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The Catholic Church today emphatically rejected the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) Act, saying it could not deliver a people-driven Constitution.

“Can the NCC Act, in its current form, deliver a new constitution that will be embraced as legitimate by the people of Zambia, and stand the test of time? The answer is no! This is because the Act, as many groups have pointed, is fundamentally flawed,” the Church said.

In a statement read to the press in Lusaka by Arcbhishop Telesphore Mpundu, President of Zambia Episcopal Conference, the Church said its members would only sit in the NCC if the law was revised.

The church also rejected calls that those who are aggrieved should take their grievances to the Conference. “What is being overlooked is that the NCC Act will not be on the menu at the Conference. By the time the NCC starts to meet, the members of the NCC will have made a solemn oath to abide by the Act. Is it not logical, therefore, that the time to re-look at the Act is now rather than later?”

The bishops raised five objections to the NCC Act. First, the law departs from the clear recommendation by the people that a new Constitution be written. It suggests that it will be up to the Conference to determine the need for a new Constitution.

Secondly, of the expected 502 delegates to the Conference, 337 are politicians and government-related participants, the church said. Many other stakeholders will be shut out.In addition, the law provides for wide classes of participants without specifying how they will be chosen.

The third objection is that the Act gives sweeping powers to the Conference that, in the light of the same skewed composition, can undo the basic demands of the people in the past 20 years.

Fourthly, the Church expressed fears that the role of Parliament as provided for in the NCC Act could lead to mere amendments to the current Constitution, ainstead of writing of a new one. “The NCC Act brings back parliament to play a role even before the referendum. Given the number of times parliament has failed us, this should be looked at again.”

Finally, the law gives the President a “blank cheque” to dissolve the Conference if he deems it necessary, or extend its lifespan for as long as he wishes.

“Given the serious problems that have been cited regarding the Act, it means that if the NCC is forced to go ahead without attending to the issues referred to here, then the outcome will lack legitimacy. Legitimacy can only be achieved through consensus,” the bishops said.

“If these contentious issues are thoroughly dealt with, we shall only be too happy to participate in the Conference. If, however, this fails, then we reserve the right to stay away from the Conference. We do not want to give legitimacy to a process which lacks proper consensus,” they added.

Source: Catholic Information Service for Africa