Zambian cabinet resumes sittings
by Afrique en ligne
The Zambian cabinet has resumed sittings under the chairmanship of Vice President Rupiah Banda, after President Levy Mwanawasa was hospitalised a week ago with acute hypertension. Defence Minister George Mpombo revealed in Lusaka that cabinet began meeting under chairmanship of Banda, after it was realised that Mwanawasa might take long to recuperate.
"I want to report to the nation that as cabinet we have begun meeting under the chairmanship of Vce President Banda. I want to report also that there is total unity in cabinet and that Vice President Banda has been chairing these meetings in an able and efficient manner," Mpombo said.
Under the Zambian law, 'whenever the President is absent from Zambia or considers it desirable so to do by reason of illness or for any other cause, he may by direction in writing, authorise the Vice President...to discharge such functions of the office of President as he may specify and the Vice President or such other person may discharge those functions until his authority is revoked by the President.'
However, if the President is in such a state of incapacity, either by reason of physical or mental infirmity, of discharging the functions of his office and the infirmity is of such a nature that the President is unable to authorise another person in writing then the Vice President shall perform the functions of the office of the president.
So far, however, neither the Zambian cabinet nor the Zambian parliament has been able to show indications that they may even remotely consider the possibility of declaring a vacancy in the office of president.
Under the country's law, a vacancy can be created in the office of President if under section (1) '...it is resolved by a majority of all the members of the cabinet that the question of the physical or mental capacity of the President to discharge the functions of his office ought to be investigated and they so inform the chief justice,' who in turn will appoint a board consisting of not less than three medical practitioners to inquire into the matter and report to the Chief Justice on whether or not the president is, by reason of any infirmity of body or mind, incapable of discharging the functions of his office.
'If the board reports that the President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office, the chief justice will then certify in writing...and shall table such certificate before the national assembly who shall on a motion, passed by a two thirds majority ratify the decision of the board and thereupon the President shall cease to hold office.'
The assembly can also reject the decision of the board and cause a further inquiry into whether or not the President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office.
For the time being, however, there has been no indication that cabinet is in a hurry to declare Mwanawasa's office vacant since his ministers have so far shown unalloyed loyalty to him.
It is also unlikely that parliament, which is now in recess and is expected to resume sittings 5 August, will be able to raise this thorny question.
Before taking ill, President Mwanawasa and Michael Sata, leader of the powerful Patriotic Front, which has the second largest number of legislators in parliament, had become friends to the extent that when news of Mwansawasa's illness was announced, Sata declared his intention to travel to Paris to see the patient.
He was only stopped by stringent health restrictions placed around Mwanawasa at the Percy Military Hospital in Paris by French authorities.
Vice President Banda has also admitted that he is in the saddle and that he is coping well.
"As government we are moving forward and though my workload is heavier now, I am coping well under the circumstances," he said.
Doctors treating Mwanawasa on Monday performed a minor operation that will ease his breathing, and Vice President Banda reported in Lusaka that the condition of the President has noticeably improved though he is still in the intensive care unit.
First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa is among those who have been with the President from the time he was taken to hospital in Egypt, where the President took ill just before the opening of the last AU summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh