We have hesitated to comment on the recent passing of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill because the final document is not yet public. It awaits presidential ascent.
We do want to make it clear that this is a tremendous achievement for Zambia. The members of parliament are to be congratulated for achieving this impossible milestone.
Most importantly it is good to see that most all the clauses we consistently opposed in various incarnations of the draft constitution were removed. We especially note the following :
BILL OF RIGHTS - The NGOCC famously said, “The Bill of Rights is simply the core reason why a Constitution is needed”. That argument has never made any sense at all! A simple reading of the Bill of Rights section shows that many of them are impractical and unaffordable. There is also a legitimate question whether the constitution is a right place to have such rights!
LARGER PARLIAMENT - We always said that whilst we supported the idea of introducing some element of proportional representation, we felt that that parliament was large already, given our stage of development. We simply have no money for 130 more MPs on top of the existing 150. In any case the existing delimitation powers allows for increasing numbers of MPs where necessary.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (FOI) - we support increased access to information, after all that is what we are about. But we oppose using the constitution as the route to establishing a complex system of FOI. As we have repeatedly noted the economic case for an FOI regime in Zambia has not actually been made. It would have been shameful to include such provisions without proper technical debate.
NATIONAL BUDGET - the draft constitution said the National Budget must be passed by a two thirds majority. We think this is total folly. If the Executive is to function properly it needs control over fiscal policy. Having a two thirds majority almost makes it impossible for the party in government to govern. Therefore we are happy that the Bill has kept the current simple majority. We don't want American style “government shutdowns”.
PROVINCIAL ASSEMBLIES - the idea of provincial assemblies as originally proposed by civil society was totally misguided. It was not decentralisation. There was no elected provincial governors and no real fiscal autonomy. It was just a way for members of civil society and the political class to waste taxpayers money. We were wonderfully surprised to see MPs rejected that provision! Good riddance!
There are things we think could have been done better. We have to see the precise wording before commenting. But some of the flaws are well known. For example, we continue to reject the public funding of political parties. We also favour a stronger form of 50%+1. We think the winner must not only cross 50% of the popular vote, but also win the majority of provinces.
We need to avoid the scenario that nearly happened in January 2015, where Hakainde Hichilema sought to govern Zambia by winning only three out of ten provinces. The strategy of increasing turnout in the three provinces was clever, but it is a very divisive political strategy. It is not consistent with our national motto : one Zambia, one Nation! We want candidates to have a real incentive to campaign in very corner of Zambia not just their village!
Chola Mukanga Copyright © Zambian Economist 2015