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ZAMBIA-CONSTITUTION Jul-22-2010 (760 words) xxxi

Zambian bishops say draft constitution won't 'stand the test of time'

By Mwansa Pintu
Catholic News Service

LUSAKA, Zambia (CNS) -- Zambia's bishops have rejected a draft constitution, saying there is no way the document produced by the National Constitution Commission "will have the legitimacy required for such an important document to stand the test of time."

The bishops said the commission had violated "most of the people's desires as accurately captured in" an earlier draft. "In its present manner, the draft constitution is not acceptable as a basis for coming up with a constitution that is people-driven."

"We hoped against hope that the NCC would come up with a progressive document," the bishops said in a July 21 statement. "We have said time and again that content for the constitution has never been a real problem. The people of Zambia are very clear and consistent with what they want, but they have always been let down by those in power who are supposed to be the midwives of a good constitution."

Since its independence in 1964, Zambia has made several attempts to enact a people-driven national constitution through the appointments of constitutional review commissions. Observers, including church officials, say these attempts have been thwarted by strong politicians whose interest is to entrench their hold on power.

The politicians have usually sponsored candidates to the review commission, and those candidates eventually end up swaying the people's recommendations and wishes. As a result, each new government comes up with its own commission, which ends in failure after it has spent billions of dollars on the process.

"The common good has always been sacrificed for parochial interests by those who want to entrench their hold on power through masterminding a weak and partisan constitution," the bishops said.

When the current commission was set up in 2007, the bishops' conference and other key institutions declined the invitation to participate because of the manner the national constitution act was framed and the government's failure to resolve contentious issues in the legislation. However, the bishops said in their recent statement, they did not give up their right to participate in the debates.

The bishops said the current commission would go down in the country's history as yet another of those constitution-making processes that gobbled millions of dollars while a people-driven constitution continued to elude the nation.

"For a poor country such as Zambia, this situation cannot be allowed to continue. It has become a moral issue," the bishops said. They noted that when, in 2003, the government began appointing the Mung'omba Constitutional Review Commission, the bishops and other members of civil society "called for a small technical committee of experts to sit for a very limited amount of time in order to scrutinize and harmonize the wealth of information already available from the past constitution review commissions."

"It may still not be too late to consider this option of a small technical committee. This is certainly better than the nation still going through yet another expensive process of constitution-making on legitimate grounds that the current constitution has failed to meet the aspirations of the Zambian people," the bishops said.

They urged Zambians not to lose hope.

"We truly believe the words of Jesus that those who hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied. We call on all to pray that the God of justice will bless this nation and that, sooner rather than later, the people will have justice," they said.

The bishops said a constitution normally would contain broad principles, but the issues in the draft constitution "are, in most instances, matters which can easily be provided for in the subsidiary legislation .... The draft constitution is wordy and too long and complicated for the ordinary citizen.

"The 40 days given for the public to receive and study the draft constitution and then make submissions to the NCC secretariat is an unrealistically short period," they added. "Moreover, there is no user-friendly or systematic manner of forwarding submissions."

The bishops also questioned why Zambians should make further submissions about the constitution when they already made submissions that were rejected by the drafting commission.

They said it was not clear what would happen once the final draft was published and submitted to Parliament, but "experience has shown that the ruling party will want to water down this draft constitution further by using their majority numbers."

The bishops also said the draft:

-- Failed to allow an adequate transition period after presidential elections.

-- Created too many commissions, mostly through presidential appointments.

-- Eliminated a provision that would allow citizens to censure and recall a member of Parliament.

END


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