Zambian Catholic bishops reiterate need for "People-Driven Constitution"
LUSAKA, August 7, 2007 (CISA)—Less than a month after the Catholic bishops of Zambia met President Levy Mwanawasa to impress on him the need for a people-driven review of the national constitution, the prelates have issued a pastoral letter to buttress their call.

The bishops have directed that the letter be read in all parishes throughout Zambia this Sunday. They have also instructed all church-sponsored community radio stations throughout the country to broadcast the statement at least once a day during the first two weeks of August. The document will be made available in local languages.

In the letter, the bishops reiterate what they told President Mwanawasa on July 12: “We shall never have a legitimate constitution unless we have a document that is genuinely a product of national consensus, that is, inclusive of all social groups in this country: political, religious, civil society, government, etc.”

The bishops say the roadmap to a new constitution proposed by the president, which includes a constitutional conference, excludes popular participation.

According to the bishops, the people of Zambia overwhelmingly demand that a new Constitution be adopted by a popular body (a Constituent Assembly), followed by a national referendum. Enactment by parliament should follow the referendum.

They reject a Constituent Assembly/Constitutional Conference dominated by any interest group, such as political parties, civil society organizations or government officials.

Regarding content of the new law, the bishops would like to see the entrenchment of fundamental human rights in the Bill of Rights, inclusive of economic, social and cultural rights as demanded by the people of Zambia (right to education, to health care, to food and adequate housing, etc.)

There is also need to include electoral reforms as suggested by the Electoral Reforms Technical Committee, such as the demand for the return to the 50-percent-plus-one winning margin for the presidential candidate, and the appointment of an independent electoral commission.

The powers of the president need to be reduced in line with the recommendations of the Mung’omba Commission, the bishops say. The separation of powers will also be by appointment of cabinet ministers from outside parliament.

District Commissioners should be abolished, because they only serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority, the bishops say.

The bishops also highlight the need for security of tenure for holders of constitutional offices (the Auditor General, the Inspector General of Police, Commissions such as the Drug Enforcement Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission).

The country should also have a Constitutional Court to handle both human rights cases and electoral issues. Nomination of Members of Parliament should be revised to ensure it does not distort the will of the people as has been hitherto demonstrated.

“We stand by the repeated demand of the people of Zambia for a new constitution, not an amended old constitution. This is the only way to avoid repeated attempts in future years to give us a good people-oriented constitution,” the bishops say.

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