Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
Zambians will be waiting with bated breath to see if their legislators will push through with unpopular and polarising amendments to the country’s Constitution. The Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) says that the Constitution Amendment Bill number 10 of 2019 should be withdrawn because it is dividing the nation and the proposed changes make for bad legislation.
Changes to the Constitution are very radical
ZCCB Secretary-General, Father Cleophas Lungu, this week repeated the call of the Catholic Bishops directed at the ruling Patriotic Front Government.
Fr. Lungu told Vatican News’ English Africa Service that the Patriotic Front is, in fact, singlehandedly rewriting whole sections and making profound changes to the Constitution. There is also widespread suspicion that the amendments to the Constitution, especially the electoral system, seek to perpetuate the ruling party’ stay in power.
“To begin with, in terms of the main objectives: When we were embarking on this journey, it was our understanding that the aim was to address the lacunas (gaps) in the amended Constitution of 2016. It was our view that the law needed some refinement. Alas, we see now that the Patriotic Front Government has gone beyond the original objective. Some wholesale changes are being proposed that will radically change the nature of the Constitution and even the nature of our young but maturing democracy,” said Fr. Lungu.
When you mention Bill 10, emotions rise
According to Fr. Lungu, the Bishops are alarmed that such an important process which should have been guided by dialogue and consensus had been hijacked by the party in power.
“We see a Zambia that is more divided now. Next year the country has presidential elections. The Bishops believe that this is not the place where Zambians want to be. When you mention the issue of Bill 10, emotions rise,” said Fr. Lungu.
Civil society and law fraternity also want Bill withdrawn
It is not just the Catholic Bishops who are against the proposed constitutional amendments. Zambia’s opposition parties, civil society groups and the law fraternity say the Bill does not mean well for the country.
A leading Zambian Constitutional law expert, Professor Muna Ndulo, described the Constitution (Amendment) Bill No. 10 as too broad, manipulative and overreaching.
“Bill 10 is manipulative and attempts to deceive the people of Zambia and create a dictatorship under the guise of constitutional reform. Bill 10 is designed to remove parliamentary oversight over the presidency and thereby install a constitutional dictatorship. It attempts to manipulate the electoral system to ensure that the ruling party remains in power in perpetuity,” said Professor Ndulo.
Chapter One Foundation Executive Director and former Law Association of Zambia president, Linda Kasonde, described the amendments as destructive to the fabric of Zambia’s democracy.
The Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) which is the umbrella organisation for mainstream Protestant Churches is also on record, urging the PF led government to completely withdraw Bill 10. CCZ General Secretary, Rev Canon Fr Emmanuel Chikoya observed that the proposed amendments do not serve the interests of the majority Zambians. He appealed to members of parliament to side with the people.
Justice Minister says Zambia is not a Theocracy
This week, a Zambian newspaper, The News Diggers, quoted the country’s Justice Minister, Mr Given Lubinda criticising the Zambian Catholic Bishops for urging the withdrawal of Bill No.10.
Mr Lubinda told a local television channel, in an interview, that Zambia was not a theocracy. The Catholic Church should not seek to be at the helm of the Constitution-making process, said the Justice Minister. For its part, Zambia’s Daily Nation newspaper, in an Opinion column, rebuked the Zambian Catholic Bishops. The newspaper accused the Bishops of “highhanded magisterium that has no place in modern politics.”
Those who hunger for justice will be satisfied
Zambia’s Fourth Session of the Twelfth National Assembly which adjourned abruptly on 18 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic resumed operations on 9 June 2020. Parliamentary debates are scheduled to begin in earnest, this Friday.
Regardless of what happens in parliament, the Bishop of Chipata Diocese and ZCCB President, George Lungu said history is always on the side of those who hunger for justice.
“We genuinely believe the words of our Lord Jesus Christ that those who hunger and thirst for justice will, in the end, be satisfied! We further call on all well-meaning and God-fearing Zambians to pray that the Almighty God, not only blesses this nation but also … ‘let justice flow like a river and integrity like an unfailing stream’ (Amos 5:24),” said the ZCCB President.