The Non Governmental Organizations’ Coordinating Council (NGOCC) is deeply saddened by the failure of the National Referendum following the results announced by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) on the referendum question, as proposed in the National Referendum Act of 2016.
The results of the National Referendum, however as announced by the ECZ, which doubles as the Referendum Commission, on Friday August 19th 2016, do not come as a surprise but rather confirm the fears that NGOCC had about this process.
As we have stated before, we were not opposed to the holding of the national referendum to expand the Bill of Rights (i.e. to include Civil & Political Rights and Economic, Social, Cultural and Environment Rights). We were, however, opposed to the holding of the two national processes together as the outcome would be affected by the politicization of the national referendum.
As an organization, we had warned the Government and specifically President Edgar Lungu that holding the National Referendum and the General Election together was setting the national referendum for failure. The national referendum was bound to fail because of the highly partisan charged environment of the general elections. An important exercise like the national referendum, which is not a partisan issue, should have been held separately. We hope that the Government has learnt from this process that superciliousness never pays. It is sad that the failure of this National Referendum will adversely affect the Zambian people ultimately.
As a matter of urgency, NGOCC demands that the government should soon constitute a small expert team to address some of the unclear provisions in the Bill of Rights, especially those negatively affecting women and children such as Articles 24, 26, 29, 31, 35 and 45, among others.
There is also need for the Government to provide a clear road map for the holding of an all inclusive national referendum which will not be politicized, coupled with a legal framework to protect the content of the referendum documents.
It is incumbent of the government and the civil society to begin to conscientise members of the public on the provisions of a Referendum Act, and the Bill of Rights.
Further, Government should ensure that the Bill of Rights is translated into all the seven local languages, including braille copies to cater for the differently abled persons and these should be distributed to all the ten provinces of Zambia.
Sara H. Longwe
NGOCC BOARD CHAIRPERSON