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Open Letter to the President and Members of Parliament

 

Open Letter to the President and Members of Parliament
 
26 April 1996
 
 

The Catholic Bishops of Zambia decided to take the issue of the constitution further by appealing directly to the legislators and the President. This open letter was issued in the hope that parliament would seize the opportunity to open the debate to further public scrutiny instead of treating it as a private issue top topic be agreed upon by members of parliament only. The Bishops appealed earnestly that the matter was so important to the future of Zambia that it was necessary that the debate in parliament be postponed to give more time for wider debate.

    The Easter Season offers Christians an opportunity to reflect on that great gift of the Risen Jesus, his gift of peace (John 20:19). This is the Saviour's gift that brings peace to our individual heart, our families and neighbourhoods, to our Nation. But it is a peace that we must embrace and work with, so that it comes fully alive in our midst today. That is why Jesus said so emphatically, "Blessed are the peace makers" (Matthew 5:9), for he knew that it is often a difficult and challenging task to work for peace.
  1. In an effort to contribute to the promotion of the peace that we all desire so strongly here in Zambia, we write this letter to address the important issue of the adoption of changes in the fundamental law of the land, our Constitution. Since the inauguration of the Third Republic four and half years ago, the topic of constitution review has been an important point for expert study, public discussion and political debate. The Mwanakatwe Commission Report, the Government's White Paper, the proposals of various NGOs and other interest groups, and now the Government's bill of proposed amendments have all served both to highlight the substantial areas of agreement and the significant differences of opinion.
  2. Recent months have been particularly lively in the debateover the contents of constitutional changes and the mode of adopting those changes. We ourselves, joining our sisters and brothers in leadership positions with the Christian Council of Zambia and the Evangelical Fellowship, have on several occasions contributed to the debate. As we stated in our Joint Pastoral Statement, of 15th October 1995, on the Year of Political Responsibility, ‘the principles of democracy need to mature in our institutions and in our personal political attitudes if the multiparty democracy of the Third Republic is to bear fruit’ (#7)
  3. Because of the need for time to nurture the principles of democracy that will be incorporated into our Constitution, we strongly believe that it will be in the interest of the peace we all desire and the justice we all seek that the current draft bill be withdrawn from parliament until after the general elections later this year. Why do we say this?
    1. We recall President Chiluba's pledge to the Law Association of Zambia on 30 March 1996 that adequate time would be given for full popular discussion of the changes in the Constitution. In his own words he said "The publication of the White Paper and even a Bill for presentation to Parliament do not close or pre-empt the debate on the Constitution which we all agree is the fundamental Law of the land and which must embody the widest consensus, if it is to stand the test of time. Even at the very last moment I can assure you that the Government's door will remain ever open." With Local Government and General elections pending, we feel this will be a crowded year. We feel time will not be adequate to get the widest consultation necessary to come up with a popular consensus for our fundamental Law.
    1. We applaud the work of those Members of Parliament who have made an effort to visit their constituencies to explain the issues and listen to various viewpoints so that they can freely and intelligently debate the draft bill when Parliament resumes sitting on 30 April 1996. But we must be honest and say that we have heard from many of our people that they have had no chance to discuss the Constitution with their MPs, that translations and explanations in the local languages have not been available, and that the apathy that sadly marked the voter's registration process has also marked the debate over the constitutional issues.
    2. We feel that the constitutional debate has not in fact reached the grassroots and that ordinary people, especially those in rural areas, need time to participate actively in this most important debate.
    3. There are several very substantial issue that are both controversial and far-reaching in their implications and hence need much more public discussion before the Parliament takes up debate and decisions on any Constitutional Bill. Surely the MPs will agree that they need adequate time for diligent and intelligent investigating into these issues and widespread consultations with their constituencies. Among them are:
      1. Part VI, Articles 91-99 of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill, 1995, deals with the Judicature and contain several clauses that have raised serious questions from the law Association of Zambia regarding the independence of the judiciary.
      2. Part VI, Article 91 (1) appears to limit the powers of courts in considering constitutional challenges to Legislative Acts. 339 Pastoral Letters and Statements
      3. Part IV, Article 34 (3), deals with the qualifications of the presidency and contains the requirement that both parents be Zambians by birth. Because of its relevance to one particular candidate in this election year, this clause is highly contentious.
      4. The Preamble includes the declaration of Zambia as a "Christian Nation" a position that needs considerably more legal debate and theological clarification.
      5. Other issues need in-depth discussion such as the improvement of the Bill of Rights (as suggested by the Mwanakatwe Commission), the independence of important commissions on Elections, Anti Corruption, Human rights, appointment of ministries. Etc.
  4. Given the importance of seeking wide consensus on these and other issues before the Constitution is amended, it seems wise to us to postpone consideration of the Draft Bill. Time is not adequate to go through the process of serious debate prior to elections. There is the added advantage that popular opinion can be sought by making the constitutional issues matters of political debate and therefore grounds for casting votes one way or another in the elections of Members of Parliament.
  5. There really is no disadvantage to postponing the consideration of the Constitution until after elections, since elections can be held very smoothly under the 1991 Constitution. The only argument in favour of rushing the Draft Bill through might be that its enactment would exclude one individual from running for President. But we would take seriously President Chiluba's word at the press conference of March 13, 1996, that the specific clauses of the Draft are not aimed at specific individuals.
  6. We urge that the Constitution Amendment Bill be withdrawn from consideration by Parliament until after the elections. We pledge that the institutions and structures of our Church will be used to cooperate with Government, NGO's and other interested groups in promoting widespread circulation and discussion of the Constitution. In this way we will ensure a fundamental law of the land that will stand the test of time because it has been adopted and enacted by the true consensus and consent.

The Catholic Bishops of Zambia

  Rt. Rev. Telesphore-George Mpundu,   Bishop of Mbala/Mpika   Most Rev. Adrian Mung'andu,   Archbishop of Lusaka   Most Rev. James Spaita,   Archbishop of Kasama   Most. Rev Adam Kozlowiecki, SJ,   Retired Archbishop of Lusaka   Rt. Rev. Dennis de Jong,   Bishop of Ndola   Rt. Rev. James Corboy, SJ,   Retired Bishop of Monze   Rt. Rev. Medardo Mazombwe,   Bishop of Chipata   Rt. Rev. Raymond Mpezele,   Bishop of Livingstone   Rt. Rev. Paul Lungu, SJ,   Bishop of Monze   Rt. Rev. Aaron Chisha,   Bishop of Mansa   Rt. Rev. Noel O'Regan, S.M.A.,   Bishop of Solwezi