RULING BY THE HON MR SPEAKER AGAINST 48 HONOURABLE MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED PARTY FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (UPND) FOR BOYCOTTING THE STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS ON THE APPLICATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL VALUES AND PRINCIPLES BY HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT, MR EDGAR CHAGWA LUNGU, ON FRIDAY, 17TH MARCH, 2017
The second ruling relates to the unauthorised absence of the UPND Members of Parliament from the House on Friday 17th March, 2017, when His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zambia, Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, delivered the State of the Nation Address on the Application of Constitutional Values and Principles to the House.
This ruling arises from letters of complaints lodged with my office against the UPND Members by the Hon Minister of Higher Education, the Hon Deputy Chief Whip and the Members of Parliament from Milenge, Chilubi, Muchinga and Kantanshi Constituencies.
Hon Members, I wish to point out from the outset that the number of UPND Members of Parliament who absented themselves from the sitting of the House, without permission, on Friday 17th March, 2017 is forty-eight (48) and not fifty-eight (58), for the following reasons: Mr Keith Mukata, MP, was present in the House. Mr J J Mwiimbu, MP, Mr Sililo Mutaba, MP, Mr Elliot Kamondo, MP, Mr Ephraim K Belemu, MP, Mr Victor Lumayi, MP and Mr Mukumbuta Mulowa, MP, obtained leave of absence from the Hon Chief Whip. Further, Mr L A Lufuma, MP, Mr S K Kakubo, MP, and Mr F C Chaatila, MP, were at the material time outside the country on a foreign tour of the Committee on Estimates. Thus, these ten (10) Members were disjoined from the matter.
Hon Members, you will recall that this matter is related to the earlier absenteeism of 54 UPND Members from the House last year on Friday 30th September, 2016, when His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zambia, Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, officially opened the First Session of the Twelfth National Assembly. I will, therefore, start my ruling from that premise.
The House will recall that on Friday 30th September, 2016, fifty-four (54) UPND Members absented themselves from the House without permission from my office or that of the Chief Whip. As a result, my office received letters of complaint from Hon R Musukwa, MP, Chief Whip and Mr Emmanuel Chilekwa regarding the same absenteeism. Accordingly, I referred the matter to the Committee on Privileges, Absences and Support Services for consideration and determination.
After due consideration of both written and oral exculpatory submissions made by the members, the Committee found the UPND Members guilty of the offence of absenteeism contrary to Order No. 151 of the National Assembly Standing Orders, 2005, and recommended that they be punished by reprimanding them behind the bar of the House, and thereafter were required to apologise to the House.
Thus, acting on that recommendation, I rendered a ruling on 21st December, 2016, reprimanding the Members. In that ruling, I observed that while boycotts were permissible under parliamentary practice, the official opening of Parliament was however a solemn and auspicious occasion, which required all Members to be present and be at their best behavior. Further, I drew the attention of the House to the relevant provision of the Standing Orders, as well as to the authorities from other commonwealth jurisdictions with similar rules on parliamentary practice and procedure. In particular, I drew the attention of the House to a reference to an Indian case in the book written by eminent writers on parliamentary practice and procedure, M. N. Kaul and S. L. Shakdher, entitled Practice and Procedure of Parliament, Sixth Edition, on pages 206 to 207. The relevant part of the case states as follows:
“On the occasion of the President’s address to both Houses of Parliament assembled together on 12th February 1968, two members of the Lok Sabha created obstruction. The incident was followed by a walk-out by about seventy or eighty members belonging to both Houses. On 28th February, having given an opportunity to the two members to explain their position, the Lok Sabha adopted a motion disapproving the conduct of the Hon Members and reprimanded them for their undesirable, undignified and unbecoming behaviour.”
Further, Hon Members, in that ruling, I pointed out that a boycott or walk-out was a conventional means through which a Member of Parliament can express his/her displeasure on an issue of governance. However, I observed that the President’s Address was, a special event, which required Members to avoid all manner of misconduct or misbehavior including boycotts and walk-outs because such conduct lowered the dignity, decorum and integrity of the House.
Having guided the House, I proceeded to reprimand the 54 UPND Members. In turn, the Members rendered what I thought then was a remorseful apology, through their Party Whip Mr G G Nkombo, MP, while all the errant Members were standing in their seats in agreement and testimony with the apology that was rendered. Alas! I was mistaken; because if the members were truly remorseful, they would not have stayed away again from the address of the President to this House, on 17th March, 2017.
Hon Members, as you are aware, in terms of Articles 86 (1) and 9 (2) of the Constitution, the President is required to at least twice in every year, attend and address the National Assembly and at least once in every year, report to the National Assembly the progress made in the application of the constitutional values and principles; respectively. Thus in compliance with Article 9(2) of the Constitution, His Excellency Mr Edgar C Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia, attended and addressed the House on Friday 17th March, 2017.
Prior to the address, on Thursday, 16th March, 2017, the Office of the Government Chief Whip, in keeping with the custom, issued a circular to all Hon Members of Parliament, reminding them of the parliamentary etiquette that was to be observed during the address, and also underscored the fact that the Presidential Address was a solemn occasion, and requested members to be seated in the House by 08:30 hours on Friday, 17th March, 2017.
In addition, on the same day, Thursday, 16th March, 2017, the House resolved through a Motion moved by Her Honour the Vice-President to suspend the relevant Standing Orders relating to the sitting times of the House on Fridays, in order to accommodate the Presidential Address. This motion was paradoxically supported by two Hon Members of the UPND, who not only concurred with the motion, but also made some proposals on what should be contained in the President’s speech. Yet, as it eventually turned out, the 48 UPND Members, including the two, that supported the motion, stayed away from the sitting of the House on Friday, 17th March, 2017, without my, or indeed, the Government Chief Whip’s, permission.
Consequently, in keeping with parliamentary practice and procedure and observance of the rules of natural justice, I directed the Office of the Clerk, to write to the 48 UPND Members of Parliament requesting them to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against them for their unauthorised absence from the House on Friday, 17th March, 2017.
The Members of Parliament elected to respond through their lawyers, Messrs PNP Advocates. In their response, the lawyers said that since the subject matter canvassed by the charge letters was pending before the High Court in the case of Geoffrey Lungwangwa and Stephen Katuka v Attorney General 2017/HP/0426, as well as in an action initiated by Mr Richard Mumba in the Constitutional Court, they were unable to respond to the charges. Further, they contended that the matters were sub judice, and threatened to cite me, the Clerk and the Principal Clerk of Journals and Legal Services, for contempt of Court.
Hon Members will recall that on 23rd September, 2016, the UPND Members, together of course, with rest of the House, took their seats after taking oath of office in which they swore allegiance to the President, as required by Article 260 of the Constitution. To be sure, according to the Black Law’s Dictionary, Ninth Edition, at page 1176, “oath of allegiance” is defined as an oath by which one promises to maintain fidelity to a particular sovereign or government. Therefore, by taking the oath of allegiance, the UPND Members are expected to be respectful to the Head of State and Government. Therefore, by boycotting the presence of the President in the House, when they previously swore allegiance to the President, the Members were being disloyal, disobedient and in fact, violated their oath of office.
Further, it is instructive to note that Article 110 (1) of the Constitution provides that there shall be a Vice-President of the Republic who shall be the running mate to a presidential candidate in a presidential election. The import of this constitutional provision is that the vote given to a presidential candidate, counts also for the running mate.
Hon Members, it is, therefore, very strange and illogical, that while the UPND Members boycott the presence of the President in the House, because they are impeaching his election to the office of the President, they complacently, comfortably and completely, adjust to the presence of the Vice-President in the House, who in the August 13, 2016 Presidential election, was elected into office by virtue of the vote given to the President. And, further they freely participate in the proceedings of the House in which the Vice-President heads the government, and responds to their questions; and all other manner of holding the executive branch of government to account, especially Friday’s Vice-President’s question time. Hon Members, it is therefore my considered view that the continued boycott of the President’s presence in the House by the UPND members is rationally inexplicable and morally unjustifiable.
In any event, Zambia has a duly elected President who was declared as such by the Electoral Commission of Zambia, and sworn into office on 13th September, 2016, albeit the UPND launched an unsuccessful petition challenging the election of the President in the Constitutional Court; a court which in terms of Article 128(1) of the Constitution, enjoys original and final jurisdiction in a matter of this nature.
Following his swearing in, the President in turn swore me as Speaker. And I in turn, swore in all the Members of Parliament. Furthermore, the President appointed Ministers who represent the executive branch of government in the House, and with whom the UPND members, amongst others, engage with in the business of the House. Therefore, if the UPND Members believe that the President was not duly elected, and do not recognise him as such, then they should not have taken the oath of allegiance in the first place, and consequently their seats. However, by taking the oath of office, the corollary is that they ought to recognise Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, as the duly elected President of the Republic of Zambia in the August 2016 Presidential Election. In any event, there can be no Vice-President elected, Speaker, and Deputy Speakers assuming office, Ministers of government appointed and assuming office. And all Members of Parliament assuming office, without a legally and duly elected President. Simply put, there can be no functioning government without a duly elected President. I therefore, challenge the UPND Members that if they still maintain that they do not recognise the President, they should resign on moral grounds.
Hon Members, I now turn to the punishment to met out against the erring 48 UPND Members. As the House will recall, when I reprimanded the 54 UPND Members on 21st December, 2016, I was very categorical that should any Member in future elect to conduct himself/herself in that fashion, stiffer punishment would be meted out against such Member. In this regard, I have had recourse to section 28 of the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act, Chapter 12 of the Laws of Zambia, as amended by the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) (Amendment) Act No. 13 of 2016, which provides for disciplinary powers of the Assembly. Section 28 provides as follows:
“28. (1) Where a member is found to have committed a contempt of the Assembly, whether specified in section nineteen or otherwise, the Speaker, the Committee on Privileges or a select committee appointed under subsection (6) may impose any one or more of the following penalties:
(a) a formal warning;
(b) an admonition;
(c) a reprimand; and
(d) an order directing the member to apologise to the Assembly, in a manner determined by the Assembly.
(2) Where a member is found to have committed contempt of the Assembly of a serious nature and none of the other penalties are sufficient for the contempt committed by the member, the Speaker shall, on the resolution of the Assembly, suspend the member from the Assembly for a period not exceeding thirty days.”
Hon Members, taking into account the seriousness of the offence committed by the 48 UPND Members, and in view of my earlier warning that I would impose a stiffer penalty against a Member who would boycott a Presidential Address to the House, I have, in exercise of my powers under section 28 (2) of the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act decided to suspend the 48 UPND Members of Parliament from the service of the National Assembly for a period of thirty (30) days, with effect from today, the 13th June, 2017.
Thus, in accordance with section 28 (2) of the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act, which requires a resolution of the House to suspend a Member from the House, I now put the Question: The Question is, that the House accordingly suspends the 48 UPND Members for a period of thirty (30) days with effect from 13th June 2017.
As many as are of that opinion say ‘Aye’;
Of the contrary say ‘No’;
I think the ‘Ayes’ have it. The House resolves accordingly.
I now turn to address the 48 UPND Members before they take the walk of shame through the main entrance door of the Chamber.
Let me inform you that your conduct of boycotting the President’s Address as a way of protest was unjustified and unbefitting the conduct of a Member of Parliament. The President is the head of State and government, and you took oaths of allegiance. By so doing, you are expected to be respectful to the President. This is a House of honour, decorum and dignity. I am, therefore, duty bound to ensure that the honour, decorum and dignity of the House is protected and preserved at all times. I wish to reiterate that I will not tolerate gross indiscipline, and misconduct from any Member.
Finally, I wish to inform you that in accordance with section 28 (3) of the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act, during the period of your suspension, you shall not:
(1) enter the precincts of the Assembly and this extends to the National Assembly Motel;
(2) participate in any business or activity of the House or a committee that you assigned in, in your capacity as Members of the National Assembly; and
(3) be paid a salary or allowance that you are entitled to as a Member.
I now order you, 48 UPND Members to leave the Chamber through the Main Entrance of the Chamber, on thirty (30) days suspension as resolved by the House.
I thank you.
To be announced on: Tuesday, 13th June 2017
Copies to: Clerk’s office (2)
Chief Hansard Editor (2)