The Civil Society Organisations listed below, cautiously welcome the launch of the draft constitution and reports by the National Constitution Conference (NCC) for public comments. It is a trite fact that the constitution review process has unnecessarily been long and divisive- instead of rallying Zambians together around a common cause. It is a process where the interests of the general public, have been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. It is our sincere hope therefore that the launch of the draft constitution and report will go a long way in uniting Zambians in coming up with a people-driven and people centred constitution. The Zambian people have long desired for a constitution that commands their respect and obedience, a constitution that addresses their aspirations for a fully democratic country- where the rule of law is paramount and the ordinary man and woman- recognized as full participants in national development. As Governance and Development CSOs, we have had our concerns and apprehensions about the whole process of adoption of the draft constitution via NCC and we have previously expressed our worry about the long delay in concluding this exercise – and we are still concerned about the prospects of Zambians going to the polls in 2011 on the current constitution knowing fully well the inadequacies of the electoral process and systems.
It is our intention to engage in this process mainly by sensitizing the general public on what the NCC is proposing and allow them to participate from a well informed basis. We will additionally continue to advocate for the adoption and enactment of a new constitution, which is anchored on commonly shared democratic principles. We do however, note with sadness some inadequacies in the whole process of receiving comments from the public and we are concerned that these could affect the participation of the majority of Zambians. Some of our observations are as follows:
1. The launch of the draft constitution and report took place without a prior notice. Indeed the public generally knew that the report would be launched soon but NCC should have taken a leaf from the Electoral Commission of Zambia which has been running public notices in the mass media to sensitise the public of the voters registration exercise. NCC, knowing fully well that the public only has 40 days to comment on the draft constitution, should have preceded the official launch with public sensitization – unless the intention is not to have as many people participating in this exercise;
2. There is an apparent lack of preparedness for this exercise and this can be illustrated by the fact that the launch to place at the time when Government Printers is still printing copies of the documents, all the websites mentioned had not uploaded the document for access by the public and the issue of translation is not yet decided. In the meantime, the countdown of the 40 days has begun. These are basic logistics which should have been put in place before the launch – and if people cannot yet access these documents – what was NCC launching?
3. It is a pity that translation of the draft constitution and report is not a given and contingent on availability of resources. NCC and the Government should have prioritized public participation as opposed to the largesse spent on endless sittings of the NCC. We are worried that this whole process will soon become exclusive and the preserve of the literate –and yet every Zambian should have a say on this important document and efforts should have made to ensure that this is possible.
4. It is our considered view that the NCC Chairperson should have taken advantage of the launch of the draft constitution, to equally avail to the public – a programme of how the NCC was going to facilitate public engagement in this process. For instance, is the NCC going to organize public meetings and if so- where and when? Further details should have been given on how rural areas which are far away from the district centres are going to access the documents. The question which still lingers is how will communities in the rural and remote areas participate in this process? Is the NCC in discussion with Churches, NGOs or other stakeholders working in these areas to reach out to these communities? Related to the above, it necessary that NCC indicates how many copies of the draft constitution and reports will be or has been sent to each district and how the people can access these copies.
5. Another issue of that requires clarification from the NCC is the manner in which differences between what the NCC is recommending and what the people and institutions who comment on the draft constitution and reports will be resolved. For instance, the NCC, in their draft constitution has proposed a minimum degree qualification for a prospective presidential candidate; assuming that the majority of the people and institutions (more than the numbers at the NCC) canvass for removal of this article- how will NCC handle this development? It is important that the process of reviewing and integrating the proposals from the public is made clear from the onset so that this does not turn out into an academic exercise where people take time to read the document and suggest changes and yet the NCC and Government remains adamant on what they would like to see in the final document.
6. Given the stage that this process has reached and some of the issues raised in the draft constitution, it is necessary for Government to present a full roadmap as to what will happen after 31 August 2010. There should be a sense of forward planning on the part of Government and thus ensure that this process does not stall after August 2010 but reaches its logical conclusion. Government, for instance, should consider appointing a Referendum Commission who should start working out modalities for a referendum as soon as possible. Such a step, will be a sign that Government really means well and that a new constitution is a possibility before the next elections.
In conclusion, we wish to underscore that these constitutional reforms should, at all cost, promote the common good and all those engaged in managing this process, should ensure that the final document that is adopted and a constitution bill subsequently enacted, is one that embodies the vision and aspirations of not just the current generation but even sets a foundation for generations to come. We do not want to see this process started all of over again in the next few years simply on grounds that partisan or sectarian interests were promoted as opposed to national interests.