Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has joined other interest groups in voicing misgivings on governance issues ranging from opposition arrests, and the parliamentary ‘crisis’, among others.
In a statement on Wednesday, LAZ president, Lungisani Zulu, stated that increased arrests of members of opposition parties, without bail and not being taken before the courts of law expeditiously was regrettable.
“While leaders of opposition parties, like all other citizens, must be held accountable when they breach the law in line with the rule of law, arrests which specifically target opposition leaders critical of the government are an affront to the freedom of speech these citizens enjoy under the constitution,” Zulu said.
He observed that political leaders, when arrested, were not immediately released on police bond, despite the offences being bailable.
“This is contrary to a progressive Presidential directive to the Police to only arrest citizens at the conclusion of investigations and not to detain them any longer than is necessary,” Zulu said.
On matters surrounding the Patriotic Front (PF), the LAZ leader expressed concerns with the happenings but that that did not justify interference by external stakeholders including state institutions.
“Unfortunately, the conduct of various state institutions clearly demonstrates a narrative that the state is interested in legitimizing the actions of one faction of the Patriotic Front over the other, even when the matter is yet to be finally determined by the courts of law,” he stated.
Zulu noted that the Speaker of the Nation Assembly proceeded to act on the instructions of one faction and effected changes to the leadership of the National Assembly.
He said this was despite being fully aware the matter was contested among the parties in the courts of law.
“It is an established practice steeped in Commonwealth Parliamentary tradition that Parliament does not act on matters which are sub-judice.”
Zulu insisted that the Speaker should have insisted on being satisfied that ‘elections’ were held in respect of any changes to the position of the leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
To protect the House from any potential embarrassment, he said additionally, Article 74 of the Constitution, on the procedure for election of the leader of opposition, requires that the opposition political party with the largest number of seats in the National Assembly must elect a Leader of the Opposition from amongst the Members of Parliament who are from the opposition.
He said the election of the Leader of Opposition was therefore not an internal party matter, but a Constitutional issue of immense public interest.
“As the Head of the Legislature, the Speaker must ensure that the Constitutional requirements are duly satisfied by all person’s subject of her lawful authority in the House and wherever elections are required, the same are conducted transparently and in a publicly accountable manner in tandem with democratic principles.”
“LAZ will therefore move the Constitutional Court to make pronouncements on the procedure for electing the leader of opposition to bring the much-needed clarity,” Zulu added.
On the other hand, LAZ urged members of Parliament to accord the Speaker the requisite respect for her constitutional role of ensuring order in the House.
On the abrupt surrendering of Registrar of Societies, Thandiwe Phiri Mhende, who is subject of a subpoena issued by High Court Judge Timothy Katenekwa, he said pursuant to the said subpoena, she produced a register for the office bearers of PF which showed that there were no changes.
“Following this production, the Registrar was surrendered to the Cabinet Office, which is never meant as a promotion in public service, and the produced register has purportedly been called into question by the Ministry,” Zulu said.
LAZ found the development very troubling and most unfortunate especially that there was insinuation that a subpoena issued by a court of law does not have force of law and could be ignored or disobeyed by a civil servant at will.
“We want to be categorical that a subpoena ad testificandum is a court summons to appear and give oral testimony for use at a hearing or trial, which summons must be obeyed, failing which the person summoned can be punished by the court.”
Lawyers insisted that a subpoena was a compelling order which attracts punitive sanctions at the instance of the court that issued it.
LAZ called on the mother church bodies and civil society in the country to urgently convene a national indaba of all political players and stakeholders to discuss sustainable modalities for the country to de-politicize, heal and come up with solutions to economic challenges.
“LAZ is ready, the body of lawyers stands ready to use their legal training and skills to ensure our society makes progress, in all its facets.”
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