THE Catholic bishops have rejected the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) draft constitution.

In a statement entitled 'A perspective of the Catholic Bishops conference on the NCC draft constitution of the Republic of Zambia', the bishops yesterday stated that it was common knowledge that when the NCC Act No.19 of 2007 was promulgated, the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) and other key institutions declined the invitation to participate in the NCC because of the manner in which the Act was framed and the government's failure to resolve contentious issues pointed out in the piece of legislation.

However, they stated that in spite of staying away from the NCC, they did not give up their right to participate in the debates albeit from outside.
"We hoped against hope that the NCC would come up with a progressive document.

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," the bishops stated.

"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.

Under all these circumstances, there is no possibility that the Draft Constitution as produced by the NCC will have the legitimacy required for such an important document to stand the test of time.

"In short, what this NCC has succeeded in doing is to violate most of the people's desires as accurately captured in the Mung'omba Draft Constitution. In its present manner, the Draft Constitution is not acceptable as a basis for coming up with a Constitution that is people-driven and one that is expected to stand the test of time."

The bishops stated that from what they were now witnessing, the NCC would go down in the country's history as yet another of those Constitution-making processes that gobbled billions and billions of kwacha 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.

At the height of appointing the Mung'omba CRC, civil society and ourselves called for a small technical committee of experts to sit for a very limited amount of time in order to scrutinise and harmonise the wealth of information already available from the past Constitutional Review Commissions such as the Mvunga and Mwanakatwe," they stated.

"We know as a fact that the people's submissions to the Mung'omba CRC were a reiteration of what the people of Zambia already said in previous CRCs and constitute what the people genuinely want in their Constitution. It may still not be too late to consider this option of a small technical committee.

This is certainly better than the nation going through yet another expensive process of Constitution-making on legitimate grounds that the current process has failed to meet the aspirations of the Zambian people."
The bishops 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 stated. They also stated that the draft constitution had many significant challenges.

"Some of these are the following; it is noteworthy that this Draft Constitution is very bulky. A Constitution should normally contain broad fundamental principles (guidelines) that guide the nation on how it wants to conduct or regulate its affairs.

The issues that have been provided for in the Draft Constitution are in most instances matters which can easily be provided for in subsidiary legislation while retaining only the fundamental principles in the Constitution. The Draft Constitution is wordy and too long and complicated for an ordinary citizen," the bishops stated.

"The forty (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. Moreover, there is no user-friendly nor systematic manner of forwarding these submissions.

Further, the availability and access to the Draft documents leave much to be desired. In any case, what further submissions should the people of Zambia make about the Draft Constitution when they have already eloquently spoken through the Mung'omba CRC?

Even if people still reiterate what they have said to the Mung'omba CRC, what guarantee do they have that what they will submit this time will be listened to and incorporated in the Constitution by this same NCC?

"…There is lack of clarity as to what happens to the final Draft Constitution that will come from the NCC. Are we destined once more to the Inquiries Act and Government producing a White Paper? Is this not the route that has failed us before?

In order to avoid the White Paper syndrome, the Mung'omba CRC recommended that the new Constitution goes to a Referendum before Parliament who would enact it into law without further amendments. For now, it is not clear what Parliament will do once they receive the Draft Constitution. However, experience has shown that the ruling party will want to water down this Draft Constitution further by using their majority numbers in Parliament."

The bishops noted that other challenges contained in the Draft Constitution include the failure by the NCC to provide for a decent period for transition after Presidential elections.

"The unrealistic expansion of the composition of the National Assembly without due regard to the cost and infrastructure currently obtaining; the creation of so many commissions most of which are through Presidential appointments; the elimination of the provision by citizens in a constituency to censure and recall a Member of Parliament who is not functioning in accordance with people's aspirations. The list of challenges goes on," stated the bishops.

The statement was presented and signed by ZEC president and Bishop of Chipata George Lungu, ZEC vice-president and Bishop of Mpika Ignatius Chama, Archibishop of Lusaka Telesphore-George Mpundu, Bishop of Livingstone Raymond Mpezele, Bishop of Mongu Paul Duffy, Bishop of Monze Emilio Patriarca, Bishop of Ndola Alick Banda, and Bishop of Solwezi Charles Kasonde.

Others are Apostolic administrator of Mansa, Fr Michel Merizzi, Apostolic administrator of Kasama, Fr Ignatius Mwebe, Archbishop emeritus of Lusaka Medardo Mazombwe, Archbishop emeritus of Kasama James Spaita, Bishop emeritus of Mansa Aaron Chisha and Bishop emeritus of Ndola Noel O'Regan.