“The truth will set you free” [John 8:32]
Distinguished invited guests, ladies and gentlemen in the media, or shall we simply say brothers and sisters.
The three Christian Church mother bodies, namely, the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ), and the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC), greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have called you here on behalf of the Church mother bodies so that you accord us an opportunity to make some pertinent guidelines to the people of Zambia at this critical point of our constitution making.
Since the joyful occasion of national independence in 1964, we have known the road towards nation building as a long and difficult one. As a Church, we have always seen our involvement in this process of nation building as a sacred duty and we have always called on all citizens of this great country to be united, dedicated and hard working.
The release of the long awaited and longed-for Interim Report of the Constitution Review Commission and draft Constitution have come as a great relief to many Zambians. As leaders of the Christian Churches in Zambia, we want to commend the current Constitution Review Commission (CRC) popularly referred to as the Mung’omba Constitution Review Commission, for a job well done. It is clear from their report and the draft constitution that the CRC truly listened and made a gallant effort to address, with sincerity, the diverse and rich views of our people. We want, therefore to put on record our appreciation for the forthrightness and courage demonstrated by the Mung’omba Constitution Review Commission. Anything short of what they have said and done would have only added to the constitutional instability that has plagued this nation since 1964.
You will note, ladies and gentlemen, that Zambians in their submissions to the Mung’omba CRC, overwhelmingly took care of all contentious issues that have given rise to constitutional instability in the past. The Mung’omba Constitution Review Commission has duly taken note of the submissions and included them in the draft constitution. As Christian Churches, we want to note some of these key tenets of a democratic constitution upheld by Mung’omba CRC. These are:
• The importance of Zambia as a unitary state.
• We are greatly encouraged that the Mung’omba CRC recognises in the draft constitution, the fact that the Constitution must be people driven. In other words, we the Zambians, and not the Government of the day, will give ourselves a constitution that we shall respect.
• The Mung’omba CRC has also made various provisions to enhance human rights and key freedoms that are in consonance with a democratic state. The CRC has even gone further and recommended that some economic, social and cultural rights be part of the bill of rights of our new constitution.
• Other important recommendations such as a clear mandate (50% plus 1) for a republican president to take office; vice president as running mate; definite date for the election; appointment of ministers from outside parliament; speedy settling of petitions arising from elections; the importance of free and fair elections; restricted use of public resources during election time, have been comprehensively addressed.
• Perhaps more importantly, is the CRC’s recommendation for the adoption of the constitution by the Constituent Assembly. In spite of the initial reluctance and strong opposition by Government to adopt the constitution by a Constituent Assembly, as Christian Churches, we are grateful that petitioners to the Mung’omba CRC recognised the merit in using the Constituent Assembly whose stakeholder representation will no doubt be broader for the adoption of the constitution.
But ladies and gentlemen, the crucial point to remember is that we have been there before! Didn’t the Mwanakatwe Constitution Review Commission of 1996 equally make good provisions? How then did Zambia end up with a bad constitution of 1996? This then is where the problem lies.
We have said time and again that content for the constitution has never been a real problem for Zambia. By and large, Zambians are agreed on the larger issues of the content of the constitution. The problem has always been that of process. It is our view that it is the process that protects content. Unless the process is correct, the Mung’omba Constitution Review Commission risks going down in the history of Zambia as yet another of those Constitution Review Commissions that gobbled millions and millions of Kwacha and in the end had nothing to show. As a result, a people driven constitution will continue to elude Zambia as a nation. If this happens, future Governments will still want to revisit the issue of the constitution.
Our message to President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa and his Government is a simple one: The People of Zambia have spoken. We want, therefore, to take this opportunity to remind the President to keep his promise that he would abide by whatever the CRC recommended. Do not tamper with the key provisions incorporated in the draft constitution!
At all costs we want to discourage Government from reacting in the manner it did to the Electoral Reforms Technical Committee (ERTC) recommendations, whereby it rejected outright the majority of sound provisions. Government’s reactions to the draft constitution at this stage would only serve to preempt legitimate input from the public, undermine progress and intimidate commissioners or delegates to the Constituent Assembly. We believe that Government’s concerns can be accommodated in the Constituent Assembly, where all stakeholders including parliamentarians, will be present.
What matters most NOW is for the Government to immediately put in place necessary measures including legislation that will lead to the establishment of a Constituent Assembly. We do not have the luxury of time! When Parliament resumes sitting on 19 July 2005, this matter should be one of its priorities. In other words, we are saying that as soon as the CRC finalises the draft constitution following submission from the public, the Constituent Assembly should begin the process of adopting the Constitution.
We earnestly call upon Government and our parliamentarians to summon the necessary political will to ensure that a Constituent Assembly is put in place after speedily resolving the due process.
It is our fervent prayer that the Constituent Assembly will adopt all the key elements reflected in the Mung’omba draft constitution to facilitate for a free and fair election in 2006. Immediately after adoption of the Constitution by the Constituent Assembly, Parliament will proceed to enact the Constitution, leaving out Part III or any other sections of the Constitution that stipulate holding a referendum before making any changes.
We call upon all Zambians to be vigilant and resist any manipulation of this constitutional process. We believe, this is not a period for making new submissions but a time to refine the many good and fundamental recommendations in draft Constitution. By our count the 90 days started from the 30th June 2005 and the nation should note that. If we strictly stick to this timetable, though late in the day, it is still possible to have a Constituent Assembly and a comprehensively amended Constitution.
We also want to urge the CRC to make sure that copies of the interim report of the CRC and the draft Constitution are easily made available throughout the whole country. Our Churches, Small Christian Communities and many grassroots associations should be able to get copies of the report and draft Constitution for their own reading and reference without difficulty.
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is our passionate prayer and hope that this message will be received in the spirit it has been given. The Interim Report of the Constitution Review Commission and Draft Constitution give us a new chapter and window of hope that should give birth to a renewed sense of dialogue and peaceful negotiations. We therefore call upon Government to keep the doors of consultations open. All stakeholders, in short all Zambians, need to seize this opportunity to work in harmony for a better Zambia. We need to cherish this country because it is the only one we have. May God bless us all.
Rev Japhet NdhlovuGeneral Secretary –Council of Churches in Zambia
Rev Fr Joe KomakomaSecretary General – Zambia Episcopal Conference
Bishop Paul MususuExecutive Director – Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia
6th July 2005Kapingila Guest House, Lusaka.