Democracy thriving in Zambia, says Scott

Dr Guy Scott
Dr Guy Scott

VICE-PRESIDENT Guy Scott says there is need for strong and independent institutions to deepen democracy in Zambia.
Dr Scott said in Lusaka yesterday that the Patriotic Front has opened space for free debate and interaction in the country, contrary to allegations by the opposition that it has been suppressing free expression.
Answering a question when he featured on a BBC Africa Debate programme at Government Complex in Lusaka, Dr Scott said Zambians are enjoying democracy under the PF.
“We need strong and independent institutions to make democracy work. The debate here has been unconstrained. There have been misunderstandings but I have seen free interchange of ideas,” he said.
The topic of the debate was ‘Çan Democracy Deliver for Africa?’
It brought together the PF, the government, opposition parties, civil society organisations, journalists and members of the public.
Dr Scott was part of a three-member panel, which included Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) secretary Linda Kasonde and Sipho Malunga from the Open Society Initiative in Southern Africa (OSISA).
The panellists were answering questions from the audience, who included Information and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Emmanuel Mwamba and some members of the opposition.
Notable among the audience were MMD president Nevers Mumba, Heritage Party president Godfrey Miyanda, UPND’s Canisius Banda as well as MMD Senga Hill member of Parliament Kapembwa Simbao.
Kenyan parliamentarian Richard Onyonka was among some foreign law-makers present.
On the Public Order Act, Dr Scott said Zambia inherited the law from its former colonial master, Britain, and that there is need to review it to align it with the current aspirations of the people.
“The Public Order Act was intended to protect government from public attack. It was inherited from the British government who didn’t want to be attacked. It doesn’t mean that when we keep it then we support it. If need be, it will be reviewed,” he said.
Dr Scott was responding to a question from Dr Mumba, who accused Government of using the law against leaders of opposition parties.
Another contentious issue was the defamation law, which criminalises insults against the President.
A member of the BBC crew asked the Vice-President if the law had not created a ‘big man’ syndrome, thus insulating the head of State from criticism.
“There is no such thing as big-man syndrome. I am not sure it has anything African. It’s a cliché about Africa that you get a big-man syndrome. Even the great presidents we’ve had didn’t have that big-man syndrome. The likes of Kenneth Kaunda, he is still around, he is a great man. People used to say “up there you have God and down here there is Kaunda, so all the rest are under him. That in itself was not to mean it was a big-man syndrome.
“Even [former President Levy] Mwanawasa, even though he took me to court for saying his laws were shaky, didn’t have that. Even [former President Frederick] Chiluba, he didn’t like the idea of staying in office for only 10 years,” he said.
Dr Scott also refuted claims from Mr Simbao, Dr Canisius Banda as well as Dr Mumba that the government is using the Public Order Act to intimidate the opposition.
Mr Simbao said African leaders do not understand what democracy is.
“There is so much fear in this country. No one can speak freely. Everyone is scared to speak. Even in my constituency, I am not allowed to speak,” he said.
But Dr Scott said Government had done a commendable job in upholding democracy in the country, which was why Mr Simbao was able to attack it openly in the manner he was doing.
He, however, acknowledged that there is room for improvement and cited the need for free, vibrant, strong and independent institutions both at the grassroots and management levels.
Local journalist Lwanga Mwilu challenged political parties to uphold democracy internally before they could demand it at national level.