Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba yesterday gave the clearest indication that acting Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda will continue in her office despite the parliamentary select committee rejecting her name after being clearly challenged on matters. Kabimba, an advocate of the High Court, sounded more layman than the highly articulate Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda of the Heritage Party.
And Brig Gen Godfrey Miyanda asked an emotionally charged Kabimba to say where Patriotic Front President Michael Sata, then MMD top official, was when Dr Kenneth Kaunda was barred from contesting the 1996 general elections by the then MMD government.
Featuring on Cross Fire Blog Radio that was also broadcast on ZNBC Radio Two, Kabimba said Chibesakunda could act until seven years insisting that despite being over age she would stay in office.
Kabimba said the Patriotic Front government would wait until Chibesakunda’s name was taken to the floor in the house for debate that is when they would give it up.
“It is not correct to say the select committee has the final powers. The power they have is delegated and if a name is given to them they can make a recommendation either in the positive or negative but to reject a name at that stage is premature,” he said.
But Miyanda challenged Kabimba why the PF took the name of an individual who did not qualify from the onset to avoid controversy.
Miyanda said the President had the constitutional option to present as many as three names if they were rejected successively with the third automatically going through if the individual met the threshold.
The former Vice President made a meal out of the Justice Minister and challenged Kabimba to state why Chibesakunda had been asked to act in her position for more than one year.
“Everybody has spoken, you (Kabimba) have just pronounced now that the Chief Justice is acting, why has she been acting for more than a year?” General Miyanda asked as Kabimba responded, “Why not? Where does it say?”
Miyanda said, “It is conventional, even conventional wisdom does not permit a person to act [that long] that is why you have complaints of civil servants who are acting for so long. I do not think that it is proper for you to say the Chief Justice is acting when there is need to send another name to parliament. Why are you not sending another name to parliament? Are you going to send another name to parliament or not we want to know?”
He challenged Kabimba to cite the constitution in his debate.
“With regard to the acting Chief Justice, if he can cite provisions and draw my attention to it I will withdraw my complaint. I have not come across a provision where it says you can be indefinitely acting. Why should you act? There are many lawyers in the country, there are many highly qualified people,” he said.
“The select committee established that she did not meet the threshold. There is no need for them to take to parliament.”
Miyanda further said, assuming they take the name to parliament and they vote and those who want her win despite her not qualifying, you will create a constitutional crisis because she does not qualify. So there is no need to take names to parliament which do not meet the threshold.”
Kabimba, realising he was not matching constitutional arguments with a fellow panelist, claimed he would not delve into the constitution as it was above the comprehension of General Miyanda and the listeners.
“I am avoiding deliberately getting in the constitution. I would not want to bore the listeners, I want to give the listeners a lay man’s version so that they are able to follow the argument and participate in it,” he said.
“If we get into the niceties of interpreting the provisions General Miyanda does NOT EVEN have the SKILLS to interpret the constitution. He is NOT qualified to do that and that is the problem you have in this country everybody is qualified in everything. No sir I am not a soldier myself so I cannot advise you on how to command a platoon.”
At this stage Miyanda handed Kabimba a copy of the constitution which the Justice Minister refused to get insisting that he was more knowledgeable at law having obtained a law degree.
“If you are not a lawyer you will not know, seek the services of a lawyer. You can go on contract but these contracts should not go beyond seven years. That is what the law provides. Judge Chibesakunda is within this parameter. She is over 65 but she is entitled to this period of being on contract,” he said.
Under pressure Kabimba stuck to his degree line, “This is not a contestation about opinions. I am more qualified to understand these things than you sir. Just like you are more qualified than me on military issues, but certainly I could not have spent five years at the university and you spent one year reading law.”
On the attempts to bar candidates whose seats were nullified, Miyanda said as long as they were not prosecuted of corruption or reports made to the Electoral Commission, the candidates were within their right to re-contest their seats.
“The person has to be convicted or a report submitted and in the case before us no such thing has happened,” he said.
He advised Kabimba to exercise restraint in the manner he conducted himself.
“The executive must resist from attacking the ECZ in the manner that destroys the confidence that they have,” Miyanda said.
“Your office minister of Justice is too strategic to be the one that issues out statements of that nature. I think you must restrain yourself. Whatever you say will be interpreted in a certain manner so you should be the last person to be condemning ECZ.”
However, Kabimba opted to mock General Miyanda: “I want to say this with the greatest respect to General Miyanda he does not participate in elections. His party has no capacity to participate in any election. The problems that we encounter in the field he does not know, he has no councillor, no MP so he is academic about these issues.”
He further said, “THE PF government has done far much better in terms of governance than the MMD did. General Miyanda was in the MMD government when they barred Kaunda from standing as a candidate for UNIP.
“This is the man who is pontificating here today, being self righteous that he believes in democracy. He was in the MMD government that barred Kenneth Kaunda from standing because of self preservation,” Kabimba said as General Miyanda asked, “Where was Sata?”
Kabimba suddenly went mum when he was questioned about President Sata’s whereabouts when the MMD barred Kaunda in 1996.