Tension over govt’s delay in releasing draft constitution (Feature by Mildred Mulenga)

Zambian parliament opening
Zambian parliament opening

As tension rises over the delay by the Zambian government in releasing the country’s draft constitution, all eyes are now on parliament to help resolve the logjam.

PANA reports that pressure started mounting recently when opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) disrupted parliamentary business for two days, demanding that the parliament should address the issue of the constitution-making process.

The MPs were not satisfied by the update given in parliament by Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba on the process.

Kabimba had told the house that the delay in releasing the draft constitution was caused by the technical committee which, he said, took the draft to his office instead of the President, who is the appointing authority.

Kabimba said he is consulting with President Michael Sata on the handover of the draft by the technical committee.

After the two-day disruption of parliament’s business, Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Matibini called for a closed-door meeting with representatives of back-benchers and government to resolve the differences over the constitution-making process.

But the civil society as well as the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) have come out in support of the action taken by the opposition MPs to disrupt the proceeding of the house.

“The Law Association of Zambia welcomes the demands by Members of Parliament for the enactment of a people-driven constitution, following the Ministerial statement by the Minister of Justice on the status of the constitution-making process in Parliament.

”We agree that the Minister’s Statement did not do justice to the issue considering that the Republican President, Mr. Michael Sata, has clearly stated that there is no need for a new Constitution,” LAZ president James Banda said last week.

Banda added: “For as long as the President and his government will continue to trivialise this matter they should expect that pressure will continue to come from all well-meaning Zambians who are simply demanding what they are entitled to.”

The Civil Society Constitution Coalition also commended the opposition MPs’ decision to demand in parliament that the issue of the new constitution be addressed by government.

Coalition vice chairperson Judith Mulenga said it is only right that President Sata releases the draft constitution because Zambians are getting tired of depressing statements over the document.

How the issue will unfold remains to be seen, as the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), which had announced plans to hold a public protest to press government to release the draft constitution, has been denied permit by police.

On the other hand, Lusaka province youths have threatened to storm parliament and confront opposition MPs if they will continue demanding a new constitution, saying the PF youths would be forced to go inside parliament and restore order.

Defence Minister Edgar Lungu raised the stakes when he said soldiers would be deployed to parliament if opposition MPs continue demanding for the constitution.
-0- PANA MM/SEG 11March2014