CTPD Board condemns detention of its staff and five Pastors over Budget meeting

The Board of the Centre for Trade Policy and Development has condemned the action by police in Ndola who detained police its members of staff and five Pastors recently.

And the CTPD Board has charged that Copperbelt Police Commissioner Charity Katanga is being untruthful over the information she is releasing regarding the matter.

In a statement, CTPD Board Chairman Isaac Mundia said the detention of the staff and the Ndola pastors on the 19th of October 2018 when they hosted a meeting on the proposed 2019 National Budget is unacceptable.

Mr Mundia started that CTPD is disturbed to learn that the gathering of citizens to discuss the proposed 2019 National Budget is now unlawful in Zambia.

“It is common cause that a proposed National Budget is subject to public scrutiny and it is in that regard that it is generally expected that citizens will provide input into the budget before and after the budget formulation,” he said.

Mr Mundia said the organization was and still remain shocked to receive a report that a meeting convened to deliberate on the proposed national budget was disrupted by police officers who, in its opinion, did not undertake the necessary due diligence to ascertain the nature of the meeting but moved quickly to disrupt the meeting.

“As a Board, we are concerned that instead of promoting more dialogue and constructive debate around issues of national concern, the Zambia Police is taking away even the limited space where citizens can engage and share their views on matters of National importance,” he said.

“It is very unfortunate that a meeting organized at the request of church leaders who are looking for positive ways to contribute to the resolution of some of the challenges that this country is facing, inter allia illicit financial flows through tax avoidance and evasion could be construed as illegal or an intention on our part and the church leaders to commit a crime.”

He added, “At a time that our country is facing financial challenges, citizen’s interest and commitment to support domestic resource mobilization needs to be appreciated and encouraged by all well- meaning Zambians.”

“We understand that the police action may have been out of paranoia and suspicion which is totally unfounded given the nature of work that CTPD undertakes. The aforesaid is well known and a quick search on the internet would have confirmed this. What is more worrying is the continued misinformation from the Copperbelt Province Police Command that the meeting was a political meeting?”

Mr Mundia said CTPD has also read a number of untrue and misconstrued statements from the Copperbelt Province Police Command which include an assertion that the organization had gone to beg the Copperbelt Provincial Minister for forgiveness.

“We would like to make it very clear that at no point did any member of the CTPD Board or staff meet either the Minister or the Copperbelt or the Copperbelt police commissioner to beg for lenience.On the other hand, the decision to accept paying a fine alluded to by Mrs. Katanga in her statement issued to the news diggers on the 29th of October, 2019 for a lesser charge of conduct likely to cause the breach of peace as opposed to the initial charge of unlawful assembly with Intent to commit a crime under section 174 of the Penal Code was arrived at following consultations we had with the church leaders and families of the affected staff from CTPD.”

“In the premise, the decision to allow our staff to accept the charge of conduct standing was arrived at after taking into consideration their concerns and the trauma that their families endured during their incarceration for simply discussing a public document,” he said.

“It is pertinent to mention that our staff members were the accused persons in the matter and not CTPD as an entity. Therefore, their view on the matter was of paramount importance and had to be respected. CTPD has a duty to protect the interest of its employees.”

He continued, “Notwithstanding the considerations alluded to in the immediate preceding paragraph, CTPD would like to make it clear that the acceptance of the lesser charge by our members of staff should by no means be construed as an acceptance on our part that the meeting was political as alleged or at all.”

He said, “CTPD was and is ready to defend its core objective and mandate of providing alternative policy thinking through empirical research and analysis before any competent court of law. In light of the foregoing, CTPD reiterates that there was no illegality or any malice in having the meeting with the Ndola faith leaders. This is the work CTPD undertakes in line with its core objective and mandate aforesaid.”

“The public may wish to know that the presentation that was to be made at meeting in issue was the same presentation CTPD recently presented and submitted to the expanded parliamentary committee for budget estimates on the 8th of October, 2018 as well as the NGO Wash Forum held on the 9th of October, 2018 at Intercontinental Hotel. It is the same presentation CTPD shared at a public forum it hosted focusing on Public Investments towards Children’s rights held at Southern Sun Hotel on the 5th of October, 2018,” he stated.

“The question that begs is why were these meetings not deemed political in all these forums? If the police command say they were tipped off by one of the participants who became uncomfortable with what was being discussed, why didn’t they come to sit in through the meeting as provided for in the same law they were citing when dispersing the meeting?”

“The police command claim that the meeting had started digressing from discussing the budget to other things, since when did the police become moderators of public discussions for them to determine specific direction a conversation should take?”

Mr Mundia said it is for this reason that the Board stands with management and staff of CTPD and will continue to support them and the Ndola faith leaders to ensure that they work towards building a society where the rights of citizens to assemble, associate and express are respected.

He said CTPD is not inclined to any political party adding that it’s core mandate as alluded to is to provide alternative policy thinking through empirical research and analysis Based on findings.

“We then engage all relevant stakeholders including the Government to provide information that would help promote effective citizen engagement on policy related matters, this was one of those meetings. We would like to thank all people and organizations that came through to support us during this trying time and it is our prayer that this does not happen to any citizen as it is an infringement on human rights Zambia as a democratic country should work towards building a more tolerant society, one that accommodates divergent views as a key to promoting active citizen participation in the governance of the country.”

He added, “To the Church, we still remain committed to working with you and in helping you effectively participate in policy processes.”

Source: Lusaka Times

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