Bemoaning Dichotomous Court Rulings

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By Godfrey Chitalu

Author Godfrey Chitalu

What happens when someone is not satisfied with a ruling by the Constitutional Court? To answer this question, there is need to lay down the marker. Our country is governed by four superior courts; High Court, Court of Appeal, Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, with the last two enjoying similar status and hierarchy, despite having different functions. For the quarter, to say there are various levels of dichotomy in their rulings would be an understatement. I will discuss this respectively without casting any aspersions. My opinion is that a theoretical case taken to the four courts at the same time might just yield different judgments.

Our Constitutional Court was established under Article 127 of the constitution of Zambia. Since it was envisaged to be at par with the Supreme Court, its rulings therefore have no room for appeals. Decisions of this court, no matter how we cry over them cannot be appealed in any other courts. Rational or otherwise, popular or not our only recourse as citizens perhaps is to seek to expunge some bad laws from our statutes.

It is therefore an exercise in futility for me to start lamenting the latest decision of this constitutional supreme court in regard to Nkunika versus Nyirenda and the Electoral Commission of Zambia. For the uninformed, their ruling on the minimum academic qualification needed for one to contest as Member of Parliament has set tongues wagging. Primarily it was because not long ago, another case called Sibongile Zulu versus Attorney General in the lower High Court, ruled seemingly in favor of the masses. There were celebrations after the ruling.

Masses overwhelmingly endorsed the Sibongile Zulu ruling that interpreted Grade 12 certificate as a minimum requirement for the road to Manda hill. It left room for people with other higher qualifications like Trades certificates to vie for leadership. The new ruling, with a 3-2 majority, seem to cement the fact that Grade 12 certificate is the alpha and omega for anyone wanting to be called Honorable. The new ruling was not well received. For the vast majority of Zambians who skipped Grade 12 for myriad reasons, all their Manda Hill dreams have henceforth evaporated.

I won’t belabor the point that the High Court ruling in this case was better received by our people than the one from the Constitutional Court. I won’t even catalog the goodness of the High Court ruling because these rulings by two courts exhibited high levels of dichotomy. So we have no options but to go with the ruling that our kith and kin who have no Grade 12 certificates will have to wait until the issue is resolved. I bet this is proper “ku wire”.

Now the Electoral Commission of Zambia as usual are being naïve by insisting that every person who wants to contest elections must have their Grade 12 results verified by Examinations Council of Zambia. This intercourse has created the Electoral and Examination Commotion of Zambia. In the 21st century, office aspirants must be left to submit any documents during elections including fake ones. The law ultimately catches up with anyone who messes up with it. Why should we let aspiring councilors in remote areas risk their lives? Are elections only for the connected and affluent?

This single decision by Electoral Commission of Zambia has and will disenfranchise a lot of rural aspirants. Why do we make a mountain out of a molehill? Isn’t one ambiguous ruling not enough? Don’t we have relevant law enforcers who can be relied upon once someone presents fake papers.

Is certification using courts not enough? There is electronic inspection of voters cards – why didn’t we invest in electronic verification of Grade 12 certificates? Should people suffer because of our incompetence? In this electronic era why do we allow such setbacks for people aspiring for political offices. As if having a Grade 12 certificate is not hard enough manje mufuna na verification! Don’t we know that this time around, most places in Western, Luapula, Northern and parts of Lusaka are flooded? Do we think about Namushakende, Luano, Kazembe, Mwanya, Lunzua, Mushindamo and related remote areas when making decisions?

Don’t we have any semblance of sympathy and empathy for hundreds of our people who will be affected by this poor decision? Didn’t we learn any lessons from verification of Grade 12 certificates during the last elections? Should the status quo continue to benefit a few?

The author is a social commentator who writes for pleasure.

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