Ruling By The Hon Mr Speaker On A Point Of Order Raised By Mr G G Nkombo, Member Of Parliament For Mazabuka Central Parliamentary Constituency, Against Dr J Chanda, Member Of Parliament For Bwana Mkubwa Parliamentary Constituency On Tuesday, 20th February



Hon Members will recall that on Tuesday, 20th February, 2018, when the House was considering Question for Oral Answer No. 105 on the Order Paper, and the Hon Member of Parliament for Bweengwa Parliamentary Constituency, Mr K S Michelo, MP, was on the floor, Mr G G Nkombo, Member of Parliament for Mazabuka Central Parliamentary Constituency raised a Point of Order.


In the Point of Order, Mr Nkombo, MP, referred to an article published in the Zambia Daily Mail of Tuesday, 20th February, 2018 and a video clip of Dr J Chanda, MP, addressing the Patriotic Front Interactive Forum on the National Health Insurance Bill which was being considered by the Committee on Health, Community Development and Social Services. In addition, Mr Nkombo, MP, made reference to a letter from the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) addressed to all Members of Parliament regarding the National Health Insurance Bill.


Mr Nkombo, MP, specifically asked whether Dr Chanda, MP, who was a member of the Committee considering the Bill, was in order to campaign for the Bill when he knew very well that the proceedings of the Committee were supposed to be confidential until the Committee had tabled its report in the House.


Hon Members, on the same day, my office received a letter of complaint from the Zambia Federation of Employers relating to the same matter.  The Federation expressed shock that soon after it made its submission to the Committee considering the Bill, Dr Chanda, MP, went to the media to campaign for the Bill before its report was tabled in the House, and yet he was a member of the Committee considering the Bill.


In my immediate response to the Point of Order, I reserved the ruling to enable me study the matter and render an informed ruling. I now wish to render the ruling.


Hon Members, the Point of Order relates to a Member of Parliament publicly commenting on a matter under consideration by a Committee to which he or she is a member before the report of the Committee is tabled.


The National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act, Chapter 12 of the Laws of Zambia prohibits Members of Parliament from disclosing information submitted to the Assembly before it has been laid on the table of the House.


In this regard, section 25 (c) provides as follows:


“25 (c) Any person who publishes, save by general or special leave of the Assembly, any paper, report or other document prepared expressly for submission to the Assembly before the same has been laid on the Table of the Assembly shall be guilty of an offence.”


Also, Chapter Ten of the National Assembly Members’ Handbook, 2006, at page 51 in paragraph “o” provides:


All Committee reports are confidential until the Report is tabled.”


In addition, M N Kaul and S L Shakdher, the learned authors of Practice and Procedure in Parliament, Seventh Edition, (New Delhi, Lok Sabha, 2016) state at page 308 as follows:


“It is a breach of privilege and contempt of the House to publish any part of the proceedings or evidence given before, or any document presented to a Parliamentary Committee before such proceedings, or evidence or documents have been reported to the House.”


Further, at page 309 of the same book, the Committee of Privileges of Lok Sabha is reported to have re-stated this position in the Indian case of Sundaraya, when it stated as follows:


“It is in accordance with the law and practice of the privileges of Parliament that while a Committee of Parliament is holding its sittings from day to day, its proceedings should not be published nor any documents or papers which may have been presented to the Committee or the conclusions to which it may have arrived at referred to in the Press…


It is highly desirable that no person, including a Member of Parliament or Press, should, without proper verification, make or publish a statement or comment about any matter which is under consideration or investigation by a Committee of Parliament.”  


All the foregoing authorities point to the fact that, prior to a report being tabled in the House, a Member cannot divulge information that he or she receives by virtue of being a member of the Committee or comment publicly on a matter before a Committee without obtaining permission from the House.


Hon Members, it is common knowledge that the Constitution under Article 89, now requires the National Assembly to facilitate public involvement in the legislative process. It is also a well known fact that the National Assembly does this through referring Bills to Committees after the First Reading Stage, and inviting the public to submit on them. In addition, Bills are uploaded on the National Assembly website. More importantly, the proceedings of Committees considering Bills are broadcast on both Parliament Radio and Parliament TV. All these measures ensure the public is kept informed on Bills before the House.


Hon Members, I am aware that as the people’s representatives, Members of Parliament have a role to sensitise their constituents and the public at large on the contents and ramifications of Bills that come before the House. However, the timing at which this is done is key. This is particularly so for members sitting on the Committee considering the Bill.


As you are well aware, before a Bill is brought to the House, it is published in the Government Gazette. That makes it a public document and members can, at that time, freely sensitise the public on its content. However, once a Bill has been referred to a Committee in which you are a member, you cannot, without leave of the House, divulge information on the Committee’s deliberations on the Bill to the public or publicly comment on a Bill being considered by a Committee before its report is tabled in the House.  In this regard, a member of a Committee who, while the Committee is considering a matter, goes to a public forum to discuss it runs the risk of falling foul of section 25 (c).


In the instant case, the National Health Insurance Bill was published in the Government Gazette on Wednesday, 6th December, 2017 through Gazette Notice No. 863 of 2017.  On Friday 8th December, 2017 the Bill was read the first time and referred to the Committee on Health, Community Development and Social Services for consideration. The Committee considered the Bill from 9th to 16th February, 2018. Thus, the Committee adopted its report on Friday 16th February, 2018. The report was tabled in the House on Monday 26th February, 2016.


Hon Members, looking at this timeline, it is evident that Dr J Chanda, MP, had sufficient time to sensitise the public on the Bill before the Committee commenced its sittings. This is because the Bill was gazetted on 6th December, 2017, and the Committee only began sitting on 9th February, 2018, which is exactly two (2) months later. It is further evident that by the time the Hon Member addressed the PF Interactive Forum on Monday, 19th February, 2018, the Committee had concluded receiving evidence from witnesses and had adopted its report. He, in this regard, went to a public forum to canvass support for the Bill, knowing well that the Committee did not support the Bill and had recommended that it be deferred for further consultations.


Hon Members, I carefully reviewed the documents and the video in the flash disk laid on the table by Mr G G Nkombo, MP. The video clip shows Dr Chanda, MP, addressing a Patriotic Front Forum and urging the attendees to support the National Health Insurance Bill.  As a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, it was most inappropriate for him to go to a public forum to solicit support for the Bill, after all the witnesses that had been invited by the Committee had made their submissions and before the Committee’s report was tabled. Dr Chanda, MP, ought to know that commenting on the proceedings of a committee before its report is tabled is an offence under section 25 (c) of the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.


Hon Members, in view of the foregoing, I find Dr Chanda, MP, in breach of parliamentary privilege and in contempt of the House. While this is an offence under section 25 (c) of the Act and a serious breach of the rules of the House, I recognise the fact that Dr J Chanda, MP, is a first offender. In this regard, I have decided to exercise leniency and admonish him in accordance with section 28 (1) (b) of the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.


I now order you, Dr J Chanda, MP, to stand in your place. 


Dr J Chanda, your conduct of addressing a public forum on a Bill before the House while you were a Member of the Committee considering the Bill and before the Committee’s report could  be tabled in the House was a breach of parliamentary privileges and a contempt of the House.  As a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, you had full knowledge of the stakeholders’ and Committee’s sentiments on the Bill. It was, therefore, extremely inappropriate for you to address a public forum to solicit support for the Bill. The House is, in this regard, extremely disappointed with your conduct.  It is hoped that, in future, you will endeavour to abide by the rules of this House and avoid such conduct.  Please, bear in mind that a repetition of such conduct will attract a stiffer penalty.


I thank you

Ruling Date: 
Thursday, March 15, 2018