Editor's Comment

Walk the POA talk

Given Lubinda.

THE Public Order Act remains one of the most contentious pieces of legislation in post-independent Zambia.
The most contentious issue about the POA is that of notification of intent to have a public procession. This seemingly conflicts with the Republican constitution, which has guaranteed freedom of assembly and speech.
That is why over the years, the POA has been a subject of public debate, court cases and amendments.
POA is historically a colonial piece of legislation which was designed to suppress black militant movements during the struggle for independence.
Little wonder it is perceived as a bad law by political parties and human rights movements.
There has been will in the past to amend the POA to conform it to the obtaining democratic tenets.
While the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD), which removed the United National Independence Party (UNIP) from power did not amend the POA despite promising to do, there is goodwill by the Patriotic Front administration to walk its talk.
However, the PF cannot amend the POA by itself. It needs input from other stakeholders such as the academia, human rights groups, political parties, student bodies, the Church and individuals.
This is the perfect opportunity critics of the POA have to see this piece of legislation amended for the good of our politics and governance.
After Government through the Ministry of Justice has received submissions, it will then take the POA bill to Parliament during the June session this year.
Before that, all institutions and individuals who will input into the amendment of the POA will be invited to attend the national validation symposium.
It is good that Zambia Police Service, which is responsible for the administration of the POA, has submitted its recommendations to the Ministry of Justice.
The receiving of submissions from the public is open.
Political parties and other stakeholders should take advantage of the on-going sitting by the Ministry of Justice and make their submissions.
Minister of Justice Given Lubinda made it clear yesterday that Government wants to give people an opportunity to see that their submissions were received.
Mr Lubinda said if there will be submissions that will not see the end of the document, reasons will be given and arguments if any, will be handled at the national symposium.
Mr Lubinda said after the symposium and with the approval from people who will make submissions, the ministry will then start the internal legislative process.
He said due to the many processes involved, Ministry of Justice will only present the bill to Cabinet for approval after March this year.
After approval from Cabinet, the bill will then be published and presented to Parliament in June this year.
Parliament will then open a window for engagement with the public where people will make their submission after these processes are completed.
Never before have citizens and organisations been given such an opportunity to have an input so that the POA can be repealed and replaced.
Apart from submitting to the Ministry of Justice, individuals and organisations should also find time to sensitise their colleagues and constituencies.
Most of the time, civil society groups and political parties assume that every citizen understands the POA.
Sensitisation will help members of the public to fully understand the POA and curtail misunderstandings surrounding it.
Most importantly, stakeholders with concerns about the POA must make their submissions instead of complaining from a distance and hoping the law would change.

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