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‘Security sector on high alert to thwart MDC Alliance protests’. . . by-elections were banned to preserve lives

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THE government recently banned the carrying out of by-elections to replace MPs and councillors recalled in the fight over control of the MDC between interim president Thokozani Khupe and MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.

The ban, citing the coronavirus lockdown and the danger of spread of the pandemic, has drawn huge criticism locally and abroad; and is largely seen as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s deliberate ploy to close the democratic space.

Apart from that, the government is also accused of planning to introduce a raft of laws targeting its critics.

On Friday, the Daily News on Sunday Senior Staff Writer Blessings Mashaya spoke to Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi on these and other hot issues. Below are the excerpts of the interview.

Q: There is a lot of noise regarding the government move to ban the conducting of by-elections. Why did the government ban them?

A: There is a lot of misinterpretation of the law. What they (people opposing the ban) are concentrating on is that the Constitution allows political rights in Section 67 and they go on to say Section 158 says by-elections must be held within 90 days.

Their argument is that a statutory instrument cannot suspend a right that is provided for in the Constitution. Their reading of the Constitution is so misleading in that they want to incite people in the wrong direction.

If you go to Section 86 it has limitations of rights and if you go to Section 87, it talks about limitations in public emergencies. It makes provision that any other law may provide for limitations of rights in terms of emergencies.

What we did is that the minister of Health declared a state of public emergency, a law which is lasting until January 2021 and it is allowed in terms of the Public Health Act and is permissible in the Constitution according to Section 87.

Q: In other countries, they are holding elections despite the pandemic. Your critics say Zanu PF is afraid of the by-elections, it will lose them dismally?

A: We are not afraid of elections. We still have a state of public emergency. A right that cannot be  taken away, is a right to life.

At the moment we are more concentrating on  preservation of the right to life. The minister of Finance (Mthuli Ncube) has suspended a lot of things to focus on Covid-19 and then the MDC decided to fight during the period of the pandemic…

Nobody anticipated that we would be faced by twin problems of a threat to right to life and several recalls that would need a lot of money to ensure that those vacancies are filled.

You can realise that, would a reasonable person surely spend a lot of money on by-elections and don’t save money to ensure that people don’t lose their lives, no sane government on this earth will do that and don’t try to compare that with Malawi where there was an election.

In Malawi, that was a planned and scheduled election, they knew very well   that if there is a contestation of an election they will be a rerun.

In our situation nobody anticipated that in the middle of a pandemic, where all the resources are being channelled towards fighting that pandemic, a certain party would decide to recall a lot of their people  and then say you must find money for election and forget about the pandemic.

Nobody knows the exact trend of the disease  except the ministry of Health… If they say for the duration of the pandemic  let’s suspend elections,  so be it. We will allow the minister of Finance to mobilise  resources to fight the pandemic and to also monitor the situation so that we do not endanger our people and unnecessarily violate the right to life by creating conditions that will expose our people to death.

Q: Besides banning the by-elections, you are introducing the Patriotic Bill to silence your critics?

A: We have never had an appetite to silence anyone. What we are saying is that most progressive  countries have within their criminal code or any other act laws that bar ordinary people to do the work that is reserved for the president.

The president is the one who is tasked with charting the foreign affairs of the country and to send people to represent him.

What we are saying is that we cannot have people going and demonise their country abroad to the extent that the majority of the people will suffer (when sanctions are imposed).

The proposed law is found in almost all other jurisdictions and I do not know why people are panicking, unless they are saboteurs. Those who are criticising this move are saboteurs.      

Q: On cards, there is also the Cyber Bill which some legal experts are saying is against the Constitution?

A: There are processes to deal with Bills that are unconstitutional. The first is, the parliamentary legal committee has to deal with those issues, and secondly if it is passed any one is allowed to challenge the constitutionality of any Act in the Constitutional Court.

I am not sure why they are panicking because they are legal remedies that are enshrined in our Constitution and our laws to deal with those issues and beside that, we are still debating it.

Anyone is allowed to bring out what he feels, maybe unconstitutional for consideration when we are debating it.

Q: Now Khupe is the leader of the opposition in Parliament, are there any packages for her?

A: That post has always been there.

In terms of Parliament, it’s a question that can be best answered by (clerk of Parliament Kennedy) Chokuda because in terms of hierarchy of Parliament, the leader of opposition is different from ordinary MPs.

Just like all those that fit in  the committee that administers  Parliament, that is the committee of Standing Rules and Orders and chairpersons, they have different perks. 

It’s a standard, it’s something that is there all over the world, it’s not something that we are trying to invent. 

Q: After the election, President Mnangagwa wanted to offer Chamisa that position.

A: I am not sure Chamisa was offered that position. People were simply discussing, but outside Parliament. Then we needed to change the legislation (because he was not an MP). 

But if he was an MP and leader of the opposition in Parliament, the Parliament has a provision to offer him that position.

Q: Chamisa recently threatened to roll out protests against the government. Your response to that?

A: Our laws are sufficient to deal with them. If you want to protest, you give the necessary notices in terms of the Maintenance of the Peace and Order Bill, you follow the due process that is required. But as far as I am concerned, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a curfew and there are restrictions on movement.

I am not sure how he wants to protest without violating the laws and our security is on high alert to stop anyone who wants to violate the laws of this country.

Q: You have written letters demanding the extradition of G40 elements hosted in foreign lands, have you received any responses so far?

A: That one is being handled by the Prosecutor- General (Kumbirai Hodzi). There is due process that is being followed and court applications that are made. I am not privy to the exact stage, but it’s a process that is on-going to say these are criminals, they are wanted for crimes that they committed.

We state our case to say this is not political.

They went into self-imposed exile after committing one or two things contrary to our laws and we justify our case.

All that has been done…

Q: Some critics are saying President Mnangagwa’s legislative agenda he announced on Thursday was a damp squib?

A: I think those who say the president didn’t say anything, they were not listening or they didn’t appreciate the economic agenda that we are undertaking.

The president was very clear on what we want.

He touched on economic reforms that we are undertaking and he explained the stabilisation that has happened and he spoke about legislation to stimulate economic development and realise our vision 2030.

He spoke about a US$5 billion tourism industry… He also spoke about the agriculture sector, so I am actually surprised that there are some people who didn’t see that there is a drive to come up with legislation that will give effect to our economic reform agenda.

Q: There are some corruption allegations in the judiciary system, what’s your response?

A: In every facet of society you cannot rule out corruption being there because corruption involves two people and our plea always has been to people to resist from offering bribes even to our judicial officers.

We believe that we have a judiciary  that is of integrity, which has tried to dispense its  duties in a manner that is forthright.

But you appreciate that people criticise for the sake of criticising. We are trying to strengthen those institutions and get rid of corrupt elements to ensure that our judiciary continues to dispense justice in an honourable manner.

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