Aug 2, 2012

Deficiencies in reporting

Over the last few months Zambia’s Registrar of Societies, Clement Andeleki, has become something of a superstar. He vaulted to fame this past March when he de-registered the former ruling party MMD for non-payment of fees dating back to 1993. This de-registration put at risk the 53 parliamentary seats the party held at the time. The issue has since been taken to court.

Before I continue "societies" are any club, company, partnership or other associations of ten or more persons, whatever its nature or object. This does not include companies registered under the Companies Act, Trade Unions registered under the provisions of the Industrial and Labour Relations Act or co-operative societies registered under the provisions of the Co-operative Societies Act. 

Since March Andeleki has held one press briefing after another updating the public on other societies that are in danger of being de-registered; most are high profile societies such as the Press Association of Zambia. It’s all quite interesting.

What caught my attention yesterday is the recent deregistration of a local church based in Lusaka. This particular church is not exactly one of the bastions most Lusaka residents know about because of their large congregations, expensive buildings or super flamboyant pastors. Rather, this church has recently been in the news because its Bishop has been linked to the murder of a young college student.

Registrar Andeleki announced that the church was being deregistered because of the criminal investigation of the Bishop, and the church should use this as an opportunity to “prove their innocence.” When I read this I was struck by how improper it all sounded, and subsequently went looking for the statutory language which pertains to Societies.

A few clicks later I had at my fingertips the Societies Act Chapter 119 of the Laws of Zambia, and familiarized myself with the provisions that allow the Registrar to cancel registration of any society. And as I suspected under section 13 “Cancellation of registration” there is no mention that alleged crimes committed by leaders or members could be used as grounds for deregistration.

Now, I stand to be corrected in case I missed something in my reading of this law. With that said, I’m thoroughly disappointed that the handful of media outlets that carried this story made no mention of the clause the Registrar used to arrive at his decision. Did anyone ask the question at the media briefing, or were they simply there to write down his statements verbatim without questioning his rationale?

Surely issues such as this need greater probing to ensure that the letter of the law is being followed and groups aren’t being unfairly targeted by overzealous government officials? It is my hope that the aggrieved Mount Zion Spiritual Church seeks legal advice and appeals this decision because from what I can see, this was a poorly thought out decision with unfortunate consequences for church members. 


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