Front leader is opposed to the extension of the mandate and has challenged the NCC to show what they had achieved so far.

"Everybody in NCC, they are not there to produce a constitution, they are there to share the 80 million dollars that was allocated to them. They will use every excuse to 'burn' the 80 million dollars through sitting allowances," Sata said.

Situmbeko Musokotwane, the minister of finance, in his budget address last month, allocated a further 1 million dollars towards the NCC after the president extended its mandate by four months.

Early last year, NCC secretary Russell Mulele had said although the president has the power to extend its mandate after the expiry of the 12 months, they will ensure that they complete their work within the stipulated time so that the 2011 general elections are held under a constitution.

Banda says he is more than confident that the new constitution will be ready before the next general elections.

"We have reached a point of no return because where we have come from is a long way and are near the end of the constitution-formulating process," Banda says.

"The NCC has a specific time frame excluding the days when Parliament is in session, public holidays and weekends, if it wasn’t for this and the mourning of President Levy Mwanawasa, we would have gone far."

The enactment of the NCC Act followed the recommendations by the public to the Wila Mung’omba Constitutional Review Commission that the constitution be adopted by a Constituent Assembly, a Constitutional Conference or any other popular body that would represent the views of the people.

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