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close this bookThe Courier N 138 - March - April 1993 Dossier: Africa's New Democracies - Country Reports : Jamaica - Zambia (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
close this folderCountry reports
close this folderZambia
View the documentThe score so far: Democracy 2, Economic Recovery 1
View the documentAn interview with President Frederick Chiluba
View the documentAn interview with Rodger Chongwe, Minister of Legal Affairs
View the documentBiting the bullet: the challenge of beating inflation
View the documentPoverty for many, wealth for some
View the documentSmall farmers: planting the seeds of prosperity
View the documentAIDS-a shadow hanging over Zambia's future
View the documentProfile
View the documentEC - Zambia cooperation

An interview with Rodger Chongwe, Minister of Legal Affairs

Freedom from fear

Since October 1991 Zambia has been committed to democratisation. Democracy depends for its survival on transparency and the rule of law. The Courier asked the Minister responsible for establishing that legal framework what democratisation had meant to Zambia.

-I think for Zambians democratisation has meant that they are able to express themselves without fear, that they are able within the limits of the law to do whatever they want to do without any consideration that there might be some intelligence officers to stop them. Our journalists, members of the various political parties, NGOs, and pressure groups are in a position to express themselves without hindrance. One thing that has satisfied Zambians is the fact that even the smallest man, if he says something to the press, what he says is given prominence and is reported in the press, and this is something we never had before.

Within the political arena itself, we have 125-plus Members of Parliament who belong to my own political party, they are free in the House even to differ with the Government, a thing which was never heard of in the past. The opposition is free to say whatever they want to say. There is freedom in the issuing of permits, where permits are required to hold public meetings. There is no pressure from the politicians who are in power or otherwise to restrict or to refuse permission for people to hold meetings. At least 1 haven't received any reports at all.

So, broadly, I think there are positive signs that Zambia has opened up, but we do feel that perhaps we should be doing more in the area of human rights, and this is why we have a task force which has been formed in this Ministry to look again at the Constitution to see what provisions can be amended-and the decision to do so is going to be left to the people of this country. So, we are opening up and we are very happy with what has happened here in the past 14 months.

· What parts of the Constitution need amendment in the area of human rights?

-Well we would like Chapter 3 of the Constitution which sets out the liberties of the person to be looked at by the Constitution task force. There are two main reasons for this. First, the 1964 Constitution, which we got from Britain, had in it a Bill of Rights, and when that Constitution was changed in 1973 the provisions on human rights which were in the 1964 Constitution were repeated in the 1973 Constitution. These are the ones that are, by and large, reflected in the 1991 Constitution.

But the human rights scenario has changed very much since 1964. The two Covenants of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the other one dealing with economic, social and cultural rights, were written in 1966 and they came into force ten years later in 1976, so that at the time the first Constitution of Zambia was written all we had were the provisions on human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. We were denied the chance to include the new perception and conception of human rights set out in the two Covenants.

Also, since 1985 we have been talking about the right to development, and on the African continent we have a regional human rights charter, the African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights, which was adopted in June 1981 and which came into force in 1986.

We would like the task force to include these new concepts of human rights in our future Constitution. I'll give you an example. Article 23 of our Constitution bars discrimination, but nonetheless it allows Parliament to pass legislation which discriminates if the Act of Parliament concerned deals with private law. In other words, in questions of marriage, of custody of children, of inheritance which affects women, Parliament would be perfectly entitled under Article 23 of our Constitution to pass a piece of legislation which has a discriminatory effect on the people of Zambia. We would like that not to appear.

Also the journalists in this country want us to specifically spell out within the constitutional framework what the rights of journalists are, and the trade unionists have also asked us to include workers' rights specifically in the Constitution.

And more recently we have been told that in the Constitution we should set out the directing principles of State policy, to say that the State is bound to provide certain economic, social and cultural rights in accordance with the resources available to it.

· You inherited from the previous government a situation where violations of human rights, particularly against the person, took place. Are you satisfied that that has been entirely expunged ?

-No, we are not, but what we are satisfied about is that where the violation is detected some remedial measures are being taken by the current Government. One of the problems that we face in this country is that the people who are supposed to enforce these laws are the people who actually worked for the previous Government, and they have with them a culture which is perhaps completely different from the way the new Government looks at things. But we hope that with the passage of time this is going to change. It will take time, because we are dealing with the police who have been working for the Government over a long period of time. It's the same with the prison officers, the bureaucrats, the civil servants, so it will take time for them to react to certain situations differently and in conformity with our new conception of respect for the rights of the people.

· Zambia held local elections fairly recently and the turnout was disappointingly low. Is there a need for civic education in the country? With a very young population, most or many of the people called upon to vote will perhaps not have been familiar with what was expected of them in a democracy.

-I think there are two reasons for the low turnout. First, since 1980 adult Zambians who are registered voters have been barred from participating in local government elections, because the Local Government Registration Act of 1980 gave the franchise solely to the officials of the then political party. Then when the law changed, even educated people were seen asking whether they had the right to vote, and you had to say to them: Look under our new laws you also have the right to participate.

Secondly, in this country, people are more interested in the parliamentary and presidential elections. Maybe the solution lies in timing the local government elections together with the parliamentary and presidential elections. But it appears to me that that is impossible under our present setup, because the councillors serve for three years and the Members of Parliament for five years, so we never have local government and parliamentary elections taking place at the same time.

Yes, I agree with you that we should have more civic education, because it is important that people participate fully at the local government elections in electing their representatives. I think they are much more important than, perhaps, our parliamentary elections, because the people in my constituency are much more affected by what happens locally-for example, they would like to have good roads in the area, they would like to have good schools to which their children could go, they would like to have clinics, they would like to have hospitals. These are the demands of the people at the local level.

· One has the impression from abroad that politicians under the old regime were suspected and indeed proved to have been corrupt, but that something of the same suspicion has hung over the present government. I wonder if the culture of good governance still has to be fully established in Zambia ?

-I think you are right. Under the old regime, the only person who was trusted in this country as the person who could take decisions, who could meet foreign representatives without being bribed, was the President of the State. Anybody else was suspect. The new government took over under that background.

Now, we have said that a Minister can negotiate and sign contracts, a Minister can make statements on policy issues affecting his Ministry instead of the President doing so. This is something new in Zambia and there is always a question asked: 'Is that statement which has been made by a Minister not being made to satisfy the people his statement affects- or has he been paid?' The reason is the suspicion that was the mainstay in this country for years under the one-party system of government. But with time I'm quite sure that the situation is going to change, that the people of Zambia will realise that not all Ministers, politicians and, particularly, civil servants are corrupt, that civil servants and Ministers can make decisions affecting the people of this country without receiving any bribes from other people.

Meanwhile I'm quite sure you read in the newspapers that there is corruption in the Chiluba Government. If a Minister signs a contract-it might be a freight contract to bring maize from South Africa to this country-and he signs another contract to bring maize from the port of Dar es Salaam, if there is a difference between the tariffs of, say, one dollar, some none will say: 'You see, there is this difference... I think the one dollar is for the Minister.' But they are two different contractors altogether. It's because people can't picture that one company could charge a little bit more than another company. And in any case we are talking about the operations of companies in two different countries. But because of where we have come from, we are always suspicious that someone somewhere must be getting a cut.

· Is that partly because many members of Government have private business interests ?

-I don't know. I think that even if we didn't have any private business interests the very fact that we are in a position to freely negotiate and sign these contracts on behalf of Government would still give rise to suspicion. Anyway these business interests are different in most cases from what a Minister is called upon to deal with in Cabinet. Some ministers or deputy ministers were accountants before they came into government, others were traders, and others were members of the clergy or lawyers. Our Vice-President was a lawyer, with his own firm on the Copperbelt. It is very difficult to corrupt or bribe a person who was a lawyer and who signs contracts on behalf of the Government.

Maybe if you had your own transport company before you came into government, when you are negotiating a transport agreement for the transportation of goods which have been ordered by the State you have a tendency to try to make sure your company gets the contract, but under our rules you have to declare your interests to Cabinet-in fact you have to write to the President to inform him in which companies you have an interest, so that if a situation like that arises everybody knows exactly where you stand.

· You are trying to steer these legal reforms through a very difficult economic situation. Do you think the economic recovery programme is making democratisation difficult in any way?

- The structural adjustment programme is not making the process of democratisation difficult. Far from it. What it is actually doing is that it is making the process of promotion and protection of human rights much more difficult, because of the growing poverty amongst the people, because of underdevelopment. Underdevelopment is the major cause of the violation of rights. And there is also ignorance. Those, really, are my own fears, and those are the things that we have to watch.

Now, people who are poor will become poorer under the structural adjustment programme, and so they may commit crimes. And we as a government will be forced to use methods to curb those crimes which will not be consonant with accepted human rights norms. You might want to introduce very draconian measures in order to cut down on crimes, or you might even get dangerous statements from the man in charge of the police, saying: 'There are so many bandits around here-you shoot on sight'- something of that nature.

· That has been heard, in fact.

-Yes. Now, obviously it's not really the democratic process which is at stake, it is the rights of the people which are at stake, because in the process innocent people are likely to be shot dead, and you might be forced to erect barriers, what we call in this country roadblocks, and thereby deny the people their privacy because they are going to have to be searched. So, because of the rise in the crime rate, the Government is forced to take desperate measures to contain the situation, and those measures will not be consonant with accepted human rights norms.

· This must be a matter of some concern to yourself, in view of what you said in your first answer.

-It is of concern to us, because we realise that it might come, and it is a result of the economic measures that the Government is taking.

· Is this something that the country's donors and creditors, then, should take into cognisance ?

-I think that the donor countries should be much more humane in regard to the manner in which the structural adjustment programme is being applied. They should try by all possible means to ensure that those poor who are very badly affected by the programmes are given some welfare assistance, so that they are not adversely affected-and I think that if we can do that, then it will reduce malnutrition in the poor community and will reduce the instances of petty crime- and even major crimes of armed robbery and murder. Interview by R.R.