The Consumer Unit and Trust Society (CUTS) Zambia has made a submission before the before the parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill No. 10 of 2019, saying the Head of State cannot be responsible for negotiating, ratifying, acceding or withdrawing from international agreements as this would mean National Assembly will have no say or oversight over deals that would potentially bind the Zambian people to debt.
The organization stated that the proposal to delete parts of Article 63 of the Constitution of Zambia would mean parliament would stop approving debt contraction, adding that this would weaken the system of checks and balances.
“Section 13 of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill seeks to delete paragraphs (d) and (e) of Article 63 (2) of the Constitution of Zambia Act No. 2 of 2016 [to] remove National Assembly’s ability to approve public debt before it is contracted and approved; and international agreements and treaties before these are acceded to or ratified is removed. This proposed provision weakens the system of checks and balances and restricts transparency in the contraction of debt. At present, in addition to providing oversight, the process of submitting agreements to National Assembly allows public scrutiny through National Assembly’s consultative meetings with stakeholders. The proposed amendments would therefore mean agreements are secret and confidential and therefore not available for public scrutiny. Section 26 of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill proposes to amend Article 92 (b) by making the President responsible for negotiating, ratifying, acceding or withdrawing from international agreements. This means that National Assembly will have no say or oversight over agreements that would potentially bind the Zambian people to debt. This provision, by removing the requirement of National Assembly approval, implies that National Assembly will have no oversight over debt contraction particularly foreign debt,” CUTS stated.
It stated the proposed amendments to make the approval of public debt a function of Cabinet not only breached the principle of separation of powers but also remove any transparency and public accountability over the contraction of public loans and debt.
“The quorum for a Cabinet decision is the President plus one minister or Vice-President. This means that in effect, the proposed amendments allow the President with one other member of Cabinet to approve loans or guarantees contracted by the state or state institutions. When considered with the other proposed amendments relating to public finance management, the amendments mean that the Executive will be free to borrow and use public finance in a manner that is not transparent and will not be held accountable because of the weakened systems and public accountability institutions. The need for strong systems to monitor debt contraction and the need for parliamentary oversight in Zambia is reflected in reports from both the Government as well as international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In the 2017 National Debt Strategy, the Ministry of Finance recommended that Parliament’s oversight over debt contraction be strengthened by enhancing the legal and institutional framework,” CUTS stated.