A. Nature and description of emergency COVID-19 measures
Section 9 of the Zambia Public Health Act empowers the Minister to by statutory notice declare any infectious disease as notifiable diseases under the Act. Pursuant to section 9 of the Zambia Public Health Act, the Zambian Minister of Health on 13 March 2020 through the Public Health (Notifiable Title Infectious Disease) (Declaration) Notice, 2020 declared the coronavirus as a notifiable disease under the Public Health Act. Although the bulk of the measures taken by the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be done without specific regulatory frameworks, some regulations were issued by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health.
- The Public Health (infected areas) (coronavirus disease 2019) regulations, 2020
The Public Health (Infected Areas) (Coronavirus Disease 2019) Regulations, 2020 was issued by the Minister of Health on 13 March 2020 pursuant to sections 28, 30 and 114 of the Public Health Act. The Regulation allows the Ministry of Health to convert a suitable building to a hospital, observation camp or station for the purpose of placing a person suffering or suspected to be suffering from, or who has been in contact with a person suffering from COVID-19. The Regulation also permits an authorized officer to enter premises to search for a case of COVID-19 or to enquire whether there is or has been a case of COVID-19. The Regulation also conferred a duty on a person who becomes aware or has reason to suspect that another person has died or is suffering from COVID-19 to immediately inform the nearest authorised officer in a local authority or a public health facility.
- Customs and excise (copper ores and concentrates) (import duty) (suspension) regulations, 2020
The Customs and Excise (Copper Ores and Concentrates) (Import Duty) (Suspension) Regulations, 2020 was issued by the Minister of Finance on 27 April 2020. The Regulation was made to be retroactively effective from 1 April 2020. The Regulation suspended to free, the export customs duty payable on copper ores and concentrates of heading 26.03.
- Customs and excise (customs duty) (suspension) (medical supplies) regulations, 2020
The Customs and Excise (Customs Duty) (Suspension) (Medical Supplies) Regulations, 2020, was issued by the Minister of Finance on 27 April 2020. The Regulation suspended the custom duty on certain products like Alcohol Solution undenatured 80% by volume, Alcohol Solution Undenatured, 75% ethyl alcohol, Wadding, gauze, bandages, cotton sticks and similar articles, hand sanitiser; other disinfectant preparations; hydrogen peroxide put up as a disinfectant preparations for cleaning surfaces; another chemical disinfectant, plastic face shields; plastic gloves; protective garments made from plastic sheeting, other rubber gloves, paper bed sheets, knitted or crocheted gloves which have been impregnated or covered etc. The regulation was made to be retroactively effective from 1 April 2020 and revoked on 30 September 2020.
- Customs and excise (ethyl alcohol) (refunds, rebates and remissions) regulations, 2020
The Customs and Excise (Ethyl Alcohol) (Refunds, Rebates and Remissions) Regulations, 2020 was issued by the Minister of Finance on 27 April 2020. The Regulations permit a refund or remission of the whole duty paid or payable shall be granted on ethyl alcohol if such ethyl alcohol is used solely for the manufacture of sanitisers. In order for remission to be granted on excise duty, the product must be: imported directly by an approved manufacturer in accordance with set criteria; bought directly from a licensed local manufacturer; taken out of a bonded warehouse in accordance with regulation 53 of the Customs and Excise (General) Regulations, 2000 [S.I. No. 54 of 2000]; or removed from one authorised user to another authorised user. The Regulation also permitted a refund or remission of the whole duty, where the ethyl alcohol is lost in the course of and by reason of the process of manufacture on the premises of an authorized user; or without going into consumption while stored. The Regulation was made to be retroactively effective from 1 March 2020.
- Customs and excise (precious metals) (export duty) (suspension) order, 2020
The Customs and Excise (Precious Metals) (Export Duty) (Suspension) Order, 2020 was issued by the Minister of Finance on 27 April 2020. The Regulation suspended to free, the payment of export duty payable on precious metals indicated in the schedule to the regulations. The Regulation was made to be retroactively effective from 30 March 2020.
- Customs and excise (raw hides and skins) (export duty) (suspension) order, 2020
The Customs and Excise (Raw Hides and Skins) (Export Duty) (Suspension) Order, 2020 was issued by the Minister of Finance on 27 April 2020. The Regulation suspended to free the export duty payable on hides and skins of heading 4103.20.00. The Regulation was made to be retroactively effective from 1 April 2020 and revoked on 31 December 2020.
- Value added tax (zero rating) (amendment) order, 2020
The Value Added Tax (Zero Rating) (Amendment) Order, 2020 was issued by the Minister of Finance on 27 April 2020. The Regulation amended Group 5 of the Value Added Tax (Zero Rating) Order, 2014. The amendment introduced supplies for medical use as a new group of supplies covered under Group 5 of the Value Added Tax (Zero Rating) Order, 2014. The Regulation was made to be retroactively effective from 1 April 2020 and revoked on 30 September 2020.
B. Democracy-related issues arising from COVID-19 responses of states
The country is scheduled to have a general election in 2021. Even though the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has expressed its commitment towards conducting the general election as scheduled in 2021, critics have argued that the COVID-19 pandemic can potentially affect the outcome of the election’s result. On 21 September 2020, the ECZ launched the online voter pre-registration for the 2021 general elections. Additionally, the decision of the Electoral Commission of Zambia to extend voting rights to inmates by conducting inmate voter registration exercise has received backlash—including from some opposition political parties and civil society groupings who view it as a waste of time and resources.
It appears that Cabinet was able to meet and perform its functions during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, on 22 June 2020, the Zambian Executive Cabinet had its 16th Cabinet meeting with regard to the running of the affairs of government and the need to serve the people of Zambia.
The Executive has mostly reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic through a series of directives given by the President in his different national statements. The President has issued a series of national address in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia. On 25 March 2020, the President issued his 1st state of the nation address on the COVID-19 pandemic. The national address stated the measures the government has started undertaking and will continue to undertake in phase one to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 9 April 2020, the President issued his 2nd state of the nation address in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The address stated further measures that the government has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On 24 April 2020, the President released his 3rd national address in which he issued stated that the main covid-19 control strategy going forward shall continue to centre on prevention of infection, case finding through increased testing, isolation of cases, swift and thorough tracing of contacts, community engagement, and case management. The President issued some directives to the different ministries on the required steps to be taken in order to cushion the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 8 May 2020, the President issued its 4th national address on COVID-19. The 4th national address allowed the reopening of restaurants, cinemas, gymnasiums and casinos in line with the “new normal.” The President also addressed the nation for the 5th time on 25 June 2020.
The issuance of COVID-19 directives through Presidential national address has made it difficult to ensure clarity on the exact state of affairs of the country with respect to expected behaviour in compliance with COVID-19 directives. For example, there were controversies about the closure or opening of the church as a result of the President’s national address in which he stated that “I have decided that some activities such as the following may continue being undertaken normally subject to adhering to public health regulations, guidelines and certification: 1) Places of Worship may congregate while observing social distancing, mandatory face masks, hand sanitising, and handwashing..." The President later stated through his Special Assistant that he did not close any church but individual churches opted to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He further stated that churches are free to open or not to open their places of worship. The President also simply released a statement through his Special Assistant, on the debate over the continued closure of bars and night clubs.
The National Assembly suspended its operations, having adjourned indefinitely on 18 March 2020 on account of COVID-19. Parliament resumed in June but was adjourned for a second time due to COVID-19 on 21 July, following the deaths of two members of Parliament who reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. Parliament has since resumed business on 11 September 2020.
Critics have argued that the COVID-19 was used as a pretext by the ruling Patriotic Front Party to suspend the parliament because of fears that the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill will be defeated in Parliament. This allegation is grounded in the fact that the ruling party decided to resume parliamentary business in June despite a spike in the COVID-19 cases in Zambia because the party was convinced the bill will sail through in Parliament.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Zambian Judiciary postponed sessions of the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court and Court of Appeal, which were scheduled to commence on the 7, 14 and 21 April 2020, respectively. The High Court also followed a similar route by suspending its criminal sessions in various districts and hearing of all civil matters, except for one judge attending to urgent matters such as injunctions and stay of executions. Criminal proceedings before the Subordinate Courts, which would ordinarily hear allegations under SI No. 22, have continued under precautionary guidelines. However, Subordinate Courts have no power to hear allegations of human rights violations.
- Transparency/ access to information
Research revealed that 71 per cent of Zambians fear that politicians will exploit COVID-19 to gain power or enrich themselves. Transparency issues have arisen about the Ministry of Health’s procurement process. Questions have been raised following the award of a $17 million contract for health centre test kits to a company in November 2019. It was later revealed that the company in question was only registered on 1 April 2020, 4 months after the award of the contract by the Ministry of Health. The Minister of Health has also been tried and acquitted for charges of possessing properties suspected to be proceeds of crime. His acquittal was based on lack of evidence by the prosecution. Concerns about corruption, accountability of COVID-19 funds and debt sustainability by Zambia has resulted in a loss of international trust, both with creditors and donors.
There are also some controversies around official statistics. As of 29 September, the official figures now stand at 15,052 confirmed cases and 333 deaths classified as COVID-19 or COVID-19-associated, according to Ministry of Health reports. However, the preliminary results of a serological survey conducted in July suggest that up to 1.8 million Zambians had contracted COVID-19 up to 30 June, which would mean that the majority of infections go unreported. The level of trust in the government’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reduced due to the politicisation of the responses of the government to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of growing uncertainty about the government’s response to COVID-19, civil society, particularly an online movement called Lusaka has continuously engaged in analysing data released by the government and other sources, as well as providing public health information.
- Abuse by law enforcement agents/exacerbation of authoritarian tendencies/power grabs
There have been allegations of authoritarian and draconian use of power by the executive against opposition under the disguise of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, the broadcasting licence of Zambia’s leading private television station was cancelled, days after it declined a government request to broadcast Covid-19 adverts for free. Radio stations that host opposition figures who highlight the government’s failings have also been violently attacked by ruling party supporters, who insist that no form of campaigning should happen during the pandemic. Even though public meetings by civil society and opposition parties were suspended by the government on health grounds, the ruling party continues to hold its meetings. A government minister allegedly remarked that “when it comes to fighting Covid-19, human rights are suspended.” It has been reported that Lusaka Province Minister, in the company of Zambia Police officers, has engaged in “successful Stay Home night operations” by arresting people alleged to be abrogating the presidential directives accompanied with physical beating of suspects. The Zambian Police Service Spokesperson, also publicly warned that police officers would whip people who “go out to drink” in breach of the presidential directives. On 20 April 2020, 15 people reportedly sustained injuries and were admitted in hospital as a result of demolition of some venders’ makeshift stores in line with public health provisions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Incidences of police brutality have sparked outrage and public criticism from various stakeholders including the Zambian Human Rights Commission which, issued a statement condemning the violence by police officers and emphasised the importance of the rule of law in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia.
C. Human rights-related issues arising from covid-19 responses of Zambia
- Right to health
Limited state capacity and long-term under-investment in healthcare (with only three testing centre in the whole country–as well as poor road infrastructure and safety, particularly in terms of public transport) have undermined the right to health during the COVID-19 pandemic. This underlying infrastructural problem is exemplified in a road traffic accident that killed a young lab technician carrying Covid-19 test samples. The Minister of Health explained that the technician used public transport because the Ministry vehicles were being used for other purposes. As stated above, there have also been allegations of corruption about the Ministry of Health’s procurement process.
- Right to housing (including homelessness, informal settlements, slums, shacks)
Concerns have been expressed that the pre-existing problems of adequate housing in urban and rural areas occasioned by the under-investment of government in housing will be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is no available information on the right to housing during the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia.
- Right to water and sanitation
Concerns have also been expressed that the pre-existing problems of adequate water and sanitation in urban and rural areas occasioned by the under-investment of government in water and sanitation will be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of adequate water and effective sanitation has been described as a serious challenge for effective infection prevention and control of COVID-19 among vulnerable communities. However, there is no specific information on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the right to water and sanitation in Zambia.
- Right to food/ nutrition and other socio-economic rights
Concerns have been expressed that the pre-existing problems of adequate food and nutrition will be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is no available information on the right to food/ nutrition and other socio-economic rights during the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia.
- Economic impact/ impact small business/ employment social security networks
In the wake of the pandemic, the President of Zambia announced the establishment of the COVID-19 economic recovery fund in his 2nd national address on 25 March 2020. The President directed the Ministry of Finance and other relevant ministries to consolidate resources to be disbursed to small and medium businesses, women groups, the youth and the vulnerable. The President in the address announced that the government has released K2.5 billion to reduce domestic arrears owed to domestic suppliers of goods and services. The money also includes the reduction on outstanding arrears to pensioners under public service pension fund and retirees who are claimants under the Ministry of Justice. It will also reduce outstanding third-party arrears and other employee-related commitments. In order to ensure that Zambian contractors and suppliers are not thrown out of business because of the restrictive COVID-19 measures, the government also released k140 million to pay local contractors in the road sector. In his 4th national address, the President directed that the modalities of disbursement of the K10 billion under the bank of Zambia be adequately communicated to the would-be beneficiaries, such as schools, gymnasiums, nightclub owners, cinemas, restaurants, and bars by the Ministry of Finance. He also directed that the collateral demanded from the intended beneficiaries are realistic. Commercial banks are obliged to give small scale businesses loans at an affordable rate to enable their businesses to survive. Further measures taken by the country to address the economic impact of COVID-19 include the removal of the provisions of the statutory instrument no. 90 relating to the claim of vat on imported spare parts, lubricants and stationery. The bank of Zambia also took measures to encourage the use of digital financial services and mobile transaction services. The bank of Zambia also provided a k10 billion line of credit to banks that may face liquidity challenges and revoked statutory instrument for classification and provisioning of loans. The country has also received contributions from a wide range of donors, totalling K3.5 billion.
The underlying and existing financial issues in the country have affected the economic response of the state to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in the context of COVID-19, the country was unable to access the International Monetary Fund’s Catastrophic Containment and Relief Trust because of pre-existing unsustainable debt levels.
- Women (including domestic violence)
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia, domestic violence-related calls have increased by 22%. There have also been an increased in exposure to the risk of survival sex in Maheba settlement as a result of reduced income occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Children (including education)
Following the announcement of the first COVID-19 positive cases, the Minister of Health announced that all schools would close indefinitely on 20 March 2020. In his 4th national address to the country on 8 May 2020, the President directed that primary and secondary school examination classes should be opened on 1 June 2020 on condition that schools enforce all public health guidelines, regulations and certification. The President in the address directed the Ministry of Health and the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit to ensure that face masks, hand washing soaps and sanitisers are prioritised and provided to all schools and health centres for distribution and use by children, starting with those in examination classes. In addition, the President directed the Ministers of General Education, and Higher Education to engage and consult various stakeholders on the possibility and modalities of reopening non-examination classes, colleges and universities in the near future.
There have been concerns that inadequate investment in education infrastructure means that many public schools are unlikely to meet basic COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Overcrowded classrooms and lack of or inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services will make it difficult for schools to adjust to the new reality and may keep children away from school longer. Concerns have also been expressed that nationwide school closure will deepen existing socio-economic inequalities in the country.
- Persons with disabilities
The President in his 4th national address on 8 May 2020, urged the relevant authorities to ensure uninterrupted supplies of essential goods and services through the provision of relief, both food and non-food items for the most vulnerable communities.
John Chiti, a Zambian singer, who suffers from albinism released a song to raise awareness of those suffering from disabilities during COVID-19. Chiti said the peculiar needs and challenges of persons with disabilities in surviving the impact of the COVID-19 and complying with lockdown regulations have not been adequately considered by the government. Disability rights stakeholders in Zambia have reported the difficulties experienced by persons with disabilities in complying with social distancing and public health measures. They also reported a lack of information on COVID-19 within the disability community in Zambia. One of the stakeholders reported that the 3000 documents printed by the ministry of health to be distributed for blind persons have not been accessible for blind persons. There is also report that alternative arrangement made by the Ministry of Education for learners to learn from home, following the closure of schools did not take into account the special needs of learners with disabilities. Stigmatisation and attacks against persons with albinism also continued during the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia. Lack of awareness about the peculiar needs of persons with disabilities among health workers have also been sighted as one of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There have however been donations of relief materials for persons with disabilities by civil society organisations. On 5 August 2020, Disability Rights Watch made a donation of COVID-19 relief materials such as hand wash, reusable face masks, infrared thermometers etc to the Provincial Administration of Chipata and Chadiza districts.
- LGBTI persons
There is no available information on the situation of LGBTI persons during the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia.
There is support for refugee men and women under networks cluster GB/COVID-19 sensitisations in the capital city of Zambia. Five sensitization sessions were conducted targeting local markets and community water points (water kiosks) in Chipata, Chawama, Kanyama and Mandevu compounds reaching 276 individuals who included both Zambians and refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that it took steps to ensure schools meet the Government established COVID-19 guidelines for re-opening across the three refugee settlements in Zambia. Some of the strategies include accelerating WASH projects, increasing school supplies such as thermo scanners, hand-washing facilities and masks, as more children return to school.
- Persons deprived of their liberty
There is no available information on the situation of persons deprived of their liberty during the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia.
- Right to life and bodily security
As stated above, there have been instances of police abuse that have resulted in bodily injuries on citizens in the course of enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown rules.
- Freedom of assembly
In his 2nd address to the nation on 25 March 2020, the President announced that public gatherings such as conferences, weddings, funerals, and festivals are to be restricted to not more than 50 people, subject to them complying with public health authority guidelines.
- Freedom of movement
Apart from the general restrictions on movement imposed by the COVID-19 presidential statements, there is no available information on the right to freedom of movement during the COVID-19 pandemic in Zambia.
- Freedom of expression/ access to information/ privacy/digital rights
There are reports that citizens are being threatened in their exercise of freedom of expression through mass messages sent by the Zambia Information and Telecommunications Authority (ZICTA) to the effect that “publication or circulation of false information which may cause discontent is a criminal offence.”
D. Summary (analysis, trends)
The government has consistently ignored calls from different quarters to either declare a state of emergency or state of disaster in order to be able to adopt a comprehensive framework to address the Covid-19 pandemic without compromising the rule of law and infringing on human rights unnecessarily. Apart from the regulations issued by the Minister of Health and the Minister of Finance and other slight exceptions, most of the restriction measures taken by the government, especially on human rights like the prohibition of gathering and restrictions on freedom of movement lack statutory backing. The suspension of parliament shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic in Zambia further exacerbated the problems of getting the necessary statutory backings for executive actions such as the declaration of a state of emergency that will require parliamentary approval.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been utilized by the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party to a great deal to perpetuate authoritarian tendencies and consolidate its stranglehold on power, especially in relation to the 2021 election. The pandemic has been used as a wider strategy of dominance by the ruling party and an opportunity for political repression. The government has made several attempts to silence critical opposition voices and intimidate the media. For instance, Prime TV was shut down on 9 April 2020. Even though Civil Society members are also victims of the government’s repressive measures, they have continued to make substantial attempts to resist some of the oppressive measures of the government.
The Zambian government is increasingly focused on political survival rather than addressing the economic and health crises occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, in the early stage of the pandemic, some of the masks to be handed out to the public were branded in the name of the ruling PF party. This has led to a general distrust in the government’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has also fueled intra-party tensions within the ruling PF national party. There are reports of clashes between the minister of finance and minister of health about Zambia’s unsustainable debt and budget financing gap, as well as demanding greater accountability of Zambia’s COVID-19-related funds.
The government’s response to the COVID-19 has also been highly politicised. In the early stages of the pandemic, critics have argued that the government has embarked on selective re-opening that favours specific businesses because they are owned by people within government, and are not important sectors within Zambia’s economy.
The approach of the government of Zambia also seems to focus more on sustaining economic activities for businesses that are run by the friends of the government as opposed to prioritising the management of the pandemic. For example, despite the fact that half of Zambia’s Covid-19 cases were located in the town of Nakonde in June 2020, the President directed the minister of health to handle the situation in a way that allows a business to continue in Nakonde Town.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led exposed the pre-existing economic crisis in the country and has led to a more public discussion on Zambia’s financial crisis. Prior to the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions on the economic challenges of Zambia have been held in secret.