KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
THE First Session of the Eleventh National Assembly started its life on October 6, 2011, with one of its major business being the election of the Speaker. Then High Court judge Patrick Matibini beat former United Party for National Development (UPND) Kasempa member of Parliament and vice-president for administration Richard Kapita in a closely fought election.
Dr Matibini joined Wesley Nyirenda (1964 – 1968), Robinson Nabulyato (1969 â€“ 1988, 1991 â€“ 1998), Fwanyanga Mulikita (1988 -1991) and Amusaa Mwanamwambwa (1998 – 2011) in holding the position of Speaker since the country got its independence in 1964.
The principal parties were, and still are the Patriotic Front (PF), Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) and the UPND, with the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD) having one representation each. There were two independents – Patrick Mucheleka for Lubansenshi and Charles Zulu for Luangeni.
Mr Zulu, who also serves as Deputy Minister of Energy and Water Development, is the only remaining independent MP after the Supreme Court nullified the election of Mr Mucheleka, who subsequently lost the by-election when he decided to defend it on the UPND ticket.
In its early days, the House looked at a number of bills including the Teaching Profession Bill 2013; the Bank of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2013, the Zambia Development Agency (Amendment) Bill 2012, the Medical Levy (Repeal) Bill 2012, the Persons with Disabilities Bill 2012, and the Civil Aviation Authority Bill of 2012, among others.
But perhaps in its early days, among the major bills was the Re-Denomination of Currency Bill 2012 (Bill No. 8 of 2012) which was assented to on November 23, 2012. This is the bill that led to the rebasing of the Kwacha. The Bank of Zambia (BoZ) had set January 1, 2013 as the changeover date for the rebased currency.
This was the first time the country was rebasing its currency since its introduction following independence. It was a new thing for the population, and the BoZ had to go to town to explain what it meant by rebasing – dividing a currency unit by a denominator.
In the Zambian case, it involved dividing its existing banknotes by 1,000, hence chopping off three zeros from the existing K50,000, K20,000, K10,000, K5,000 and K1,000 notes. The lower value denominations that included the K500, K100, K50 were divided by 1,000 and converted into coins while the then existing K20 banknote was not converted into a coin due to its eroded purchase value.
The economic benefits put forward were that the exercise was going to reduce the costs incurred in customising standard accounting packages since most of these are developed in countries where values are mostly in millions and rarely go into billions or trillions.
It was also meant to reduce time taken to input accounting information, thus improving accuracy and reporting times; allow the central bank to introduce coins in the high circulating denominations thereby increasing durability and consequently resulting into savings on costs usually associated with printing; increase credibility in the currency and confidence in it from both local and foreign investors. The move was also envisaged to create greater confidence in the currency because when there are many zeros or digits, people may lose confidence in the local currency.
The social benefits were that it was going to lead to the re-introduction of the culture of using coins in Zambia which would encourage technology transfer from developed nations in areas such as the use of vending machines and parking meters, among others.
The other was that in future, it was going to give the central bank room to introduce higher value notes in line with economic growth without having to increase the number of zeros to extremely large numbers.
Other bills which the House considered were the Zambia Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Bill 2014, the Service Commissions (Amendment) Bill 2013, the Legal Practitioner (Amendment) Bill 2013, the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill 2013, the Patents and Companies Registration Agency (Amendment) Bill 2013, the Local Authorities Superannuation Fund (Amendment) Bill, and the National Pensions Scheme (Amendment) Bill 2015.
There were also the Referendum (Amendment) Bill 2015, the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2015, the Zambia Revenue Authority (Amendment) Bill 2014, the Service Commissions Bill 2016, the Financial Intelligence Centre (Amendment) Bill 2015, the Lands (Amendment) Bill 2015, the Gender Equity and Equality Bill 2015, the Zambia Wildlife Bill 2015 and the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) 2015.
The Zambia Wildlife Act of 2015 provided for the winding up of the affairs of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) to pave way for the establishment of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in the Ministry of Tourism and Arts.
The Gender Equity and Equality Bill was meant to establish the Gender Equity and Equality Commission, and to ensure gender equity, equality and integration of both sexes in society as well as to provide gender equity and equality as a cross-cutting issue in all spheres of life and stimulate productive resources and development opportunities for both sexes.
The Constitution Amendment Act 2016 provided for the printing and publication of the Constitution as well as to provide for the savings and transitional provisions of existing State organs, State institutions, administrations, offices, institutions and laws.
Towards the end of its sitting, the House looked at the Citizenship of Zambia Bill, the Passport Bill, the State Audit Commission Bill, the Ministers (Prescribe Number and Responsibilities) Bill, the Electoral Commission of Zambia Bill, the Supreme Court of Zambia (Amendment) Bill, the Immigration and Deportation (Amendment) Bill, the Constitutional Court Bill, the Court of Appeal Bill, the Public Protector Bill, the Mines and Mineral Development (Amendment) Bill, and the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) (Amendment) Bill.
Public Protector; it should be familiar to many Zambians particularly following the South African case in which that countryâ€™s public protector Thuli Mandonsela ruled that President Jacob Zuma should refund some of the monies that were used to upgrade his Nkandla house.
Anyhow, most of these bills were necessitated by the newly amended Constitution.
It all started towards the end of last year when two critical bills – The Constitution of Zambia and Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2015 – passed the second reading after receiving two-thirds majority vote in Parliament.
PF MPs, who were the proponents of the two bills, mustered enough support particularly from MMD MPs to defeat the UPND whose legislators were opposed to the proposal. The PF had 87 MPs while the combined opposition had 69, with one independent. One seat was vacant.
In the first vote on the Constitution of Zambia Bill, 106 MPs voted in favour, 36 voted against while four abstained. When it came to the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill, 109 MPs voted that the bill should pass second reading, while 35 MPs, mainly from the UPND, voted against while two abstained.
The Amendment Bill sought to, among several proposals, permit dual citizenship, provide for a 50-percent-plus-one vote threshold for the election of a President and provide for the election of a vice-president as a running mate of a presidential candidate.
Earlier, Minister of Justice Ngosa Simbyakula had told the House that Government decided to have the Constitution adopted in Parliament as opposed to a referendum because the process was cost-effective.
â€œThe referendum is an election in itself and holding a stand-alone referendum could have meant holding two major events in one year,â€ Dr Simbyakula said in justifying why Government considered it prudent to take the Constitution to MPs and subject the Bill of Rights to a referendum as is required by law.
Around mid-December last year, Parliament passed the running-mate, 50-percent-plus-one presidential winning threshold and dual citizenship, among other clauses in the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill, when it passed for third reading after a marathon 17-hour debate.
It was left to the President to assent, which President Lungu duly did at National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on January 5, 2016.
The Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill number 17 of 2015, followed protracted debate by MPs, who sat from 14:30 hours on a Thursday and rose at about 09:40 hours on Friday.
The amendment bill was passed on 111 votes for 37 against, and with no MP abstaining, sending the PF and MMD members into joyous celebrations with Vice-President Inonge Wina shaking hands with opposition members.
The debate was led by Dr Simbyakula, who assured that the will of Zambians was being fulfilled and that the clauses that were withdrawn were to be presented after further consultation. Only four articles in the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill were voted out. These were the provincial assemblies, budgeting in simple majority, land being vested in the President and proportional representation.
Otherwise, it has been a lively National Assembly which has seen a number of MPs switching the floor. When its life started, it was thought that the ruling PF would struggle to pass bills due to lack of a majority member representation in the House. However, it mustered enough seats and was able to easily pass legislation.
When the Twelfth National Assembly gets underway, it is likely to have a different complexion with some faces returning and others failing to do so through the August 11 elections.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka