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Zambia: “Give us our constitution” 0

Oct30

Pressure is mounting for a new constitution that is inclusive of all citizen’s views as the ongoing delays by the body granted to draft it still continues.

Although the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) was granted a four-month extension from its initial request for 12 months, pressure is mounting for it to wind-up within the stipulated time so that the country can go to the 2011 general elections under a new constitution.

The process of drafting a new constitution that consulted and engaged in dialogue with the country’s citizens was started by late President Levy Mwanawasa. The aim was to stop government from unilaterally and undemocratically adopting the Republican Constitution.

The NCC, which came into being in 2007, was supposed to have come up with a draft constitution to be subjected to a referendum within a year.

But in mid-2009, it asked for one more year to complete the process. President Rupiah Banda, who has powers to either disband or extend the NCC’s mandate, gave the body only four months of the requested 12.

Announcing the extension of the NCC’s mandate during the official opening of Parliament last month, President Banda said he was concerned at the slow pace at which the NCC deliberations were progressing.

Tilyenji Kaunda, son of the country’s founding President, Dr Kenneth Kaunda and leader of the opposition United National Independence Party, says the NCC should speedily complete its work within its given time so that the next general elections 2011 are held under a new constitution.

“The NCC, in its next sittings, should ensure it completes the work as many Zambians are anxious to have a new constitution before the next elections,” he said at a media briefing early this month.

The opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) says it is concerned that the extension of the constitution-making process may see the country without a new constitution by the time general elections are due in 2011.

“If we continue extending the NCC, there is a possibility that we’ll not have a new constitution by 2011 because there are still other processes that need to be done like the holding of a referendum, that is why this extension is not good for the country,” Charles Kakoma, the UPND chairperson for information and publicity, says.

Professor Patrick Mvunga, a constitutional lawyer, says hurrying the constitution-making process merely for the 2011 general elections may not produce the desired results at the end of it all.

“It is always good to do a perfect job, and a perfect job should determine the timing. If the main reason for having a constitution was the holding of elections, those calling for the conclusion of the constitution should instead ask the NCC to complete dealing with all the legislation to do with elections,” Professor Mvunga says.

“If it was hard pressing, we would sort out the provisions to do with elections and that is why I don’t understand when people say we should have the constitution before 2011 because not all provisions in the constitution are on elections, a constitution is not all about elections.”

George Kunda, the country’s vice-president said late-last year that the NCC will complete its work by December 2009 so that the country can have a new constitution before the 2011 elections but added that the process should be realistic and not rushed.

“We don’t want to compromise the process by suggesting unrealistic time options. We have to complete the work before 2011, but let us not suggest unrealistic time frames,” he said.

In July 2008, a group of civil society organisations, in a letter to the NCC secretariat and copied to the President, Minister of Justice and Attorney general, demanded that the conference winds-up business by the end of July 2009 and release a detailed financial report on the use of public funds since its formation.

The organisations said the NCC needed to complete its business quickly so that other processes involved in enacting the new constitution, such as the Census and referendum, could take place before the 2011 elections.

“An exercise of such importance cannot be left to carry on business without a definite timetable…and in the interest of accountability and transparency, we demand a full financial report from the NCC with their expenditure,” read part of the letter authored by representatives of among others Transparency International Zambia, Citizens Forum, Women in Law Southern Africa and Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes.

By Kelvin Kachingwe – The full article on IpsAfrica

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