President is 'too powerful'
Early reactions to the first draft of Zambia's new constitution have once more brought out the recurrent issue of the "excessive powers" of the president.
The recently launched Alliance for Good Governance (AGG), a coalition of the church and civil society organisations, said in its reaction that the draft still placed too much power in the hands of the president, and that this was unlikely to promote accountability and good governance.
"In a democracy, power should never be concentrated in an individual as this leads to serious compromise and potential abuse of office. We are concerned about the excessive powers invested in the president in the current draft constitution," the alliance said.
It cited what it said were new powers given to the president in the draft constitution to appoint members of the Local Government Service Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, the Emoluments Commission, Electoral Commission of Zambia and top civil servants.
"In addition, the president has power to appoint the attorney-general, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), the solicitor-general and all the 10 parliamentary secretaries and the president of the constitutional court."
It said such provisions raised serious concerns on the separation of powers and the need to provide independence and autonomy to organs of government.
It pointed to a clause that gives the president power to appoint the heads and deputies of bodies including the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Anti-Drug Abuse Commission, Economic Crimes Commission and the Police and Prisons Service Commission.
The draft also provides for the governor of the central bank to be appointed by the president.
The alliance expressed further reservations about that and took issue with another provision that the governor of the bank shall also be the chairman of the Bank of Zambia board.
It said such a structure would not allow for accountability and checks and balances and could be a recipe for abuse of authority.
Most of the presidential appointments under the draft constitution will be subject to parliamentary ratification.
But the alliance doubted whether that provision would be of any help since, until last year's general elections, for instance, the president has always governed with a parliamentary majority.
"The process would be highly ineffective in times when the house is dominated by one political party. In such times, parliament would only be used to rubber stamp the decisions of the executive ... ratification by parliament is an inadequate provision to ensure balancing of the presidential powers," it said.
Earlier drafts had a provision for a "recall vote" for non-performing MPs and councilors. But this is not contained in the latest draft. The AGG said it should be included to boost confidence of the electorate.
But the alliance also praised some of the provisions of the draft saying they were "positive".
Among them "the recognition of the supremacy of God" and the retention of the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation in the preamble, the provision for appointment of the cabinet from outside parliament, the 50% + 1 threshold for the election of the president and for a presidential running-mate for the position of vice-president, as it would ensure that a president was popularly elected.
It endorsed the pre-setting of the date of the election and for making it a public holiday.
"We endorse the progressive decision not to hold by-elections as this will save the nation a lot of money that would normally be spent on by-elections."
The governing Patriotic Front (PF) is apparently uncomfortable with the provision for an elected vice-president.
Secretary-general Wynter Kabimba told a media briefing in Livingstone that a running-mate as provided for in the draft constitution was not "conducive for Zambia". He said the Malawian experience, which led to estrangement of the top two, was instructive.
"We have to be very careful as what works for the US may not work here in Zambia," he warned.
Whether these will be the issues to emerge from the growing discussion of the draft constitution remains to be seen.