Columnists Features

Constitution interpretation


Analysis: JOE KALUBA
A CONSTITUTION in any given country is a guide in a number of issues. Governance, transparency, human rights, law and order or enhancement of the democratic process are all anchored on this supreme law of the land. In most countries, this fundamental law (constitution) is treasured from the time it is conceived through its gestation period until it is born. This (treasuring) continues as long as it is respected.
All stakeholders such as the government, civil society organisations (CSOs), the media, faith-based organisations (FBOs), political parties, citizens and friends of a country do their best to do what they can to have a fully baked document. This entails attaching importance to both the process and contents of the document.
In my opinion, as Zambians we have failed in this area. The problem is that we live in a country where everything is election orientated. Institutions like the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), political parties and some CSOs concentrate too much on politicking the Constitution adoption process than looking at the contents of this important document. We are having misunderstandings of issues now because of this.
We wanted a Constitution which would stand the test of time. The question, is do we even know or understand what is in it? We claimed we spoke for others. Did we? I am very sure some of these groups or individuals who claimed they were speaking for the people did not or don’t know what is written in this document.
How long has this document been in the gestation period? Close to a decade. Why should we wait for elections in order for us to start looking at the Grade 12 certificate issue? Why should we wait for the President to dissolve Parliament for us to start debating the issue of the ministers remaining in office? The reason is obvious. We as a nation always want to focus or attend to things the last minute.
We should bear in mind that the submissions of what is contained in the constitution came from us and the so called representatives, experts and technical teams put in place in the past seven years or so. After being quiet for some time now, everyone is quoting clauses. Everyone now is a constitutional lawyer. Do we need to do that now? Where was LAZ all this time? The country needed our lawyers to guide us on the contents of the amended Constitution during the debates. Where was LAZ? Organisations that have now come to light where were they in the past five years or so?
Those politicians who cannot stand because of the Grade 12 clause, what were they doing all this time? This shows that most of these people and groups did not have any idea of what they were advocating or what they were debating. If they had an idea, it was only on the elements or clauses in the Constitution they saw fit to give them advantage.
For sure, if I was an MP and I knew that I had no School Certificate and after seeing that it was one of the proposed requirements for any elective office, I would have enrolled in some school in order to get one. Five, six or seven years is a long time. A person who knew about this clause would work hard to get it. I also doubt if political party leaders read about this because they should have given direction to their members. CSOs would have given guidance to the people they so much claim to represent. On the Grade 12 issue, I have no sympathy for these politicians and I have no kind words for organisations that were just interested in allowances at the expense of the people they claim to speak for.
President Edger Lungu and the Patriotic Front may have signed that Constitution Bill earlier this year. I however think that all parties involved including this government and the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) as a party in office five years ago, the opposition, CSOs, professional bodies like LAZ and the media have failed Zambia. As I said we have spent a lot of time in the past years politicising the adoption process than looking at the content of the Constitution.
While others focused on politicking, only a handful of organisations looked at the content. I want to put it on record that amongst the few organisations, the Young African Leaders Initiative is that example of a CSO which looked at both the content and process of the Constitution.
The other individual who raised some issues was Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda of the Heritage Party. Instead of debating the so called contentious issues, people were busy debating political parties and names of individuals.
The other issue is the referendum in relation to our Constitution. All stakeholders who have been talking about adopting certain clauses through a popular vote have been quiet for the past four months. Now that the elections and the said proposal of having the referendum alongside the general elections is drawing closer, everyone will come out and start to speak for the “ Zambian people”. As I said, everything is attached to politics and elections. Why do we have to wait for elections for everything?
We have to draw lessons from our past mistakes and mismanagement or misunderstanding of issues. We have to learn and move on. We have to be tolerant in whatever affects the people by putting our individual interests aside. We need not to wait for the last minute. We have to stop politicking otherwise we will remain in the mud in many things.
Political parties, CSOs, FBOs, media, professional bodies and Government should take time to explain the contents of our Constitution. As Zambians, we should also take interest in reading and understanding documents like the Constitution.
Looking at the Constitution and after reading through it, you will see that there are a lot of things which are important for our democratic consolidation, our governance, our transparency and our human rights. Issues of gender and accountability. The question is, how ready are we to embrace these elements?
The author is a PhD candidate in Political, Gender and Transnational Studies at International Postgraduate Centre (IPC).

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