Saturday, 29 June 2013

Speaker Matibini Must Stop 'Cuddling’ Edgar Lungu

Parliaments are useless, unless they have at their command, in the last resort practical means necessary to make the laws they make effective even in the face of an obtuse government system like we have as at now

Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu violating Rupiah Banda's Rights (picture Daily )

By Nyalubinge Ngwende
We are in times when the country’s governance style has crossed the border-line. The rule of law is being obliterated and there is no one to stop the decadence by the ruling Patriotic Front.   

We are seeing the dominance of the executive over the other arms of government become incredibly pervasive. While this is happening, the other two arms of government, legislature and the judiciary, have drifted so much in the literal meaning of separation of powers so much so that even when practice demands that they provide checks and balances to the executive, and censure its agencies for excessive action, they feel not duty bound to do anything.

The symptoms of obliterating the laws passed by parliament and enshrined in the constitution are there. But because those charged with the responsibility to ensure absolute observance of these statutes are ‘scared’, the rule of law is being insulted.

One case coming to mind is the violation of the constitutional entitlements of former President Rupiah Banda, who has recently seen his freedom of movement involving his trips abroad on genuine invitations curtailed. Government has denied Banda access to his passport that is being held by law enforcement agencies under court order pending his cases of alleged corruption. 

On Friday June 28, Lawyers representing former President Banda were still lost about where to find and collect the passport to their client, who was invited by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to attend the Global Dialogue, whose theme is: ‘Leveraging technology for Africa’s social economic transformation: The smart partnership way’.

High Court judge Anessie Banda-Bobo on Thursday ordered the Government Joint Investigating Team (GJIT) to release Rupiah Banda’s passport to enable him to travel to Tanzania for a four-day partnership dialogue.

But by Friday afternoon the lawyers to Banda were being tossed round. At first the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions informed them that Banda’s passport was at the DEC (Drug Enforcement Commission). At the DEC, the lawyers were told that the Passport was with a Mr. Nyirongo the Registrar General. At the Registrar General, the lawyers were told that the Passport was with Mrs. Easter Banda the Chief Passport Officer. At the Passport Office, the lawyers were told that the Passport was with the DPPs office.

This matter may just end up this way with Banda being grounded once again as it has happened when he was supposed to attend, as special guest, the inauguration of Kenya’s President elect Uhuru Kenyatta and the most recent Boston University organised symposium in South Africa.

In other countries, such heavy-handedness would attract serious intervention not only from the human rights institutions, but the legislative board of the country would have made heads roll at Home Affairs ministry and  its operative wings, with parliament admonishing all the sadists. 

Unfortunately, in Zambia, when the matter concerning Rupiah Banda’s right to diplomatic title entered parliament, it received a lukewarm response from the speaker.

On Thursday June 27, 2013 Speaker of the National Assembly Patrick Matibini ruled that Parliament cannot interfere in the matter concerning government revoking former president Rupiah Banda’ diplomatic passport, saying: “there are other government wings to determine the legality of the issue”. Chadiza MMD Member of Parliament Allan Mbewe raised a point of order, asking if the government was in order to cancel the diplomatic passport which is enshrined in the Constitution as part of benefits for the former head of state.

"This democracy we practice entails that we have separation of powers. There is another wing of government that can determine the legality of this matter, and it is not for me to do anything on this matter," Matibini was quoted in one of the country’s daily tabloids.

If these are not matters of individual rights which parliament, as a legislative body, is supposed to dissect and give guidance in the minds of the Zambian people, then we wonder where else the citizens of this country would seek wisdom from.

It is in parliament where actions that violate human rights must be the last thing to be treated with negligence. Even when we know that there are courts where citizens must go and complain, but when this heavy-handedness involves government ministers who are part and parcel of formulating these laws and swear to uphold them, parliament and the Speaker, in particular, must take greater exceptions to such. Operatives in government ministries and their respective wings act on behalf of their ministers who are accountable to parliament or National Assembly. No single operative can choose to hide a passport of a former head of state without the knowledge of a minister. And there is no way parliament can sit and listen to one of its Acts being violated without giving it space for debate as is the case concerning Banda’s diplomatic passport which is a constitutional entitlement. When such action of abuse takes place or breaches the laws enacted by parliament, the House must evoke the code of conduct that strongly censures the minister concerned and punitive measures need to be instituted.

Surprising Matibini does not see things this way. It is not our business to doubt his legal understanding and interpretation of his parliamentary duties. Opposition NAREP (National Restoration Party) leader Elias Chipimo Jr. makes that case clear for us. In a statement issued on June 27, 2013, Chipimo, a lawyer of over 20 years practice, asked government to hand back Rupiah Banda’s passport, calling the decision by the PF administration to revoke the diplomatic passport of former president as not only illegal and improper but undermining the separation of powers as set out in the republican constitution.

“As a matter of law and procedure, therefore, the government should immediately hand back President Banda’s passport in order to uphold the law, preserve the integrity of parliament and maintain whatever goodwill Zambia is still able to muster amidst a long and ongoing series of social, political, economic and diplomatic blunders. The Benefits of Former Presidents Act, passed by Parliament makes clear that every former president is entitled (among other benefits) to a diplomatic passport along with one return air ticket for such former president and their spouse. The only instance in which any of the benefits of a former president can be revoked is if Parliament decides by two-thirds majority to do so. Parliament can only take such action if the former president has been convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment for more than 6 months. This is clearly not the case. The action by the PF administration amounts to a violation of the separation of powers as contemplated under our constitution.

Where it that parliament is a manufacturer of the tools that shape the decorum of governance, the Speaker must then be the chief engineer who should ensure that the operational manual is clear to all those under whose hands these tools come by constitutional duty. Any violation of this manual must be admonished. These are deliberate acts by the executive to which parliament, which has its role in ensuring rule of law, must not fail to take responsibility and show the country that it means business. But while individual parliamentarians can make the effort to do so, the oversight by the Speaker seems to frustrate their noble cause.

The revoking of Rupiah Banda’s diplomatic passport is the work of Home Affairs ministry. Home Affairs minister Edgar Lungu is finding it a fanfare to violate rights of private and public individuals. It is here where parliament must step in and stop these excesses. However, it is surprising that Matibini can choose to sit and ‘cuddle’ individuals like Edgar Lungu in parliament even with these clear violations.

The wig that the Speaker of the National Assembly wears is not just a decoration for his attire, but it is a symbol of constitutional status accorded to him to superintend not only on the processes of parliament but
Zambia National Assembly Speaker, Patrick Matibini
even defend the laws which parliament formulates. In defending those laws he must exert on the house and those mandated to enforce the laws the duty to uphold these laws. We know he does not take sides in debate, but he is there to provide the truth by stating what is right as right and wrong as wrong. This why we agree when Chipimo urges that: “should the government fail to hand back former president Banda’s passport, Parliament must immediately take this matter up as a breach of our constitution. It is imperative that the Speaker of the National Assembly demand an explanation from the Minister of Home Affairs as to the legality of this action. Should Parliament fail to act, the courts will be able to intervene”.

There is no way a parliament, with a speaker worth his sort, can continue functioning and remain relevant when the laws it makes are not being respected. In the normal sense, it is the speaker who should express indignation of excessive acts by the executive and can do so by tendering in resignation and the MPs who feel aggrieved, in this case those from the opposition, can follow suit.

But when the speaker continues to hide in the name of separation of powers, when even on clear cases he knows are being not judiciously handled so, it leaves much to be desired.

Matibini is a lawyer and state counsel for that matter, holding a PHD in media law as far as our memory serves us better. In this view he must help to educate fellows on the bench and government ministers by providing broader parliamentary views on national matters. This does not make him to override his jurisdiction, but only makes him become relevant to the equation of separation of powers. How can the in-charge of the assembly line for tools fail in his duty to provide a manual that educates how each of those tools must be used? Why should he even choose to keep quiet by failing to educate from his position the careless manner he has seen the tools under his production are not being properly used by the home affairs operatives?

At present the Zambian people are better represented in parliament because they voted the opposition in majority, but it is regrettable that we are not being governed properly.

We may argue that former president Rupiah Banda’s case is isolated and is a matter of courts of law, but the disrespect of rights of one individual citizen must be seen as an attack on all. If today this government can deliberately insult the statutes passed by parliament by violating the rights of Banda, what will stop it from doing it on Hichilema, Chipimo, Milupi and Mumba? Choosing to sit and cuddle Edgar Lungu in his eyes during parliamentary sittings and allow him violate with impunity the laws that the same legislation made and vowed to defend, Mr Speaker, is being a bad steward of our national assembly.

Matibini has that power to summon the Lungu before parliament so that he can be cited for breach of citizens’ constitutional rights. He can constitute a committee to investigate the excesses happening at Home Affairs. Parliament does not just make laws it is also a defender of those laws in the face of gross abuse by the executive. Parliaments are useless, unless they have at their command, in the last resort practical means necessary to make the laws they make effective even in the face of an obtuse government system like we have as at now.

No comments: