The recent unveiling of the 20-man Committee of Experts which will draft the new national constitution brings the issue of constitution making back into people’s minds. In this article, I will dwell on the caliber of committee members, terms of references and the possibility of a people driven constitution after this process comes to an end.
I will however not discuss the composition of the committee, as I perceive that to be a petty issue. There are more important issues I can spend time on, not who was selected, why, how!
CALIBRE OF COMMITTEE
The caliber of committee members cannot be questioned as we have seen a wide range of professions and specializations brought together. For example, a number of constitutional lawyers have been included in the committee, which is a good ingredient for the final document.
Zambians still remember that Willa Mung’omba chaired the famous Mung’omba Constitution Review Commission, which in my view, came up with the best constitutional reforms of all times.
Mwangala Zaloumis is another lawyer with a track record of the constitutional making process. She headed the Electoral Reform Technical Committee appointed by late President Levy Mwanawasa in 2003. And her team came up with a very good document, which unfortunately was left to gather dust on our shelves. Recently, she served as spokesperson for the now defunct National Constitutional Conference until August 2010.
The church, which boycotted the NCC deliberations has now been included in the process and we know that with their input, critical issues like the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation will be defended especially that during the run up to the 20 September polls, some sectors of society hinted on its removal from the highest law of the land.
Further, we have also seen the inclusion of civil society activists in the likes of Reuben Lifuka and Simon Kabanda. It must be noted that these men are lovers of good governance and they have in a way been firm on the need for the constitution to be driven by the Zambian people and not by politicians. I remember covering Mr Kabanda at parliament earlier this year when he went to picket members of parliament to include some contentious issues in the aborted NCC Draft Constitution.
The civil society has always been active in the Zambian constitution making process. Back in 2006 and 2007, President Levy Mwanawasa released his 5-year constitution road map but the civil society countered that by proposing a shorter road map, which would have saved resources and time. With their inclusion in the committee of experts, we hope they will also represent the will and wishes of the people of Zambia.
One important thing I’m happy about is the exclusion of politicians in this committee. Politicians have in the past been known to promote their interests at the expense of the nation. In the NCC, the then ruling MMD ensured that its members were more than any other sector hence rendering the NCC draft constitution a political document. Thank God, President Michael Sata saw it fit to leave this process to technocrats.
TERMS OF REFERENCE
President Sata has made a good move by asking the committee of experts to review all available pieces of past constitution reforms as they are critical in contributing to a ‘people’ driven document. This move is a ‘people’s’ move in that it will ensure that all those clauses that Zambians have been submitting in the past constitution review commissions will be reviewed and considered for possible adoption.
In case you may have forgotten, Zambians have been submitting clauses such as:
(a) 50 per cent plus one presidential winning threshold,
(b) An elected Vice-President,
(c) Triming the powers of the President,
(d) Parliament to approve foreign loan contraction by the State, and so on.
It is this approach that will help Zambians to finally have that which they have been crying for over the past four decades.
The other term of reference given to the committee is to go round the provinces and allow citizens to submit and adopt their preferred clauses in conventions. I feel this is ideal in that people will feel part of the process. However, I must warn that those in authority should not politicize this process.
Secondly, the committee should also take on board recommendations of the Electoral Reform Technical Committee which came up with very good reforms for our electoral laws. President Mwanawasa set up this team to spearhead reforms following the 2001 disputed general elections. This again was a broad-based body with representation as diverse as the current committee of experts.
PROCESS OF ADOPTION
In the past weeks, we have heard Ministers and senior government officials announcing that the draft constitution will have to be taken to a referendum and later taken to parliament for enactment. Indeed that’s the best way to ensure its legitimacy because the people will have submitted their clauses in the provinces. And when the draft comes to them through a referendum, they will have the opportunity to endorse their preferred clauses, which will be like double-checking of the draft constitution.
The PF government should stick to this roadmap, as it is the surest way to ensure that Zambians are kept on board as the national document is being produced.
The former ruling party MMD failed to produce ‘a people driven constitution’ because they had given politicians more powers to decide the final outcome of the constitution making process through the NNC.
Secondly, the MMD lost the people’s trust because the process in which the final constitution was to be adopted was not liked by civil society, the church and some opposition political parties.
With this in mind, the ruling Patriotic Front has an opportunity to avoid those mistakes the MMD made in order for them to surely produce the constitution people want.
So far, we have seen political will from government through major pronouncements but the final document will be determined by the way the new constitution making process is managed by the committee of experts and the government at large. The new development, in a way will also show that it is possible to avoid tedious processes like NCC ands save tax payer’s money.